I’m from Bombay, where I lived until I was 15, when I left to go to boarding school in Singapore and then university in America. After I graduated I lived in New York, where I worked for a small management consulting firm. I decided to move back in 2003 and started Bungalow 8 soon after. We expanded into fashion much sooner than I thought we would, through a series of serendipitous events that led me to meet Mathieu (Gugumus Leguillon, head designer at Bungalow 8). I always wanted to do something with fashion but not in the conventional way by providing yet another platform for Indian designers that already had several – Melange, Ensmeble, Ogaan - there were enough of those. If I did fashion it would be by myself, on my own terms. I met Mathieu through a friend when he was looking for a change in life – he was working for Lanvin at the time and Saint Laurent before that and was looking to move out of Paris. Our visions for the brand seemed to align and he came to India five years ago, when we started our label, The Bungalow, together. I always say that he’s the designer and I’m the curator.
For me, Bungalow 8 is a philosophy. It’s about being local yet global. I think that kids like me – well I’m hardly a kid anymore, so aunties like me (laughs) – are a product of post-liberalisation India and I wanted Bungalow 8 to be Indian, where you could find a jumpsuit that was made in ikat or bandhini but in such a way that you’re still wearing history, craft and culture but with a very modern face. It will always be very Indian but not in the most obvious of ways; it won’t rely on the conventional ways of expressing Indian-ness; there will be no elephant symbols. Even with the furniture I source for the store; it isn't necessarily colonial. India – or even just Bombay – has many different pasts. It’s had an Art Deco history, an industrial history, a textile mill history – so many of the pieces we have speak to different part of Bombay. I’ve found tables that were used for printing, I’ve found great Art Deco pieces in old Parsi homes – for me it’s about having a working relationship with the past, the present and the future.
It’s not about taking traditional things and showing them in a way that you’d expect to see. I like taking things out of context and giving them a new one by having conversations between craft and technology, global and local, India and the rest of the world. I have customers who tell me they bought an outfit from an Indian designer that they loved wearing in India but couldn't wear back home. I want our clothes and our products to be something that travels well, and I want our customers to be able to carry a piece of India with them always, but not in an obvious way. We look a lot to Japanese design and the way it has evolved for this – the way that Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons are inspired by the country but without an explicit ‘Made in Japan’ label. But they take the craft and the spirit of minimalism and turn it into something modern – that’s what we do. I mean, I’m Indian. I grew up in India, I live in India, in this house – 8 Carmichael Road, where Bungalow 8 gets its name – but how do I translate that Indianness to the fact that I also spent half my life somewhere else, outside of this country? It’s a coming together of these experiences, a hybrid product that we always carry.
I think design has a bit of a wannabe quality today. Luxury is about having an It bag or even if you’ve got that discreet logo, it’s still about the immediate recognition of having the endorsement of a fashion house. I wanted Bungalow 8 to feel effortless and to feel sincere and genuine and real. It’s about sticking your neck out – the philosophy, really, is not about what you consume but what you think. Do you want to be different? A lot of that comes from my mother and my grandmother, two women who I grew up with who made unconventional choices – not that they seemed that way to me. They made them because that’s what came naturally to them, and that is something I’ve taken away. I’m not really concerned with what’s cool and I’m not trend-driven at all – I read the magazines, I know what’s going on, but it’s never something that informs my decisions.
I think I’ve had to come into beauty, to learn to understand it. It bothers me sometimes, because I don’t like makeup very much at all. I grew up not wearing it; it was only after I got into this business and I started understanding what it meant to be photographed that I became conscious of makeup and this need to be glamorous. I’ve only ever worn one very strong colour, usually on my lips, because I feel like if you’re not going to wear much, this distracts from that in a way. I love Chanel’s Vitalumiere and Giorgio Armani’s Luminous Silk for foundation, although I only use a tiny, tiny bit of both, and Nars for lipstick. They’ve got great colours. My skin is very sensitive, so I only use two things on it – the face wash and moisturiser from La Roche Posay’s Toleriane range for sensitive skin. I’m 36 now, so maybe I should do more, but I’m not sure. I’ve been going to my dermatologist, Malavika Kohli, since I was 15 and I get regular oxygen facials from her. I do a lot of yoga, a lot of meditation, since I’m a typical Type A and I need this – and twice weekly Ayurvedic massages from a lady who’s been coming home for years – to de-stress. I go to Alessandro at Rossano Ferretti at the Four Seasons in Bombay who cuts my hair all the time; I’m a bit of a loyalist. If he's not available, Neha at the same salon is great too. But I feel like as much as you do with your makeup and your hair, you can’t run away from who you are. I don’t think you should.
Maithili Ahluwalia photographed by Komal Basith at her home in Mumbai. © Komal Basith
Images of the store, courtesy Bungalow 8.