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Shop Talk: Nandini Bhalla

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Shopping is an art. While some love the process, it can be a real chore for others. For a lot of women it’s a social experience, and for some it’s a very personal one. Regardless of how one shops though, personal style can never be identical for two people. The way they shop, the way they style their purchases, how they decide what they need, how they store them…these are the kind of questions we often have when we think about some of the most fashionable people in the industry.

And that’s why we’ve launched our new column SHOP TALK, where we identify industry influencers with a unique sense of style and ask them to spill the beans on how their think about their personal style, where they shop, what they splurge on, and their fashion weaknesses and confessions!

To kick off the series we’ve got none other than Nandini Bhalla, Cosmopolitan India‘s fun and fearless young editor. We love her zany personal style and easy approach to fashion here at Hauterfly HQ. Also, did we mention how hooked we are to her jewellery edits and shoe-stalking posts on Instagram? So we decided to quiz Nandini on her take on all things style and shopping. Here she is — at her unedited best!

How would you describe your personal style?
A combination of classic and fun. I’ve always believed that fashion should be fun; Why take it so seriously? Which is why I usually add one quirky element to my outfit. A crazy bag or edgy shoes or giant, whacko earrings!

 

SKINNY DIP Lips Clutch At Koovs_Hauterfly
Skinny Dip Lips Clutch (Rs 3,495)

Tell us about your earliest memory of fashion and shopping. Who was your style inspiration growing up?
Most of my early fashion memories have to do with my mother. She is terribly stylish and very on-trend. In the 90s, while I was in school, she would come to fetch me wearing a blue blazer with power shoulders and chain detailing! She also had (and still does) a cupboard filled with bags and shoes. She’s always loved period jewellery and elegant silhouettes, and her choices have influenced me in so many ways. Every little thing she wore — from a vintage brooch to the length of her pants (always slightly cropped) — was after careful consideration. She still inspires me, and I often ask for her opinion while getting dressed.

How did your choice of work inform and influence your style in the early years?
At 24 I launched Grazia India as the Editor. I was young, had a ton of responsibilities, and was terribly worried I wouldn’t be taken seriously. So for the next three years, I did away with all my jeans and tees and invested in more “serious” clothing — pencil skirts, pinstripe shirts, and formal dresses. I wanted to look like a grown-up so I changed my style to suit that. Now that I no longer have to prove anything, I wear what I feel like: bright colours, slogan tees, fun prints. And I now own way too many jeans! I still work the pencil silhouette but that’s because I think it’s feminine and flattering. I like to work it in brights with some bold accessories thrown in. Speaking of colours, I’m currently working hard to wear less black. At one point, my wardrobe was a sea of neutrals… blacks, whites, greys. Now, you’ll see spots of orange, pink, blue, and wine.

 

Kerkes Fashion Leather Illusion Pencil Skirt_Hauterfly
Kerkés Fashion Leather Illusion Pencil Skirt (Rs 1,990)

Thrifting and vintage shopping –­ is this something you do a lot of?
I love vintage jewellery! Whenever I travel to Paris, I visit the flea markets there and behave like an excited child! On my last trip, I bought a Christian Dior couture neckpiece from the ’70s; it’s a one-of-a-kind piece that I’ll cherish forever. I also have a collection of vintage Chanel earrings, including several impossible-to-find pieces.

A few years ago, I bought some vintage fur coats from London and Milan, but I would never buy animal fur again. It’s a sick, cruel trade, and I am dead against it. Imagine spending your entire life in a tiny cage just so you can become someone’s coat? People choose to ignore the horrible truth behind their real furs, but the reality is disgusting. I often tell them to watch the process of fur creation on YouTube and then decide on buying fur. Now I only buy faux fur and own tonnes of great pieces in it. The technology used to make faux fur is so advanced, you can hardly tell the difference. The pieces are warm, stylish, and no animals were enslaved and killed in the process. When it comes to vintage shopping, I usually prefer to see the item in person to check for authenticity and damage. However, I’ve bought some gorgeous vintage jewellery from Etsy. Some of the sellers there have amazing stuff!

 

Mango Faux Fur Coat_Hauterfly
Mango Faux Fur Coat (Rs 7,990)

Do you like shopping to be a social thing with friends, or is it something you prefer to do on your own?
I’m more of a “selfish” shopper. I shop in a systematic manner and go through pretty much every rack, and having friends around can be distracting. I often treat shopping like a mission. Will I find what I’m looking for? Are there any gems waiting to be discovered? Have I seen every single item in the store? I might go out to buy a pair of nude heels and end up buying two pairs of red sneakers. What I love about shopping is that you don’t really know what you’ll end up finding or falling in love with. I find that incredibly thrilling.

What about your favourite online shopping stores? How do you go about shopping online?
In the past I was a bit of a mall rat, visiting shops at least once a week. But now that most high street brands have a strong online presence and good return policies, shopping in bed is so much easier! I’m such an ASOS addict, it’s embarrassing! I literally order something every week. Another British e-store I love is Misguided, and I spend many hours browsing (and shopping) StyleBop, Shopbop, Koovs, and Pernia’s Pop-Up Shop. I check out the What’s New sections EVERY SINGLE DAY. For me, online browsing and shopping is relaxing, so I’ll do it during breaks at work or before I sleep at night. Also once a week I spend an hour online shopping before I hit the sack. I don’t bother with too many specifications like colour or style. I just enter my size and browse through everything available.

Your favourite high street brands? Do you shop in-store or online?
Ah, so many! There’s Zara, River Island, Topshop, Mango, Charles & Keith, Vero Moda, Forever 21, Primark UK, Accessorize, H&M.

What are the items of clothing you prefer to invest in?
Bags! I love bags, and they make good investment pieces because you can wear them for years. Some of my favourite investment pieces include a Chanel 2.55, a Lady Dior, and the slightly uncommon Hermès Her Bag that you can change by replacing the canvas body (pretty cool!). Other classics I own are the Bottega Veneta Knot clutch, the Fendi Peekaboo bag, and a personalised Louis Vuitton Speedy, which comes with me to work every day. Now that I own the classics from most brands, I’m focusing on acquiring the more fun pieces. I also splurge on designer jewellery. My collection is mostly vintage. I adore vintage Chanel and own several earrings, bracelets, and pendants.

If you look inside your closet,­ what are the items you have the most of?
My closet is a mess, and it’s mostly stuffed with clothes. I try to organise it according to summer tops, winter tops, casual dresses, formal dresses, skirts, shorts, etc. but don’t do a very good job of it! I tend to buy new things and let them stay in their shopping bags for months, tags intact. This must be stopped! In terms of sheer numbers, I own a lot of tops. That’s because I enjoy how separates let you mix and match to create different looks. I usually imagine a top or blouse with at least three different bottoms so I can wear the item more often. I also own far too many shoes. Over 170, at last count! My newest obsession is sneakers. It’s odd because I’ve always hated them, but then Adidas sent over a few pairs and I realised what I had been missing out on. I’m now trying to own a pair of sneakers in every colour.

 

Superga Crochet Sneakers_Hauterfly
Superga Crochet Sneakers (Rs 4,600 approx)

How often do you shop?
When I travel, I end up shopping a lot. I always lug an extra suitcase to bring back new purchases in! Back home, I visit the malls a few times a month but end up shopping online — even if it’s for something small like a hair clip or a cute pair of socks — nearly every day.

The thrill of the hunt –­ is that something you enjoy? Or are you the sort of person who knows exactly what you want?
I love to be surprised when I go to a store. I think of shopping like a game of treasure hunt, where you search behind racks and in corners for the prize. You’re never quite sure what you may find, and sometimes you just chance upon the best things!

Do you set a budget for shopping each month?
I’m not very good with budgets, but I should probably work on that. During a broke phase, a voice in my head will remind me that I cannot afford or “need” that item. But if I really love something, that voice is told to mind its own business!

Do you have any default outfits — pieces you keep going back to over and over again?
Bodysuits have become my default outfit these days. I love how they fit and can be teamed with so many pieces. I currently have 14 bodysuits and wear them with jeans, skirts, shorts. I buy mine from H&M, ASOS, and Missguided — they have a great selection.

 

KOOVS Long Sleeve Wrap Bodysuit_Hauterfly
KOOVS Long Sleeve Wrap Bodysuit (Rs 795)

Are you a high heels or flats kinda woman?
I used to be a heels kind of girl, but that was before I discovered fancy flats and cool sneakers. Now, I wear flats with most things, and heels with evening wear. My favourite flats include the Varina by Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, and Chanel, and a cupboard full of summer flats with gold embellishments. I’m also obsessed with my Adidas Originals sneakers… I recently wore a gold pair with a lehenga!

Pants or skirts?
Skirts, any day. I’m 5’2” and petite so pants can make me look boxy, but skirts are so much more flattering. Plus, the choices are many — midi, mini, maxi, fitted, pencil, the list goes on. I also think skirts are a great day-to-night piece; all you need to do is jazz it up with accessories and you’re good to go. It’s a garment with more potential.

What is the size of your closet? How do you store expensive items like couture saris, evening dresses, etc?
I have a clothes rack in my bedroom that holds about 50 pieces, all of which I’ll be wearing sometime soon. The problem with closets is that you can’t really find anything unless you’re supremely organised. I have one cupboard dedicated to tops, another for my skirts, pants and shorts, a third cupboard with Indian wear, and a fourth for my formal dresses. Then there’s a smaller cupboard for bags, and one for jewellery. I’ve taken over most of the guest room at home, and that’s where I store all my winter clothes and shoes. My family thinks I have a hoarding problem!

Do you plan your fashion week wardrobe? What is your thought process when selecting outfits?
I would like to plan better, but it’s usually a last-minute job. Ideally, I’d like to prepare my outfits a week in advance, but I usually just match new designer pieces with what I already own on the day of the shows. I aim for something that’s glamorous and can make a statement and is also comfortable. A cocktail dress with sneakers, perhaps, or a luxurious skirt with a slogan t-shirt and flats. The idea is to stand out, but not at the risk of being uncomfortable and sore.

Do you wear a lot of Indian designer brands?
I genuinely feel India has some amazing fashion talent to offer. I enjoy wearing Pankaj & Nidhi, Sabyasachi, Amit Agarwal, Anamika Khanna, Gaurav Gupta, Nachiket Barve, Malini Ramani, Masaba, Nikhil Thampi, Rohit Gandhi & Rahul Khanna, Abraham & Thakore, Manish Arora… I could go on! We are incredibly lucky… Indian designers are priced so well that you can own a great quality, one-of-a-kind piece at truly affordable prices. Plus, the new crop of young designers have some amazing pieces. I often walk around Shahpur Jat in Delhi and discover some great new labels.

Do you get things tailored to fit or prefer to buy off the racks?
Whenever possible, I prefer tailored-to-fit pieces. When something is made to your size, it’s obviously flattering because the fit is so much better. I’m particular about the length, flare, and waist. Most Indian designers will be happy to create or alter an outfit for you, which simplifies matters. When it comes to high street brands though, I’m too lazy to have them altered. Luckily, most brands do a good job with standard sizes and fits.

How do you plan your daily outfits? Is there a method to the madness?
Every six months, I get enthusiastic and decide to pre-plan my looks for the entire month. Sadly, this enthusiasm doesn’t last too long. Most days, I just pick what I can see, so the clothes lying in the back of my cupboards lie around for months before they’re discovered. That said, every stylist will tell you that the true secret to style lies in planning your outfit and editing your look… like how they do at fashion shows. If you can spend a few minutes mixing and matching, playing with different combinations and trying on what you own, you’ll instantly look better. Sadly, it takes a lot of work!

What was your most recent purchase?
My most recent purchases include a Manish Arora blouse, a Pia Pauro jacket, a Charlotte Olympia bag, Fooljadi jewellery, personalised sneakers from Superga, a Pucci bracelet, vintage Dior sunglasses from Goa, and Versace flats. Plus bags full of clothes from the H&M and Zara sales!

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