When Bhanubhakta came to Kathmandu from Tanahu, he was taken aback by the elegance of Kathmandu ladies. The bard even penned some verse extolling their beauty, and the fragrant gunakeshari tucked in their hair. Imported fashion is not new to Kathmandu as any old picture of Rana women dressed like their Victorian
sisters in billowing black gowns will show. With cable television, the modern Kathmandu woman is also moving in step with global fashion trends.
Tailor? What is that? Today, they are known as designers and it has become a status symbol to be seen inside some of the more trendy boutiques in the capital's swanky streets. But it is also the rising demand for high fashion that explains the
proliferation of boutiques in Patan and Kathmandu.
"There has been a cultural revival in Kathmandu," says Srijana Singh Yonjon a prominent fashion choreographer. "Women these days are becoming more outgoing as well as independent and thus need plenty of outfits to change.
Boutiques provide them with moderately priced but effective dresses that suit their personality."
Okay, but is it affordable? We went to find out and the conclusion is that although with the elegant mannequins and smooth interiors they look expensive, Kathmandu's fashion boutiques are a bargain hunter's paradise. Free enterprise has something to do with it, prices are low because of the competition.They are generally lower than in Bangkok or Delhi anyway. And Nepali fashion designers with their certificates from design institutes abroad seem as good as the best in the region.
The stretch of road from Bagmati bridge to Jawalakhel alone has over a dozen fashion boutiques. Some of them are poor clones. But in most others, the elegant gowns and salwar kameezes are exquisite and affordable.
Chaahat was set up in 1996, and is run by a Rajesh Dhakwa who holds a fashion design degree from Singapore.
Chaahat's clientele ranges from teenagers and aspiring models to Kathmandu expatriates. Don't be intimidated by the plush look, you'll find what you want, the way you want it and for the price you want it. But aren't these things supposed to be expensive? Rajesh shakes his head: "I wanted to change the
fashion trend in Kathmandu as well as get to the middle-income level people."
Right, but what about this wedding outfit here for Rs 38,000? Rajesh says it is one of those custom-made ones, and quickly points to a cosy-looking cotton shirt for Rs 500, and a simple but comfortably-flowing salwar kameez for Rs 1,500.
Up the road, Akarshan is a boutique with aspiring talent. Its designers are younger, but as talented. Sangeet Shrestha runs this shop with his sister, and both are very encouraged by the public's growing desire to dress well. Obviously Kathmandu had a huge pent-up demand for comfortable, functional and elegant clothes that is just now being filled.
Still, there is some ways to go. Sangeet says: "The current fashion trend is not
specific and flows with the season."
Patan may have taken the lead in innovation, but Kathmandu is not far behind.
Although the really expensive boutiques are located in the proximities of (where else?) Kathmandu's Champs Elysee: Durbar Marg, these cater more to the visitor and expat market. But the more affordable ones in Bag Bazar, New Road or Lazimpat have a largely Nepali clientele.
Fashion Den in Lazimpat has been around for nine years and it was tough going at first, says Mamata Tulachan, designer and owner. "Many have come and gone, but this business requires patience," says Mamata. "It hasn't always been so easy for me either, but the reason why am here today and some of my competitors aren't is because I stuck to it through thick and thin." Mamata believes in the Nepali touch, and includes handpainted designs of Indigenous Kathmandu figures,ranging from the Kumari to Swayambunath. But do Nepalis wear this ethnicchic stuff? Mamata says her business proves that they do. "Nepali women these days have become more fashion conscious, and aren't just satisfied with
regular salwar kameez and saris. The evening gown has arrived!" Prices range from as low as Rs 500 to 7,000 depending on whether you want one of the hand painted ones, or the simple but graceful shirts that might just go along with trousers.
Designers Clothline is operated by three young fashion designers Padma Malla, Bina Shrestha and Rakshya Hirachan. The boutique faces Kasthamandap Bazaar, but Padma is not worried about competition from across the road. "Readymade garments everywhere are the same and people are searching for variety these days. Teenaged girls come up to us and demand designs taken straight from Vogue." Padma will be putting on a fashion exhibit with the theme "Essence of Women" in the Radisson Hotel in September, and thinks there is certainly a
fashion designing in Nepal because of the pool of talent.
Boutiques like Kanta's, Daffodils and Akarshan mainly cater to the Nepali taste and they specialise in embroidered salwar kameezes, suits, and rich lot of scope for ?
evening gowns. Their prices range from Rs 500 and above. The cuts seem to made for the traditional Kathmandu homemaker yearning to be free.
The tourist ghetto of Thamel has its slew of boutiques, but these cater mainly to the tourist market. Most of them sell rough cotton stuff preferred by the trekkies that hang around there. But there are some up-market silk and pashmina shops as well.
So what of Kathmandu's expatriates and other transients? Where do you go? Durbar Marg provides a choice of excellent designs and quality well suited to your taste and (ahem) purse. Yashmine's is one that has put Nepal on the global fashion map. Run by designer Yashmine Rana, a French fashion designer who did her graduation from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Yashmine has been presenting her creations in the world fashion capitals: Paris, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Berlin, and Zurich since 1984. Yashmine's collections are original, innovative with simple forms with bold silhouettes. Yashmine does wonders with luxury fabrics and has given the Nepali "dhaka" a contemporary twist.
Nearby is Wheels, run by Shakun Sherchan. True to her personality, Shakun believes in bold statements with natural fibres. The fashion business now has a turnover of more than Rs 10 million a year and provides direct employment to more than 3,000 people and the business is growing exponentially. That's all fine.
But we just have to say this: now that Nepali women are free, can the men be far behind?