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Hyderabad, fashion pearl


Hyderabad, with its love for the good life, seems to have left Bangalore and Chennai behind in the style stakes. Designers, both desi and foreign, are flocking to the city of the Nizams.

There was a time when if you lived south of the Vindhyas and wanted to buy designer wear, you had to travel to either Delhi or Mumbai. But things are changing, and how. The opening of the UB City Mall five years ago brought high fashion and international luxury brands to Bangalore and then earlier this year, Louis Vuitton opened shop in Chennai. With the now over-a-decade old multi-designer store Evoluzione as its neighbour, the fashion conscious in Chennai now have a fair amount of choice. But it seems the real shopping capital of the South may just be Hyderabad. In fact, many have dubbed it the "Delhi of the South".

Hyderabad is a city I always love to visit. It is a city that loves to lead the good life, and in the past few months, three Indian designers have decided that this city should be home to their flagship stores in the South. Tarun Tahilani (who opened his 4, 000-square-foot store in August) led the charge and, more recently, Shantanu and Nikhil as well as Sabyasachi have come calling. All of them feel Delhi and Hyderabad share certain traits. Bangalore is a bit like Mumbai, more casual, while Chennai is more subtle and sedate in its tastes. Delhi and Hyderabad are both known for their love of the "big fat Indian wedding" which really drives high fashion in India.

And while Delhi's cash-rich and friendly neighbours, Ludhiana and Chandigarh, add to the capital's appeal for the fashion industry, Hyderabad has the smaller but affluent townships of Guntur, Nellore and Vijaywada close by. And given the number of NRIs who hail from the city, designers' cash registers are bound go cha-ching.

Canali was among the first international luxury brands to enter the city five years ago. Marketing director of the brand, Roasie Ahluwalia, says, "Hyderabad is a promising city for luxury, " and also adds that they are exploring other markets like Kolkata, Surat and Chennai. But it seems as far as Southern India is concerned, Hyderabad seems to be the style capital. The city of the Nizams is also home to some of the most beautiful hotels in India including the Taj's Falkunama Palace, where Sabyasachi held a fashion show to celebrate the opening of his store. It has all the ingredients a city needs to make it a fashion hub. For him, sales have surpassed expectations. In fact sales were double of what he projected his first month sales to be.

Like Delhi, Hyderabad is also a very unique market. Anand Kabra, probably Hyderabad's most successful home-grown designer, points out, "You could say we are where Delhi was a few years ago. " He believes his city is probably the most fashion aware city in the South but says there is still confusion in Hyderabad about what its aesthetic is.

Tahilani feels that Hyderabad is all about classicism. "Probably because of its Nizami lineage, Hyderabad seems to prefer bright colours. " With Tarun being a designer who has referred to the Nizam heritage so often in his collections, Hyderabad seems like a natural home for his collections.

Nikhil Mehra agrees that there is an underlying current of modern with traditional. "We have dressed brides in gowns, traditional lenghas and sarees. The men have become bolder in their choice for colours. " Shantanu and Nikhil first gained recognition in the Nizam's city when they dressed Sania Mizra for her wedding about two years ago and since then have worked on around 15 big weddings in the city.

Sabyasachi, the most recent designer to set up shop in the city, says, "Hyderabad is unique. On one hand you have strong loyalists of tradition and then there others who buy everything from Dior to Galliano. " Sabya is no newbie to the city. He has been stocking in the city for the last decade through the multi brand store Elahe and knows buying habits well. Smita and Rajiv Shroff, the duo behind the 4, 000-square-foot Elahe that stocks over 40 designers, are also Sabyasachi's partners in his store. Smita is quite realistic. "Hyderabad is still a small market, its size not even 30 per cent of cities like Delhi or Mumbai. " She says the political instability may hinder the city's growth but still believes it is the natural city of choice for fashion designers.

But the real message of the opening of these three stores in the last four months is that fashion is finally becoming pan-India. And with news that luxury brands are looking at Gujarat, it seems clear that high fashion is now finally starting to penetrate other cities in India. Stores in the smaller cities may not be as extravagant or even as lucrative as Delhi and Mumbai, but they are definitely putting the country on the fashion map.

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