Jeweller Siddharth Kasliwal and designer Marie-Anne Oudejans on why they make a dream team
“We’re the best advertisement for the ‘Made in India’ tag you’ll ever find.”
Like the Chekhov tale of a woman with a little dog, many in Jaipur recall the arrival of Dutch-born fashion designer Marie- Anne Oudejans a few years ago as the woman with a dog trailing her heels everywhere. That is how Siddharth Kasliwal, scion of the generations-old dynasty of purveyors of fine gemstones and jewellery at their famous flagship store Gem Palace, remembers his first glimpse of Oudejans.
The Gem Palace showroom, Mumbai
That was April 2015. The dashing 34-year-old Kasliwal once voted among the world’s 50 most eligible bachelors along with Tesla’s Elon Musk, has reason to remember the moment. Oudejans had taken the Pink City by storm with the panache of her sumptuous Indo-European interiors for Bar Palladio and its tented outdoor canopies in the grounds of Narain Niwas Palace hotel. And Kasliwal was at a turning point in his life. His father, the charismatic Munnu Kasliwal, credited with giving Jaipur’s lapidarists an international standing, had died three years earlier, leaving the family bereft. “I wanted to carry forward my father’s legacy, but in new ways, and in new directions,” he says.
To this end, he took two floors in Dhanraj Mahal in south Mumbai for a showroom. But the interiors weren’t working out. “What I was getting was a modernist Mumbai- New York look…what I wanted was the glamour and intimacy of a Paris-Jaipur salon.”
Siddharth Kasliwal and Marie-Anne Oudejans at Gem Palace, Jaipur
Polki jewellery at Gem Palace, Jaipur
Serendipity intervened. As luck would have it, the Kasliwal family’s long-time collaborator, the French jewellery designer Marie-Hélène de Taillac—whose atelier at Gem Palace creates for her stores in Paris, New York, Tokyo and Osaka—had known Marie-Anne Oudejans since their early days in Paris. She brought Kasliwal and Oudejans together. “It was an immediate vote of confidence,” says Kasliwal. He engaged Oudejans for the job and left for an extended overseas trip. He soon discovered that Oudejans’s working style was as unorthodox as her woman-with-a-dog image.
No two individuals could be in greater contrast. Oudejans, who is 20 years Kasliwal’s senior, is quiet, reflective, observant; she dresses simply and measures her words carefully. Kasliwal is a sparkler: ebullient, stylish and a raconteur par excellence. To those who knew his father, he is the youthful incarnation of the warm-hearted, larger-than-life Munnu.
“Life gives you second chances,” says Oudejans of her fated encounter with Jaipur. In the 1990s, Tocca, the clothing, furnishing and perfume brand she founded in New York, was a runaway hit. She then took a long break, living in Rome and Madrid and was actually on her way to Japan when the chance to design Bar Palladio came up. Its instant success took her by surprise. “Consider the odds,” she says. “I am neither a trained architect nor interior designer. Moreover, being female and foreign can be a handicap working with traditional painters, masons and workmen in a place like Jaipur.”
Kasliwal found her way of working unique. “She doesn’t produce plans but mood boards—wild and brilliant montages of images and colours that fire your imagination.” For much of the duration of designing the Mumbai store, Kasliwal was away, so they communicated by email. When he returned, he was entranced by the heady confection of colours—green and yellow on one floor and pink and powder blue on the other. “It was like entering a jewel box.”
Kasliwal’s admiration for Oudejans’s style extends to her passionate work ethic. “I have never met a more committed professional. She is literally on-site 24/7 with her chosen team of workers. She is obsessive.”
From left: Samarth Kasliwal and Siddharth Kasliwal with their cousin Sarthak Kasliwal
Designer-client relationships can turn notoriously contentious, so do they have disagreements? “A jewellery store is not a restaurant,” says Oudejans. “Issues of security and lighting are paramount for such high value goods. The decor can never overwhelm the display cases. I pay careful attention to Siddharth’s logistical concerns—from the light reflecting on the gemstones to the storage, size, and suede lining of each jewellery tray.” After Mumbai, Oudejans undertook a complete makeover of Kasliwal’s private first floor showroom in Jaipur, dressing the walls in vivid pink cotton and a melange of mirrors and display cabinets with cusped arches. Their collaboration has strengthened into a friendship, says Kasliwal, based on integrity and mutual trust. “She can be quite strict on occasion,” he laughs. “If I raise too many objections she’ll say, ‘Please go away. Come back one week later when the furniture in installed’. And then, with the flourish of a movie director, she’ll unveil the whole thrilling scheme.”
For her part, Oudejans says she feels protective about him. “I know how important his work is, not just in upholding Gem Palace’s reputation but also his father’s legacy. I share his huge sense of responsibility.” Working with Kasliwal has given Oudejans a second wind. Since the Gem Palace showrooms, she has designed a luxury gift store for Debonnaire von Bismarck in London, and is working on a small hotel near Kasauli. And for Kasliwal, Oudejans has transformed Gem Palace from a stately dowager to a glittering debutante. “We’re the best advertisement for the ‘Made in India’ tag you’ll ever find,” he says triumphantly.
Photographs: Prarthna Singh, Pooja Achan
Sittings Editor: Akshita Singh