South Asian style injection

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      A few months ago, on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening, Mickey Contractor, director of makeup artistry for MAC Cosmetics in India, visited the trendsetting label’s Vancouver flagship at the corner of Robson and Hornby streets.

      At his invite-only master class, hundreds of eager Bollywood fans lined up to watch as he showed how to achieve the dramatic, kohl-lined eyes that define the look in India’s spectacular musicals. Interestingly, however, in addition to demonstrating the techniques, Contractor stated repeatedly that they are intended for a style of film that has gone unchanged for a century.

      Translation? Bollywood makeup should be updated—toned down and lightened up—to better suit life in 2008.

      The same might be said for fashion. While many women wear saris in long-established ways, several local designers and storeowners are showing a new face of South Asian fashion: one that fuses historical traditions of using vibrant colours and luxurious fabrics with an updated, global approach to marketing and style.

      Sisters Preetka and Sarah Brar are the proud owners of Kitsilano’s Lakshmi Boutique (2868 West Broadway,, named after the goddess of wealth and beauty. The boutique is a study in contrasts: name aside, Lakshmi is not a crammed, Little India–like purveyor of saris but an airy, high-ceilinged space that looks like the kind of ultrachic haunt you’d find on Melrose Avenue.

      Preetka says, “We spent quite a bit of time planning the décor, making it boutiquey and pretty,” noting the dark wood floors, grand pillars, and light-reflecting chandeliers and mirrors.

      “It may look expensive, but that’s just to make our customers feel special,” she says. In fact, nothing at Lakshmi—what Preetka calls a “candy store for girls”—exceeds $100, with the exception of a scarf dress that can be worn eight different ways and retails for $159, and a new collection of embroidered wool and cashmere shawls and coats (under $200), all of which are custom-designed and imported from India.

      The store’s Indian influence is subtle, most obvious in the jewellery section. A “bangle bar” comes stocked with traditional Indian gold and multicoloured bracelets, as well as necklaces and chandelier earrings fit for a rani.

      But the sisters were clearly inspired by global travel, sourcing clothing labels from New York (such as Rubber Duckie and Aggie, both known for their jersey tops and dresses, Montreal (sweaters and sweater dresses by Ripe), and Los Angeles (quality knitwear by Dolce Vita). “We were born and raised here, but have travelled a lot,” Preetka says. “We’d go abroad and bring back clothes, and everyone would be asking where we got them from. We thought it’d be fun to have this stuff in Vancouver.”

      Global influences are also important to Harjit Pooni, better known as the single-named Jeeti of Vancouver’s To Desire ( Since 2005, she has produced a range of brocade, silk, and tweed scarves, and recently launched Golden Embrace, a collection of three super-high-end, custom-designed wraps. “I was inspired by the maharaja era and the romance of clothing back then,” she says. “When you put one of these on, you feel regal.”

      Because the wraps are sewn using fabric from around the world, they are “for people who appreciate diversity”, Jeeti says. “You don’t have to be royalty to wear the wraps, and you don’t have to spend $100,000,” she says, thumbing the cream Aphrodite ($2,248), which features a French overlay with hand-sewn 22-karat-gold Indian ghungroo (bells), dupioni-silk backing, and Chinese brocade and metallic lace trim from Seoul.

      “By combining fabrics from all over the world,” says Jeeti, “the wraps bring global culture and multiculturalism into my designs.”

      Each piece in Golden Embrace is a sample of the custom creations available (each one takes three people four to eight weeks to complete) and incorporates the collection’s signature 22-karat gold accents. While they can be worn in a traditional Indian manner, Jeeti points out their versatility, showing off photos of a model wearing one with jeans and another over a bathing suit.

      This versatility, combined with Jeeti’s global inspiration and the Brar sisters’ philosophy for Lakshmi Boutique, demonstrates how Indian fashion (like Bollywood makeup) has been updated for modern times. And given the success of To Desire and Lakshmi it looks like this approach is appealing to an increasingly cosmopolitan market.