Maithili Ahluwalia founded Mumbai’s first concept store, Bungalow 8, in 2003. Prior to returning to India, Ahluwalia attended Swathmore College where she received a degree in economics and sociology in 2000. She then moved to New York to work in consulting. Ahluwalia developed the idea for Bungalow 8 before moving back to Mumbai and with the help of family and friends launched a one-of-a-kind shopping experience that offers a modern and contemporary approach to Indian offerings in home interiors, antiques, fashion and jewelry. She teamed up with Mathieu Gugumus Leguillon to produce Bungalow 8’s in-house fashion line in 2011.
How did you know it was time to go back to India?
It was 2002 and I was working in New York in a strategy consulting firm. Corporate life had started to feel claustrophobic. At the same time, India was opening up; it had completed a decade of economic liberalization and was brimming with entrepreneurial opportunities for youngsters like myself. People were open to new flavors, be it in food, art, culture and design. It seemed the perfect time for a concept store that combined an Indian-ness with Internationalism.
Did you already have the concept for the store before moving back to Mumbai?
The idea of having a space that combined craft and couture, tradition and modernity, east and west, local and global germinated well before I moved back. The structure however was solidified upon return. We began in 2003 as an interiors store and it was only in 2006 that we branched into fashion.
You have struck an amazing and gorgeous balance between what we imagine India to look like and how modern the store is and the Bungalow collection – how have you done this?
I was fortunate to grow up in a hybrid environment ideologically, experientially, visually, philosophically and aesthetically. I try and bring this bi-focal lens to Bungalow 8.
We are slowly beginning to learn about Indian fashion designers and the scene in general – how would you describe this part of the culture?
I think it’s an explosive time in India as far as contemporary fashion is concerned. The challenge before us though is to develop our own ‘local’ idiom, not one derivative of western notions. India is rich and vast with crafts and craftsmen. The challenge is to find the right balance between stasis and change.
Is fashion more function for women in India?
There are so many India’s so it depends which one we are talking about. For somewhat more traditional India, fashion is about ornamentation and embellishment. In that sense, it is the opposite of function. Women dress to the hilt for any occasion. This is true across region, caste and class. However, for urban India, fashion is more pragmatic and utilitarian. For more westernized Indians, fashion is about being fashionable. So it really all depends on your audience.
Is there a men’s fashion scene?
There are some interesting menswear designers, but I’m not sure that it’s large enough to actually call it a scene. While there are two major fashion weeks, the bulk of garments shown are for women. Designers that do both, show their men’s collection alongside their women’s collection.
How did you meet your design partner Mathieu Gugumus Leguillon?
At an opportune moment through a common friend six years ago. Mathieu was looking for a change from life in Paris and we were looking to create our own in-house fashion label that married Indian tradition and technique with a Parisian nonchalance.
What’s the design process like between the two of you?
He’s the designer and I’m the editor and curator.
How often do you release new collections?
Every three months, but there are surprise twist and turns in the garments every week. We both tire easily of the same thing.
Will you begin to wholesale The Bungalow?
We are looking for a showroom in the US but need to tighten our back end.
Are there challenges to producing in India?
Like everything in India, there are both endless challenges and limitless possibilities.
Your recent trunk show at Figue NYC was The Bungalow’s first retail exposure in the US – how did it go? Was there a certain type of customer drawn to the collection?
It went off extremely well and we are currently doing a follow-up at a Bungalow 8 patron’s home in the West Village (by appointment only) for the month of July. I think our clothes appeal most to an individualistic dresser who is not defined by trends and labels. It is for women who are looking to be fashionable yet fuss-free.
How does it feel to know you have fans in Vivienne Westwood, Madonna, and Suzy Menkes?
It feels great that through their endorsements Bungalow 8 has found a spot on the international design map. I hope in some small way it has shown one more side to the many India’s that already exist.
Bungalow 8 is returned to NYC for the month of July with celebrated designer Rymn Massand of The Middle as host. The trunk show is by appointment only: firstname.lastname@example.org