Why This Design Store Collaboration Between India & Sri Lanka Matters
We are big fans of collaborations. And the latest store-plus-store partnership between Bungalow 8 and PR could make art-fashion linkups a thing of yawn. Sri Lankan and Indian design are set to seamlessly blend into an exhibit that’s part spectacle, part sensation at concept store Bungalow 8, between March 31 and April 2.
Annika Fernando launched Sri Lanka’s first fashion concept store, PR, in 2013. It was part of her father Udayshanth Fernando’s estate on Paradise Road. Although he had hoped she would pursue medicine, Fernando couldn’t wean herself away from retail.
Trained in interior design, Annika now curates Indian and Sri Lankan designers, alongside supporting her own label, Maus, at PR. She finds an ally in Maithili Ahluwalia, the exacting aesthete behind Bungalow 8, an eclectic store synonymous with curating a mix of indie designers and vintage finds.
Though geographically apart, Fernando and Ahluwalia appear ideal partners in design – both trained in the art of marrying what is local and historically rooted with earnest attention to global aesthetics. Their collaboration, then, is really about the art of finding synergies between seemingly disparate ideas.
My first question about whether they are friends is met with a loud “yes”. “It’s not about how long we have known each other, it’s about when we met…it felt like we knew each other forever. We connected on issues of work ethic, ethos, upbringing,” says Fernando.
Ahluwalia calls them old, kindred spirits. “What ties us is our upbringing; we were ‘abused’ children from design-oriented families (laughs). Annika practically grew up in her father’s shop, while I walked around on beads because my mother (Jamini Ahluwalia) is a jewellery maker.”
ABOUT FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Annika Fernando (AF): Bungalow 8 is a stunning, unique space, and very much an extension of Maithili’s personality. The thing about concept stores like ours is the aesthetic that holds you as soon as you enter. Even in a country as large as India, I found it difficult to shop because it is all about multi-brand commercialism, about more is more. Bungalow 8, though, tells a distinct story through its sensibility.
Maithili Ahluwalia (MA): I come from India, so colour is a fascination. Imagine my surprise when I visited PR. I was taken aback by its stark black and white sensibility with relaxed tropical Western silhouettes. It exudes an effortless confidence that shuns both, exotic and kitsch.
ABOUT EACH OTHER
AF: I was asked, ‘how can you work with Maithili?’ We belong to families helmed by control freaks. We like to micro manage, but there’s also a pretty fluid reciprocity and respect for each other.
MA: (Laughs) I often think to myself, do you have to live by the beach to be productive? I’ve never met someone who is as driven as Annika. Both our stores follow the autonomous model. We’ve not allowed ourselves to get swallowed by big-time fashion conglomerates despite several opportunities.
Independence is a shared conviction. I believe South East Asia retains an indigenous voice while internationally, design is chasing a copy-paste culture.
ABOUT THE COLLABORATION
AF: Most designers in Sri Lanka don’t enjoy the exposure that’s available here. Barring Colombo Fashion Week, we don’t have platforms, very few fashion or design publications as such. The retail industry is very young. A collaboration with B8 encourages Sri Lankan design talent.
Each piece in the exhibit is specially created for the Indian customer. The roster of 9 labels includes Sonali Dharmawardena, who uses traditional batik to give it an unexpected spin; KÛR, which evokes old Ceylon with handmade Dutch lace in easy silhouettes; and Papillon du thé, my sister Saskia’s modern fine jewellery brand that salutes the traditional Kandyan dancers and takes its name from Kandy, the last royal capital of Sri Lanka.
MA: It’s exciting for our customers to be able to see and celebrate a shared quest for harmony between the timeless and the current, the East and the West, Colombo and Bombay.
I hope this is the beginning of larger exploration. I sense fatigue in the international design world. I find our neighbours more inspiring, and I wish to be part of their conversation.
Visit the Sri Lankan Fashion exhibit tomorrow from 5pm to 9pm, and April 1 and 2 from 11am and 8pm at Bungalow 8, inside Wankhede Stadium, North Stand, E&F block, D Road, Churchgate, Mumbai.
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