It’s a sea of white when I make my way into a private, heavily guarded venue at 32nd Avenue in Gurugram. Apart from an incredibly abstract bonsai plant at the heart of it all that stands at more than fifteen feet, the space gives away nothing. A friend tells me that the bonsai alone were imported for this event, underlining the quiet luxury but luxury all the way. It’s a sea of white because the dress code is white, so all the guests look like they’re straight out of a Greek island—milling about the venue, old friends giving each other bear hugs.
Gradually, the space reveals itself, surfacing from the white visual surfeit. A few feet away, an LED display plays a black and white short film of models in indie brands from Antar Agni to Urvashi Kaur, aided by near-tribal ululations in the background. The stage in the corner holds the promise of a spectacle. A concert? Pyrotechnics? Gymnastics? Or everything at once?
After we’re all seated in a semi-circle, in a crowd of media, entrepreneurs, industry leaders and other key fashion stakeholders, the models start making their way on the cobbled runway, under a moonless sky still recovering from the sudden, unseasonal rains that had pummeled the national capital region earlier in the day. The lights affixed to the base of the exotic bonsai glow in tandem with the music that shuffles between electro-house, psychedelic rock and drums. Each brand has been carefully handpicked and curated by renowned designer Nitya Arora who is also the creative director for The Galleries and the show styled by Prayag Menon.
“The conceptual idea for the launch derived from the term “The Galleries” in its literal sense and the intrinsic connection to art. From the single paint stroke on the invitations to the giant, white fluttering canvas that was theatrically revealed the retail space in the show’s finale, every moment was an homage to how fashion helps us tell our own, individual stories through the medium of our bodies,” said Kaustav Dey, Aesthetics Officer at 32nd.
It’s a staggering range — the asymmetrical updated classics of Antar Agni balance structure and flow, the tunis and new-age salwars by Urvashi Kaur in palettes of moody whites and greys, the suits of Khanijo that juxtapose the finest principles of sharp tailoring, the quirky posturing of Koytoy or even the signature play on leather by Tiger Marrón. Other brands include Almost Gods, Aroka, Cord, Hannan, Ituvana, Kasha, Khanijo, Khara Kapas, Leh, Nadi Nadi, Ode to Odd, Ruby’s Organics, Studio Medium, Sublime Life, Yam and Yavi.
“People can go to the flagship stores of couturiers or even DLF Emporio where some of them have a home, but what about our indie brands? Most of them don’t have any stores at all. The idea behind Galleries was precisely to plug this gap,” Arora told Elle India.
A similar sentiment is echoed by Dhruv Sharma, founder and CEO at the 32nd. The way he looks at it, while there have been a number of new-age Indian entrepreneurs who have recently found their feet in the fashion weeks of Milan, Paris and New York, but there are others who yet not found even a home in the form of a retail experience in the country.
“The Galleries provide these brands with physical space, complimentary footfall, and funding to help incubate their flagship experiences in India,” he says. “With talented founders at the helm who have incredible design stories to tell, each space transports you into the world of that brand, allowing you to discover an unexplored side of your own personal style — and is, in essence, a refreshing take on the anti-mall culture.”
Think Le Marais, Chelsea Market, Soho or Dover Street Market. Except that while Dover also has spaces for all of Comme des Garçons brands and even Balenciaga and Thom Browne among others, the Galleries unabashedly owns its indie space. Wandering round the vast, multi-story retail space is an experience that flits between street-style-watching on a good day to having a canteen-style affair with the best joints and cafés in the same compound.
As with the best retail spaces, the Galleries promise is an experience. There has always been the criticism with indie brands in India that their retail section on the website is largely buggy. On random days, the websites almost disappear from the internet for hours. The payment gateways get all stuck up and the clothes never reach on time. Will Galleries remove all these buggy frills and pull a wide cross-section of buyers who can pick up a quirky tunic with the same ease as a high-end buyer in Emporio picks up a Gaurav Gupta ensemble?
The future of retail spaces and the commerce of buying is a complicated territory with endless stories. As of now, The Galleries has managed to craft its own.