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Celebs' Palate to deck up your home!

Gouri Shukla | April 16, 2005

It may no longer be the only destination for Mumbai's glitterati and fashionable somebodies. Now, a short walk down south Mumbai's Mahalakshmi race course, nestling between the Income Tax Office and an industrial estate, is a spanking new upscale lifestyle store.

Spread across 6,000 sq ft (an additional 7,000 sq ft on the upper storey is being readied), Palate the store could as well have been named "palette" going by the almost motley mix of styles, looks, fabrics and materials it houses.

Stupas from Java greet you at the entrance while Bali pots and tribal wheels from Indonesia share space with contemporary furniture designed by international designers and modern linen upholstery.

There's reason for the almost sundry mix of offerings under one roof. This lifestyle store is the brainchild of three known names in Mumbai social circles -- Malini Akerkar, Ali Mamaji and Anuradha Singhania. And each of the proprietors will bring his or her own faculties to the table.

The designer furniture, antiques and artifacts like the Bali pots and Java stupas are being sourced by Singapore-based entrepreneur Anuradha Singhania.

Ali Mamaji, scion of the Mamaji chain of furnishing stores, which has been operating for the past 115 years, supplies a wide range of fabrics created exclusively for the store.

Malini Akerkar, spouse and business partner of Indigo's Rahul Akerkar, has leveraged her connections with exclusive lifestyle furniture stores like Viya Home in Delhi. All the promoters claim that "it is a niche store for anyone with disposable income". "But our target audience is not the masses," adds Akerkar.

Unlike other lifestyle stores like Me, where you'd naturally expect to find only contemporary furniture, or Zeba, where you'd expect to find the accent on embellishments, patterns or embroidery on fabric, Palate may come across as a confused and confusing brand name.

That's because Palate does not have a distinctly uniform look about it. And that's intentional. For one, for all the three promoters "it's been a dream come true".

Fed up of seeing the regular displays of yards of fabric, Akerkar, the stylist, wanted a store with a difference. That's why Palate houses everything from the contemporary to the ethnic in all kinds of medium -- wood, stone, glass and metal, and fabrics like linen to embellished fabrics.

Then, the long list of suppliers (at least a dozen as of now) also renders a heterogeneous look and feel to the store. "Palate stands for taste, irrespective of the style or look," says Akerkar. That's why she expects it to be a mix -and-match kind of shopping destination. Accordingly, everything is sold as individual units rather than as sets.

It's not just the varied assortment that the proprietors are banking on. After all, customers spending upwards of Rs 40,000 for a single chair or Rs 3,000 for a linen table set, would demand exclusivity.

So the store sources from international as well as Indian designers who will design collections or items exclusively for the store. For instance, currently on sale are some innovative rattan furniture items by Kenneth Cobonpue, a Filipino designer.

"Most of our suppliers are supplying us with ranges created only for Palate," says Singhania. There are plans to rope in two fashion designers who will design furniture and upholstery for the first time, exclusively for Palate.

The linen is being supplied by Ranjit Ahuja, exporter of hand-embellished linen. Other suppliers include the likes of Accesoria, Shades of India and Abraham & Thakore. The time lag for furniture and some of the accessories, between buying and delivery, is two months.

With all the fashionable brand names in the business under one roof, the proprietors expect to attract a "discerning, well-travelled and house-proud" customer.

To add to the wow factor, the store has a design studio tucked away in a corner within the store that will offer custom-made fabrics under the brand name "Palate Home".

What's more, the studio has a weaving loom stationed outside "so that customers can oversee the making of made-to-order designs or colours", says Akerkar.

So, how different is Palate from the spate of mushrooming lifestyle stores? Exclusivity and made-to-order fabric will be one differentiating factor. "It's basically a fabric store fused with lifestyle," says Akerkar.

And that has added up to the overhead costs for the store. Explains Mamaji, "We need to reserve stocks of fabric in advance, so 60-70 per cent of the investment goes into stocking fabric yardage.

"I disliked the way fabric stores have been done up so far, so we hope to make a difference with Palate," says Akerkar.

Like any other business, the Palate promoters too are talking of economies of scale and the logic of "having a chain".

After south Mumbai, the proprietors want to spread their footprint to suburban Mumbai, which is more happening. Juhu and Lokhandwala are two destinations, which have been shortlisted. Of course, that depends on how far the first Palate succeeds in tingling customer's taste buds.

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