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THE WOW FACTOR

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Last month someone presented me a set of gift vouchers. There were three vouchers of a thousand rupees each, from Fab India. I have not been to Fab India in a long time. The last time was a few years ago when a group of editors from many countries had come over on a project in which I participated too. Once the work phase was done with, the editors, all being women, of course wanted to shop and asked me to be their guide.

Nothing pleases me more than sopping for clothes than shopping vicariously for clothes so of course I made a quick list of places they could visit. We stopped at a mall first. The chain stores there would provide plenty of choice. Like little girls let loose in a candy shop, the editors oohed and aahed, especially over the kurtas and short kurti style tops, and filled the shopping bag with samples that they carried triumphantly to the changing room. A long minute later, they all trooped back. The most enthusiastic shoppers were the African editors. Big buxom women with large hearts and smiles and a body to match. But none of the clothes even pretended to fit them. The heart break was evident. I checked with the store assistants but even the XL samples they produced for us fell fat short. And the nicest prints and styles that the editors coveted were all in the medium range.
 
I often wonder to myself when I hear the complaints of generously endowed women if the brand or category heads of the fashion labels in stores have all decided that pretty clothes are only for the medium or small built woman. But that is another matter. To get back to the story I was recounting... I had a problem on hand. Most of the prints the African editors had liked were with very discernibly Indian motifs so I thought of driving them down to Bandra, to Fab India. The brand catered a lot to foreigners so there was a good chance of finding something that would fit.
 
And sure enough, within an hour of their entering the store, the shoppers were loaded with enough goods to warrant extra luggage levies at the airport. They loved the prints, they loved the sizes that made concessions for broad shoulders and ample proportions of waist and hip. The editors beamed and smiled and one of them insisted on folding away her plain cotton top and wearing a green and white printed kurti instead as she literally waltzed out of the store. I on my part, was also happily surprised. My acquaintance with Fab India had, till then, been second hand. Colleagues at work who favored the brand would sport colorful solids and pretty prints as kurta and salwar ensembles; their heavy dupattas making sweeping statements as they walked past my desk in the editorial room.  I had watched the clothes going from bright to dull to faded over the months and then years; till, bored with their untiring resistance to wear and tear, my colleagues would give them away and buy new ones. But obviously Fab India had grown since those days. I was surprised to find light airy prints and fabrics, and smarter cuts, as well as western style skirts and blouses. To my own surprise I bought my first Fab India clothes, a pencil skirt in khaki and a printed handloom straight skirt that stopped at my calves. That apart, my encounters with Fab India have been more in the nature of window shopping. I walk past the pretty store window at the Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel, Mumbai and love the saris displayed on the mannequins. But the fact that my handloom skirt faded and ran color made me wary of future purchases from the store.
 
But now I had this trio of vouchers. Not wanting to let them lapse and too selfish to gift them away, I took the first opportunity to walk into the rather well stocked outlet in Fort, Mumbai. There was a plethora of kurtis and skirts, dupattas and pleated salwar-like bottoms as well as the matched ready to wear sets making a colorful display. I flirted with the idea of buying one of the lovely Maheshwari or Chanderi saris the shop has an impressive collection of but the thought of the saris in my wardrobe waiting to be worn deterred me. Also, it was more fun to spread the booty, and get two or three items to mix and match. And therein came the rub. The pleated salwar bottoms were perfect. I would have got three, easily, but the sizes were not there in the colors I wanted. The kurtas were boring. Straight cut, a bit shapeless; they took me back in time a few decades. The fabrics were lovely: silks in soft sheens, cottons in crisp colors, but all of them looked like some lazy darzi had created one pattern and cut each to that single shape. Just across the road, at the less feted Westside, I knew I would get enough Indian styles to whet my sense of sartorial adventure but the vouchers were non transferable! 
 
Finally I picked a pleated salwar in beige, a printed skirt which was an inch loose at the waist despite being my size, and a red silk kurta that makes me alternately feel rich and dowdy when I wear it depending on what I team it with. Good value for money, I admit, but no wow factor! Which brings me to the point of this piece. Be it Mumbai, Pondicherry or Indore, Fab India has stores and happy clients everywhere. The brand provides reasonably priced, stylish-to-a-point hardy clothes that makes for safe wearing for any occasion. The earlier activist label, the running color complaint, are now part of it teething trouble history. The brand has expanded and evolved into one of dependability and variety.
 
But my plaint is the lack of style. Why, among the durable and dependable, can there not be a segment that caters to the more adventurous who would like more stylishly cut clothes with the other values the brand is now known for? Even the fuddy duddy M and S came in with the Per Una line to attract those who wanted a cutting edge to their dress statement... and found its lost younger clientele wandering in again.
 
Fab India has won the quantity battle. It needs to move on to the next front in the style war: to polish its identity as a forerunner in Indian retail and continue to do the service for Indian prints and fabrics it has done for decades till now!
 
Fab India
 
10-DECEMBER-2013
 
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