Strangleholds are hard to shake off. And not unlike the more physical fights of dominion, the apparently genteel world of sophistication often witnesses a strife of trends that vie for survival.
At this point, I can almost see Vinod Jain of Magppie raising his eyebrows in gentle reproof. After all, a short season of trend is not what he's looking at. And somehow, he has a point -- steel and impermanence come out odd as mixed metaphors anyway. So what we are looking at, therefore, is a far cry from what our nation of steel has traditionally stocked in its kitchens.
Jain has worked at innovative interpretations that makes one rethink the otherwise established notions of steel. And here, Jain is not alone in his pursuit.
Others like Deepika Jindal of Artd'inox are seeking to interpret steel too. The lifestyle product division of Jindal Stainless, Artd'inox houses stainless steel in every possible designer functional form. So you'll find steel trays, ceramic and steel cups and coasters, along with stainless steel flower vases.
The range expands from dining, beverage and home decor to bar, office and bath accessories, all designed to give steel a simple, sleek and contemporary look. It could be minimalist, have a matte finish and can be fused with other materials too.
Though a rage in the West, this expensive metal has taken time to catch up in India.
"Stainless steel is a metal which has a lot of style," says Jindal, who feels that its durability and easy maintenance gives it an edge over other materials too. Moreover, designers are increasingly experimenting at combining the clean look of stainless steel with ceramic, glass and wood.
Ketna Contractor, a designer at Artd'inox, feels that fusing steel's textures and finishes with other mediums adds character to the metal. The company's new range includes dinner sets in bone china and steel besides bar sets in wood and steel.
While style and beauty is manifest, what is not is the cleverly concealed tide of usurpation that seeks to involve porcelain and glass as partners to the quest for more widespread acceptance.
Simply, can you see Jain's business grow if he sought to make Magppie your favourite cuppa in the morning? The strategist that he is, he knows that spouting words of wisdom, about timeless beauty is not going to get him too far.
The result is a range of fine cafe glasses, drinking glasses, an Irish coffee set and a carafe among others, all available in the range of Rs 1,000-2,000. Artd'inox has a range that starts from Rs 300 (for teacups and mugs) and goes up to Rs 13,200 for dinner sets.
The movement, albeit slow, since the time when Magppie started retailing though lifestyle stores almost a decade ago, has seen how cleverly steel is seeking a growth strategy. From the smooth rounded edges and matte-finished dinner sets and assorted accessories such as bathroom sets and fruit bowls, what we have today is a fusion of glass and steel.
"I have to grow my base. Products click only if they are functional and really tie in well with what people want. I like to drink my cup of tea from a porcelain cup. So, why should I stick to steel and thrust it upon others," says Jain with candour.
While most big hotels in India, as Jain confirms, are using Magppie, he adds, "The vibe for steel is growing." The overseas market is also responding and, recently, the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, decided to display the brand too.
Closer home, proof of sales comes from point of purchase: "We find a very brisk offtake for Magppie -- especially their dinner and bathroom ranges. It's modern, popular and there's a timelessness to its design," says Rathi Varadarajan, founder, The Next Shop.
If Artd'inox is busy mixing steel with other materials, at Magppie, its steel-glass range includes a honey dripper, oil brush set (Rs 1,500). The porcelain-steel range includes a tea set and, depending on the range, can cost up to Rs 3,200.
"As far as steel and glass goes, it's more of an aesthetic fusion, but when it comes to ceramic and steel, great research has gone into the products," says Jain. "Besides aesthetics, special care went into the material to stop heat transfer to the handle." The work, he claims, involved two years of R&D before they could hit the market.
While Magppie has clocked a turnover of Rs 70 crore (Rs 700 million) and is looking at launching its own stores, it will look at launching an affordable sub-brand too. Artd'inox is already geared up for the festive season and with all the mix-and-match, the marriage of steel with other materials has just started.