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Europe in a Mumbai lane

By Arati Menon Carroll in Mumbai
March 03, 2007 14:53 IST
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Mumbai's Pallate design studio is stepping into the major league with exciting modern European design.

It's rare to have a design store, standalone at that, use outdoor advertising to announce a new collection; even more unusual when the collection comprises high-end European design.

But Pallate wants to be noticed for doing things differently (notice it's spelt Pallate, not Palate). That is mirrored in their choice of location -- an entirely forgettable lane in Mahalakshmi over an up-and-coming mill turned mall. "We wanted to make Pallate a destination by itself," says Malini Akerkar, one of the three promoters of the brand.

Which explains the store's bid for the big league. it's a step up from its debut with largely South-east Asian decor design (subsequently thinned out) and local brands (Abraham & Thakore, Mukul Goyal) to offering a "complete perspective on global design".

Says Akerkar, "We were risking indistinctiveness with our initial South-east Asian focus so we diluted that, but after doing justice to home ground, Europe was natural progression."

All seven (new) brands at Pallate -- most are Milan design week regulars -- are leaders (or close) of contemporary design in the segments and markets they operate in.

Together they represent a welcome break from classicism, instead making unfamiliar, playful statements with their product. Paola Lenti's brightly-coloured handwoven synthetic fibre chaises and poufs are favourites of prestigious Italian boutiques.

MOOOI, promoted by the highly original Marcel Wanders, is credited with being Holland's most cutting edge retro-modern architectural design firm. Edra -- engaging with some of the most interesting personalities of the new design world -- is here with its famous Brasilia table and Rose chair.

Interestingly, Pallate has assigned 3,000 sq ft to each brand, a store-in-store to retain their distinction within.

With its latest inclusions, the store spreads itself across 33,000 sq ft and four floors, ambitious considering it hasn't blown the candles out on its second birthday yet.

The promoters got lucky when the two floors above the existing store fell vacant just as they went into expansion mode. The third floor is 500 sq ft short; Akerkar's restaurateur husband Rahul Akerkar who operates his office on the same floor wouldn't part with it.

Three different architects were employed -- the ground floor was designed by Samira Rathod, the first floor by Kapil Gupta and the second and third by Sameep Padora, to showcase diverse design, via architectural styles.

Akerkar points out that the store is divided into two separate entities. The bottom two floors targeting the upwardly mobile, and the niche-on-niche upper deck (with the likes of the Rs 10,00,000 plus Edra seaters). The fabric section courtesy another promoter Ali Mamaji (although slightly eclipsed) will continue to be a large part of their bread and butter, she adds.

Slightly unsettling is the resulting mix of styles. From Alex Davis' polished steel sculptural craft to the organic and ultra trendy Goa-based Monsoon Heritage, the looks (ultra modern,neo-classical, kitsch and oriental) are at minimum, liberally diverse, bordering on disparate.

"We don't think it's fair to exclude certain styles because great design is great design," justifies Akerkar.

With European luxury design, Indian retailers still have to exercise caution. Italian biggies like Moroso, Vitra and Capellini are sampling the growing understanding and affordability for European design, but volumes are still small.

Akerkar suggests lean inventory is key, and most pieces are stocked in singles only. Fendi Casa, a favourite with the promoters, was a disappointment when they refused exclusivity even within Mumbai.

Thus Pallate has shelved plans to open a second store in Mumbai, but will explore cities like Delhi and Bangalore over the next year. Whatever you do, don't refer to Pallate as a mega store. "We're a design-oriented super studio," clarifies Akerkar.

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Arati Menon Carroll in Mumbai
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