Design inspired by India

I was at the Mint Luxury conference in Mumbai.  The Lounge Luxury issue was timed for that.  There are some terrific essays by Radha Chadha and Sunil Khilnani.  I liked Radha’s “More is More” theory of Indian luxury– it is spot on.

Here is the link to my piece.

  • Columns
  • Posted: Fri, Mar 23 2012. 8:45 PM IST
  • The balancing act
Buying well-designed but functionally poor objects is not sustainable long-term because there is only so much “stuff” that your home can accommodate

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

Even for design junkies such as myself, the world of product design is overwhelming. An obvious—and useful—constraint is budget: How much are you willing to spend to own an object by a designer you adore? But even there, the spread is pretty wide—you can own a beautifully designed object for a few thousand rupees, and it goes all the way to several crores. For example, a friend gifted me Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif citrus squeezer, an iconic piece that Starck designed. It costs almost $100 (around Rs. 4,900) on Amazon and it doesn’t work. It sits on my kitchen counter as a decorative object. Even Starck admitted that his Juicy Salif was a conversation opener as much as it was a functional object. Buying well-designed but functionally poor objects is not sustainable long-term because there is only so much “stuff” that your home can accommodate. But for those with huge homes, unlimited space and an extendable budget, the world of design offers a pleasure that is nonpareil. Here are a few well-designed objects to add to your collection. Each has an Indian link: Either the designer is Indian or the inspiration is Indian or it is created in India.

Pi ke puht

BY MELBOURNE-BASED SIAN PASCALE

 

Object of desire:  Pi ke puht

Object of desire: Pi ke puht

 

Kulhad chai is a great north Indian invention. I haven’t seen it much in south India but the experience of drinking tea from an earthen cup and then tossing it without any guilt offers a pleasure that is hard to quantify. Designer Sian Pascale has taken this notion of biodegradable, hygienic teacups to the next level by embedding seeds in them. The idea is that the seeds will sprout from the broken teacups, continuing the circle of life. From destruction comes creation. This Melbourne-based designer plans to move to Mumbai this year. For details, visit http://sianpascale.blogspot.in/2011/11/chai-time.html 

Lace Fence

BY DUTCH DESIGN FIRM DEMAKERSVAN

Dutch brothers Joep and Jeroen Verhoeven used to spend half their time in India. Today, they collaborate with Bangalore-based designer Vivek Radhakrishnan to create this “high-end metal fabric” that combines the Indian art of lacemaking with metal fabrication (http://www.lacefence.com/). The product is developed and manufactured in Bangalore by Radhakrishnan, a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, the Netherlands, arguably the best design school in the world today. Radhakrishnan’s design firm Kynkyny specializes in wood furniture. I saw his dining table at my friend Gauri Manepally’s home in Bangalore and fell in love with it. It is simple, square and made of a dark wood that is the colour of rich dark chocolate. For details, visithttp://www.kynkyny.com/home/index.php

Leather Lampshades

BY DUTCH DESIGNER PEPE HEYKOOP

 

Leather Lampshades.

Leather Lampshades.

 

Amsterdam-based Heykoop, also a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, is interested in handmade objects using low-tech techniques. His design sensibility veers towards sustainability and recycling. In 2009, he began a project with Hamara Foundation, Mumbai, for the assembly of these objects. Funded by the not-for-profit organization Tiny Miracles Foundation, this project has created Leather Lampshades. “Nowadays,” he says, “street children are going to school while their mothers help in the production of the lamps.” Heykoop is currently setting up a workplace at Hamara Foundation specifically for the school dropouts of this community with whom he designs and develops products using mainly recycled materials such asmatkas (spherical water vessels) and leather scrap. For product inquiries, call Mohan Chauhan at 022-24978844/55. 

Flexie totes

BY CHENNAI-BASED NUPUR GOENKA

 

Flexie totes

Flexie totes

 

Chennai-based designer Nupur Goenka looks to garbage for inspiration. Her Flexie totes, which retail for $25, use fabric waste, leather scraps and plastic from all those giant billboards erected in our cities. A single billboard can make about 20 totes, each of which is unique because they cut out the plastic and convert it into bags. Zurich-based Freitag, which makes bags and accessories, does the same thing: They use traffic billboards to make messenger bags that cost a whole lot more than Goenka’s bags. I love her Sit orphan chair that has been converted with neon-bright woven seats. For details, visit http://www.letsontheweb.com/home.html 

Honest by

BY ANTWERP-BASED BRUNO PIETERS

On a sabbatical in south India, Antwerp-based designer Bruno Pieters, previously with Hugo Boss, observed how local fashion was traceable to its source. I am not sure this is universally true in India, given our chain stores, but certainly for Indian women who buy bolts of fabric and then have it tailored, the experience of fashion is completely different from buying a global luxury product without any knowledge of its provenance. Pieters started his “Honest by” line, conceived during his south Indian experience. The idea is to give a complete breakdown of the cost of every jacket, sweater or dress that you buy from his website. As the website says, “Honest by wants to shed light on the questions: where is it made and by whom.” And for how much, I might add. For details, visithttp://www.honestby.com/en/page/16/about.html

Also Read | Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

Indian design objects

  • Columns
  • Posted: Fri, Mar 9 2012. 9:42 PM IST
The decorative traditions of India took pleasure in crafting objects for everyday use that were quite beautiful

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

When people talk about India’s design aesthetic, they most often reach for the past. The decorative traditions of India took pleasure in crafting objects for everyday use that were quite beautiful. Is there an Indian design aesthetic? What are some objects of everyday use that exemplify this aesthetic? Here is my incomplete list of things I believe are beautiful and follow the form-marries-function credo.

The lota (a spherical water vessel). Of course. Thanks to American designer Charles Eames’ comment in The India Report, which led to the formation of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in 1961. “Of all the objects we have seen and admired during our visit to India, the lota, that simple vessel of everyday use, stands out as perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful,” said Eames.

The thali.

The thali.

The thali (plate). Perfectly suited to the multiple courses that are served simultaneously in an Indian kitchen.

The rimmed stainless steel tumbler. Used communally to drink fluids without having the utensil touch the lips. Our elders would say that it is more hygienic and uses fewer resources in terms of washing.

The thali (plate). Perfectly suited to the multiple courses that are served simultaneously in an Indian kitchen.

The rimmed stainless steel tumbler. Used communally to drink fluids without having the utensil touch the lips. Our elders would say that it is more hygienic and uses fewer resources in terms of washing.

The tiffin carrier. A thing of beauty really, used to carry multiple courses in train compartments and for long journeys. Immortalized by Subodh Gupta in his sculptures. Still used in urban India, where caterers carry food in giant tiffin boxes in autorickshaws. Which leads us to the….

The autorickshaw is a ubiquitous object of love and hate. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons.

The autorickshaw is a ubiquitous object of love and hate. Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons.

Autorickshaw. Inspired by the Italian Piaggio Ape, not as indigenous as the bullock cart, but a ubiquitous object of love and hate nevertheless.

Ambassador car. Not exactly indigenous, but has become an Indian icon. Immortalized by Jitish Kallat in his work.

Kulhad (earthen) cups.Disposable, biodegradable, hygienic. As easy on the eye as the paper plates designed by Japanese design firm Wasara (www.wasara.jp/index_e.html)

Saris. Even though pretty much every Indian apparel is an example of good indigenous design, a few stand out. The sari is intrinsic to India, and conveys the soul of our textile traditions. This unstitched cloth reflects an aesthetic that is rooted in simplicity as the essence of purity. The regional variations possible out of this fabric are mind-boggling in their creativity.

Kurta. Called tunic globally, these long tops that we wear all over India are now sold in Stockholm, Sweden, and San Francisco, US.

Bindis. Madonna wears them. Bharti Kher popularized them in her sculptures, although she doesn’t wear them herself.

Lungi. Checked or plain, the lungidhotiveshti and panchakacham, are all variations of a simple cotton cloth that is put to good use by our men. In Kerala, lungis raised to half-mast to reveal hirsute legs is a common sight. Toddy tappers tie them even higher as they clamber up trees and bring down the fluid that lubricates Kerala’s love of fish.

Kolhapuri chappals. Uniquely Indian.

Mojris and Chikan work. Prada is doing a take on these.

Coir. Beds and mats are most common, but the range of objects that the “kalpavriksha” coconut tree offers range in number and drive some of Kerala’s economy.

Chattais. Woven mats. We sit on them. We sleep on them. Now we putzari borders on them and colour them pink and purple.

Jadhu (broomstick). Local materials tied together to make a cleaning object that is user-friendly, biodegradable and does its job.

Tambu. Tent. It’s used all over the country.

Turban. It finds multiple uses in the desert, from keeping your head cool to carrying some food in its folds.

Jhola. These bags have become cool these days, with modern designers putting their own spin on them.

Safety pin. Not necessarily Indian but becomes an Indian woman’s Swiss army knife and is strung in her mangalsutra. Kiran Uttam Ghosh makes tassels out of safety pins in her clothes.

Cradles made of saris in trains. Okay, so these aren’t exactly objects but examples of Indian jugaad (resourcefulness). But they conform to design firm Ideo’s credo of “human-centric design”.

Kaajal-daani. Lovely object from Madhya Pradesh, used to apply kaajal(kohl) in eyes. Comes with a mirror inside. I own one. I bought it for Rs.350 at Dastkar in Bangalore from a craftsman.

Sit-cutting. Called boti in Bengali, addeli in Konkani, kathipeeta in Telugu, aruvamanai in Tamil, pankhi in Oriya, vili or morli in Marathi,thuriyo mane in Kannada, daat in Punjabi, hansua in Bihar and Jharkhand, and kaanthne in Mangalore, this unique cutting instrument implies leisure and camaraderie in the kitchen. A beloved kitchen tool.

What’s your list? Thank you, Sujata Keshavan, co-founder, Ray + Keshavan, and Surya Prakash, managing director, Design Core, for contributing to mine.

Shoba Narayan’s current favourite design object is an uruli-table with a glass on top. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

Also Read | Shoba’s earlier Lounge columns