Southern Savoir Faire | Verve Magazine
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Verve People
August 14, 2013

Southern Savoir Faire

Text by Shirin Salwan. Photographs by Sukil Tarnas and Khushboo Agarwal.

Discover luxury preceded by modesty; beauty paired with humility and elegance accentuated by traditional values. Shirin Salwan travels to Chennai and meets four women from different walks of life, discovers their heirlooms as well as their eternal passion for a brand that has for decades been a symbol of luxe — Louis Vuitton

  • Amritha Juliana, Cosmetologist
    Amritha Juliana
  • Vimmi Deepak, Entrepreneur
    Vimmi Deepak
  • Madhurima Balsingh George, Homemaker
    Madhurima Balsingh George
  • Tanvi Shah, Designer
    Tanvi Shah

Amritha Juliana
Amritha Juliana’s house is a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary elements. And so is Amritha herself. Dressed in a monochrome Tarun Tahiliani anarkali, she’s demure and coy with delicate features. She could well have been a Bollywood actress, but chose a career in cosmetology instead. “When I graduated, being a cosmetologist was unheard of. There was not much of a demand and people weren’t so conscious about their looks,” she reminisces. Today she gets patients from all age groups. “We do not encourage anyone to go under the knife but if it boosts their self-confidence, why not. Obviously it has to be controlled and nothing bizzare!” Asking her if she has ever faced any such inane demand, she goes on to say, “This one time, a woman wanted me to make her teenage daughter fairer. She had purchased a whitening product from somewhere in the South East that wasn’t even certified and wanted us to inject her with it. In our profession, ethics are very important.” Her sister is a noted cosmetologist in Miami.

We begin shooting next to two ornately carved wooden pillars. “These pillars were the foundation of our ancestral house. Then with time, as we moved into modern houses, we dismantled them and my mother distributed them equally amongst her children. They had to be restored but it was worth the effort.” We couldn’t agree more. The detailing on them is exquisite and one can only imagine how they must have looked in their original grandeur. Her current house also has an old world charm to it.

Amritha is hesitant in front of the camera initially, but she is extremely photogenic. “I have never done this before, so please tell me what to do!” she exclaims. Her mother and brother smile lovingly as she poses for our lens. Amritha’s style is understated and she’s quite an avid shopper. We place the LV bag next to her and she can’t help but gush about how much she loves it. Amritha sure loves her bags. She has arranged them neatly on the bed for us. “Just in case you wanted to go through my wardrobe, I thought,” she smiles. The family has a feast laid out. “Just a few starters and we head to the Taj for lunch,” she explains. After a scrumptious filling meal of authentic South Indian cuisine, we have to politely decline the lunch offer. We are overwhelmed by her hospitality and enamoured by her subtle charm as we leave her home.

Vimmi Deepak
We had heard stories of Vimmi Deepak’s elegance, but none of them matched up to the living image when she greeted us at the door. Dressed in Anamika Khanna couture, Vimmi was perfection from head to toe. The right shoes, the right hair-do and make-up, there was absolutely nothing OTT about her look which was put together effortlessly. Walking past the Bentley and the Porsche parked in her courtyard, it was rather surprising to see her home which was minimally done. There was a Louis Vuitton Vernis Alma perched on the table, a bag she adores, she tells us as we start talking. “What I love most about the bag is the fact that it has a cute little lock. This makes it perfect for travel,” she explains.

“We are a family of doctors, my husband being a neurosurgeon.” But Vimmi loves fashion. Every year, her exhibition called Attitude is a conclave of designers from across the country showcasing their work in the city. “My favourite labels are Anamika Khanna and Gauri and Nainika, whose clothes are super feminine and flatter a woman’s body beautifully,” she tells us. “I love to shop! I think Milan shopping is my favourite after Paris of course. In Chennai, I shop at Evoluzione and Collage. Chennai is buzzing with parties and fashion, contrary to what people think. People here are as evolved when it comes to designer wear as any other big metro. There are a lot of plush eateries and so many places you can go to with friends for a drink. It’s quite lively actually!” It is not uncommon to see Vimmi’s picture in the local dailies every now and then. This soft-spoken fashionista is not just about style, but substance too. She strongly works for causes like Breast Cancer Awareness, Multiple Sclerosis as well as care for senior citizens.

As we proceed to shoot next to an antique billiards table on her terrace, Vimmi is unruffled by the Chennai heat and remains calm and candid. She is a natural and embraces the camera with ease, needing very little direction. We can’t help but get overwhelmed by the abundance of greenery and peace around (a rarity in the city we come from). Her domestic staff brings multiple rounds of savouries, coconut water and tea for our team while we are shooting, but Vimmi doesn’t even sip water and focuses on finishing the shot. She carries the W bag as though it were a part of her and smiles with relentless charm. “I bought my first Louis Vuitton bag 15 years ago in London, and after that there was just no looking back. I think I should add this one to my collection as well.”

Madhurima Balsingh George
Situated on the outskirts of the city, George’s house is nothing short of a mansion. A marble centrepiece graces the patio with fresh lilies being strewn painstakingly as we walk in and are taken into the living area. Dressed casually in white jeans and a blue kurta, Madhurima Balsingh George is a stunner. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, she leads us to her wardrobe to decide on an outfit for the shoot. It’s a tough choice between a Manish anarkali and an Amanda Wakeley kaftan. We finally zero in on the red chiffon kaftan with an embellished neckline. She then takes me through her infinite stack of shoes from all possible luxury brands and we go for a pair of strappy silver Jimmy Choo stilettos. “I’ve been dodging the camera for a long time now, until you came along and convinced me,” she jokes. “I always put BG (as she lovingly refers to her husband Balsingh George) in the forefront when any shoot or interview comes up, as I am camera shy.” “We don’t really venture out that much but love having people over. I love throwing parties and we’ve had some really memorable ones here,” she adds, pointing to the swimming pool area outside. On complimenting her home, she tells us she has done the interiors of the space herself. These candle stands were the inspiration for the whole Baroque look. They’ve been passed down to us by my husband’s forefathers.” Madhurima is a perfect hostess, the kind whose party you would not want to miss. She’s effervescent and friendly, and you instantly feel a connection.

“I can really shop till I drop. I remember this one time I was so engrossed with shopping that I did not notice that half a litre bottle of water had leaked inside my LV bag until I reached my hotel room. I must’ve walked around for really long, but the bag held on much to my amazement. I immediately emptied it into the sink and let it dry. And there it was, like nothing ever happened. This is why I love LV bags,” she chuckles. An avid traveller, Madhurima swears by travel trunks and bags by Louis Vuitton for her sojourns abroad. “BG and I love cars,” she tells us. “When the new Rolls Royce Phantom came out, we just went to see it, loved it and booked it. We later found out we were the first to order the car in the whole of Asia-Pacific!” she muses. “We never really thought of buying it with that intention.’’ When we are done shooting, she pops open a vintage Dom Perignon to celebrate. She steps out to see us off. “Let me know when you are in the city next, I’ll take you for a spin in my Ferrari,” she winks.

Tanvi Shah
You never know what to expect when you are taking the elevator to someone’s office to meet them for the first time. Especially if that particular someone is a young Grammy award winning singer, a rare feat indeed in this country. Hailing from a family of jewellers, Tanvi Shah did not study to be a musician, let alone a singer. “I studied ceramics!” she explains, “and although I would sing karaoke for fun, there was absolutely no inclination towards a career in music ever.” Her studio is a temple of creativity — every aspect is quirky and designed by this talented young woman herself. Dressed impeccably in black, she is slender and well-poised. There’s a spark in her, a certain joie de vivre. “There’s so much to do in life and I don’t believe in wasting any time.” Tanvi is also an avid designer and the sketches in her office are testimony to her creativity. “When I was called by Rahman Sir for my first break, I found myself wondering if this wasn’t some big mistake! But he is such an inspiring human being and he pushes you to the hilt. This one time he actually told me – ‘Tanvi, think like Shakira. Sing like Beyonce,’” she laughs. “It never hit me as to how popular my song Jai Ho was until the day I was on stage with the composer of The Lion King, Han Zimmer. When the music started, I found him singing along and I asked him, “You know this song?” I could not have been happier when he replied, ‘Who doesn’t!’”

Tanvi is actively involved with the local Cancer Institute and has participated in the Eradicate Polio campaign as well. When she’s not singing or designing, she’s cycling or going on long road trips. “I once drove all the way to Rajasthan! It’s amazing to see people’s reaction as they are expecting a big burly guy and then they see me behind the wheel!” she chuckles. Not surprising as she’s all petite and dainty; the kind who loves pink and paints her nails. But there’s a tomboyish streak to her when you dig deeper. “I was the first girl in the family in 52 years. My great grandmother hand-embroidered and stitched this batua hoping it would be given to her grandchild,” she adds looking fondly at the wallet. “Old things have a charm of their own. Some things that have been passed on down generations never go out of fashion.” Posing with the lime green W bag resting on a table she designed using an old bicycle, she’s confident yet demure. Her personality strikes a perfect balance with the Louis Vuitton bag — substance and grace.

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