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Maithili Ahluwalia is the epitome of modern-day elegance – articulate, entrepreneurial and quick-witted. She is just as influential as she is stylish, and seeing as she has more style in her little finger than most of us could attain in a lifetime, that makes her one extremely influential woman.
A little over a decade ago she opened the first ever concept store in Mumbai, Bungalow 8, housed in a 1857 three-storey colonial building. Since then she has moved her store to Mumbai’s iconic Wankhede Cricket Stadium. Literally under the stands, Bungalow 8 is now the only store in the world located inside a sports stadium. She continues to reshape the retail landscape in India, presenting the skills and beauty of Indian artisanship to the rest of the world. In turn, this powerful Indian entrepreneur has been named by Business of Fashion as one of the 500 most influential people shaping the global fashion industry, an honour awarded to just 20 Indians.
Entering Bungalow 8 is an otherworldly experience. Unusual and unconventional home furnishings, antiques, jewellery and Indian clothes fill Maithili’s treasure trove. Things like antique Anglo-India tea sets are sold alongside modern rustic pottery and the most exquisite selection of bath paraphernalia that you never knew you needed. The ever-changing displays are creative and captivating, so much so that you will find it difficult to leave. When you do eventually tear yourself away you will be left with an overwhelming desire to redecorate your home or completely change your style. That is the power of Bungalow 8.
In 2009 Maithili launched her first in-house fashion collection ‘Bungalow’, which focuses on classics that can weather any trend and has patrons including Madonna and Vivienne Westwood. Two years later, she added a menswear line to the expanding Bungalow world.
When chatting with Maithili it is quickly apparent that Bungalow 8 is so much more than just a boutique or a concept store; it is a philosophical journey and one she is incredibly passionate about. This love for her store is mirrored in the deep respect she has for her culture. She is engrossed in India and her understanding of her country and city is admirable. We doubt there could be anyone with more of Mumbai’s secrets to share.
SUITCASE MAGAZINE: How and why did you come up with the idea of Bungalow 8?
MAITHILI AHLUWALIA: I had spent more than half of my life overseas, firstly at boarding school, then living in New York and London. I thought Mumbai and India was really lacking a store mixing the local, the global and the best of Indian artisanship. The idea really came about to fill this void in the Mumbai market and, I hesitatingly say, the country.
I never see Bungalow 8 as a fashion store, I see it as a lifestyle store or what people today call a concept store. It blends indigenous culture with a modern sensibility and has always been philosophically driven. I am very fortunate to live in a country of unusual things, it just depends what kind of lens you look at it with.
SM: What is your most powerful memory of Mumbai?
MA: My most powerful Mumbai memory inspired the name of my shop. Bungalow is a colonial term for house, and ‘Bungalow 8’ was my family bungalow that I grew up in. I was very fortunate to grow up in Mumbai with my family. My mother and my grandmother are both designers and much of what I learnt came from them. Mumbai bungalows are quickly disappearing and being replaced by skyscrapers, so the name is an ode to this and the place where I grew up. It is metaphorical, it is literal, spiritual, it is everything.
SM: Are there any myths about Mumbai or India that you would like to dispel?
MA: I think when people say they have “been to India” – I have never understood that. You need many lives to visit India, I don’t know which part you visited. I think for everything somebody tells you about India, the opposite is always true. It really depends on what kind of India you see. If someone says it is full of poverty, that is true, but it is also full of wealth. A lot of women have a really tough time and for the predominant part of India and in poorer classes sadly opportunities are few and far between. Other women are extremely fortunate and are really coming into their own in many positions of power across the board.
SM: What are your favourite must-see destinations in India?
MA: I may be biased but Mumbai. I wouldn’t say it is underrated but it is underexplored. You need to come to Mumbai and think ‘what would a local do?’ I think one of the most underrated cities in India is actually Kolkata. Again, you have to look at it through a local’s eyes
Maithili Ahluwalia’s Insider Guide to Mumbai
There is only one place to stay in Mumbai and that is The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, it is Indian decadence at its best.
Ankur is my favourite restaurant to visit when I am feeling like fresh fish.
Swati Snacks is the best place to visit for street food.
The Table is a great place to go for cuisine with a Western influence.
Dakshinayan is the best South Indian restaurant, for delicious food.
Lastly, try and wrangle an invitation to someone’s home. Then you can have a traditional Indian dinner.
Bungalow 8 is a unique concept store. What can I say? I am totally biased!
Phillips Antiques has a great array of antiques, they are beautiful.
Sabyasachi is one of my favourite Indian designers, unfortunately he does not do as much Western wear as I would like.
Sea Lounge in the Taj Mahal Hotel has the nicest view of the sea, you can watch the boats and also get great food.
The Table has a lovely wide bar and a round table. You can sit there and meet new people.
The Dome at the InterContinental has a great rooftop bar with an amazing view.
I am too old to dance! I don’t know
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