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Footloose in wonderland

Looking at high-end designer clothes, have you ever wondered about the source for the raw materials that go into the detailing? Let’s take a walk down Chandni Chowk to the niche market called Kinari Bazaar

Sequins. Crystals. Beads. Gold thread. Gota. Pearls. Semi-precious stones. Borders. Trims. Jewels. It’s these that adorn the lehengas, western style evening gowns, dressy palazzos and heavy saris that put the glitter in Indian weddings. And for boutiques and designer workshops spread across Delhi-NCR, there is one go-to destination that is unbeatable for the variety and the low prices it offers. It’s no secret, nor is it new.

After a cool Metro ride and a walk through the frenetic winding lane called Paranthe wali gali, you reach Chandni Chowk. Standing in the middle of the market, amid the overflowing drains and the unmaintained roads, you survey your surroundings. One can see foreigners being pulled on rickshaws, women looking for matching borders for their saris and hippies who visit the market for their ‘secret concoctions’.

However, the individuals you will not see loitering around the streets are the high fashion guys — graduates from swanky design schools — now working for A-list fashion brands. They are headed for Kinari Bazaar, a cluster of little shops brimming with all things satiny and shiny. This is a happy hunting ground for assistant designers from top apparel labels in the country. Here, they shop for every little piece of paraphernalia that they will need to decorate their million-dollar ensembles.

The market that has been in existence since the times of Mughals, is still a hotbed for manufacturers — many from Surat, Varanasi, Chennai and Mumbai — who move their monthly batches of trinkets to these wholesale shops in the market. Without them, the Indian fashion scene would be a pale shadow of its glamorous self.

One marvels at the contrast – the dingy market is a far cry from the kind of opulence that one sees in fashion weeks. But these young lads and ladies are trained to enter the right shops and find the exact minuscule bits and pieces that will go with the brand they work for.

Out of the plethora of old and new shops, we are directed towards Rasik Patel’s little booth named Ramanlal Jamnadas Jariwala. “It is R-A-S-I-K. Not Rashid,” corrects Patel who is later teased by his colleagues.

“Our shop has been here since 1954 and I am the fourth generation,” adds Patel, who belongs to a Sindhi family that came to Delhi all the way from Gujarat. When asked about the specialty of his shop, he shares poetically, “You will find everything made of zardosi here. Anything you might need to decorate the life in between birth and death.”

Patel who lives at a distance of two minutes from the market, explains the architecture of the market. “The market has always been this crowded. I would not be here, speaking to you, if there weren’t any customers.” His little shop is well stocked with yarns of various kinds — in gold, silver and various metallic colours. A couple of women at the shop inquire about the price of the gleaming beaded laces.

Further, he boasts, the outfits in Padmaavat, for which the raw materials were sourced from his shop. “I don’t know who designed the costumes for this film, but they came from Noida. Even Raj Kapoor’s costume in Mera Naam Joker was made with our shop’s material. But our job is just to sell these things. Money is the driving force for us,” adds Patel.

As the market is the source for every possible detail that goes into the making of the finest couture, many retailers show us the new additions of materials and designs in the list of available trims. Their shop also has feathers, in various forms and colours, that were recently introduced in Indian fashion, after Yves Saint Laurent — a French designer — first used it in the 1960s.  It was recently used by Indian designers like Falguni and Shane Peacock, Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna.

It’s fascinating that a stone of a particular shape and size is available in multiple qualities, which fits the budget of different buyers. One of the most sought-after shops is KBC, one of the biggest retailers of sequins (sitara) in the country. The shop is a three-storey building, filled with jars and bags of plastic cut in various shapes and such varied colours that one might mistake them for candy.

Harkesh, a sales representative at the shop, displays an array of designs available with them. “Our plastic, which is essentially PVC, goes through tests like Reach Compliance test, which is a European test that qualifies our material for usage in garments and other products.” He adds that apart from being one of the top exporters of sequin, they supply material to every possible designer brand in India. “Manish Malhotra, Anita Dongre, Rohit Bal — every one sources from us. In fact, many international brands, clothes of which are produced in India, use our sequins for their orders. Gucci is one of them,” adds Harkesh.

Then there is also a famous pearl and crystal shop in the market — Rajdhani Moti Centre — that is stocked with all things white, silver and transparent. Dinesh Kumar, the owner of the shop, explains to us the dye-able character of these trinkets. The shop, which is the size of a cubicle, is decked up with pearls and crystals that can take any colour, presents an exciting option  to a girl, presumably from a designer’s studio, who calls her boss to get the design and costs approved. Pointing at her. Kumar says, “See, this is the kind of customers we get, nagging for the best rate we can offer.” Dinesh remains calm and answers many more questions coming his way from other clients in his shop.

Like this guy with an embroidery swatch marked with the label Amanda Kelly. Mohammed Hussain, who has come all the way from Bareilly, gives hand embroidery support to Legend Creations — an export house in Noida. He goes on to explain the kind of orders he receives from these export houses. “We do get big orders, but we do not earn more than Rs 100 for every piece that we embroider,” says Hussain who has a team of 50 people working for him in Bareilly, who further have teams in their colonies back home.

He is confident that he can complete an order of 10,000 embroidery pieces in a month’s time. And he learnt to do this  in the last three years, since taking over his family business.

Kunal Debnath, a Delhi-based fashion designer tells us his experience of sourcing from the market. “Kinari Bazaar is backing a lot of brands, not just in India but internationally. India being a production hub for all major luxury brands, be it Elie Saab, Alberta Ferreti, Balenciaga or Zuhair Murad, the market plays an important role for a lot of international fashion. Specially stores like KBC.”

Debnath who has work experience at designer brands like Tarun Tahiliani, Tulsi by Neeru Kumar, now has his own brand Von, apart from the freelance work he does. He is of the view that Indian designers don’t have a leverage over their international counterparts for their proximity to cheap material and labour. “We are not as sound technically. The finish is not great.”

At Kinari Bazaar, there is a great chance for designers who have worked in the industry for a while to bump into a fellow designer or even a colleague.

Rinkle Sharma, who is about to complete three years at Amit Aggarwal Design Studio as a designer, says that she visits the market with an open mind, without restricting herself to the final application of the material she buys. Working for a design studio that is knows for the unconventional take on material used in their couture, she understands the possibilities of the plainest lace sourced from Kinari Bazaar.

One thing is clear, this corner of Kinari Bazaar keeps the entire fashion business humming but will never be visited by the celebrities who get adorned in the glimmer that is sold here. With a life of its own, it’s a dream destination for the designers, who like to come to this wonderland to fulfil a specific need or to look for their next inspiration.