Given its enormity, India offers an array of local specialities. From clothing and gemstones to handicrafts and fabrics, every region has its own retail identity. One of the benefits of visiting Delhi, its capital city, is that it eloquently showcases a cross section of the country’s regional specialities, and over the past decade, the ancient city has grown rapidly beyond the exquisite and conventional to include whimsical fashion and design houses, too. Many of these marry a regional and global aesthetic, and are pushing the edge of the retail story.
Although the malls of Delhi – with their litany of globalised offerings – are expanding like an empire, they are only a fragment of the unfolding saga. Age-old markets, rife with character, and ingenious one-off stores are worthy of the journey it takes to seek them out – sometimes this requires enough perseverance to go up several flights of stairs of an obscure building in a neighbourhood you’ve never heard of. This is worth it not only for the treasures they hold, but also because in them lies the uniqueness of a vibrant local scene.
Delhi hosts the pick of the high profile. If you’re short on time, the DLF Emporio mall is a one-stop shop. Tarun Tahiliani, Raghavendra Rathore, Rohit Bal, Malini Ramani and Ranna Gill are among the high-end offerings that appease the swish set. In Hauz Khas village, Ogaan – a multi-designer store with a dynamic curation of design and fashion – showcases formal handworked Indian wear, alongside a playful fusion aesthetic. Other multi-designer stores worth popping into here are Kimaya and Ensemble.
If time’s on your side, visit the all-encompassing retail space at D-25 Defence Colony. While you’re stocking up on chikankari saris, empire-waist anarkalis, flowy lehengas and men’s sherwanis, notice the attention to detail that extends to the space you’re in. The rooms lead from one to another, as in an ancient heritage home. Pichwais (intricate paintings) adorn columns, the floors are of sandstone, the carpets hand-knotted. Part of a shopping legacy that you’re likely to pass on to your children might include whatever jewellery you order to your specification at Padma Gems. Best visited by prior appointment, the shop at 9-A Sunder Nagar street has a legacy of creating jewels for royals.
Eclectic garments and accessories
For clothes that turn heads, but can also be comfortably integrated into your wardrobe, Hauz Khas Village is the hub. Bodice reinvents old classics through modern tailoring, and uses indigenous textiles woven by local artisans. The clean aesthetic and relaxed silhouettes of the garments appear to fit into every situation (a dress costs from 9,000 rupees [Dh492]). For those looking for quality with a story, 11-11 ticks the box. This fashion-forward brand collaborates with farmers, weavers, vegetable dyers and those engaged in block-printing traditions to create its whimsical garments. The sustainable fashion can be paired with the store’s playful accessories. Think a reversible bag in kala cotton, for instance (Rs9,800 [Dh536]). Nappa Dori, which means leather and thread, will appeal to those with a design and accessory fetish. It features handcrafted leather trunks, notebooks and diaries with tie-dyed prints, and photography prints of typical Indian life on laptop bags, and iPad and iPhone covers. Here, too, an Indian aesthetic is married with exquisite craftsmanship. A laptop bag featuring the Qutub Minar monument is for Rs7,500 (Dh410).
Finally, to rekindle the childhood feeling of adventure that only a treasure hunt can conjure, visit Silverline in Bengali Market. Drawer upon drawer of silver accessories, in a range of techniques and styles, can keep you occupied all day. A simple silver ring costs from Rs1,000 (Dh54).
Knick-knacks and indigenous crafts
If you’re a collector of artfully designed objects that reflect simple observations on the local culture, Play Clan has India-inspired accessories from passport holders and pencil cases to cushions and coasters. Another store that curates the works of graphic designers and product innovators, who create objects with a quirky sense of humour, is Happily Unmarried. A Good-Karma bag here is from Rs299 (Dh16). If you’re looking for Bollywood posters, maps, lithographs or Ravi Verma prints, All Arts has the answer.
For stores that have handmade and indigenous written firmly into their mandate, the area around Connaught Place gives you rapture for your rupee. Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan is a government-run store and sells a range of products, sourced from micro and medium enterprises around India. The tea, soaps and aromatherapy oils (think pink grapefruit) make nice gifts (from Rs150 [Dh8]). A few steps away, amid an array of government emporiums representing the crafts of different Indian states, Kamala – The Craft Outlet of Crafts Council of India stands out for its thoughtful curation and attention to a more immaculate finish in the products it sells. The handicrafts and textiles, miniatures and wall-hangings pay tribute to vernacular forms (a cloth bag here is from Rs450 [Dh24]).
Think of what you want and in Delhi there’s likely to be a market for it. Chandni Chowk is a veritable maze of all things shop-worthy. Go to Khari Baoli for spices, or Kinari Bazaar for bridal wear and all that glitters – especially if gold lace, sequins and bright baubles mean anything to the latent fashion designer in you. Lajpat Nagar has all bargains imaginable – from clothing to costume jewellery. Dilli Haat on Sri Aurobindo Marg is a more organised cluster of government-run stalls. In this open-air food plaza and crafts bazaar, you’ll witness a diversity of products from across the country. What it perhaps lacks in finesse, it makes up for in variety. Think hand-carved wood, papier-mâché boxes, bamboo and cane products, and silver jewellery.
In a city awash with new money, malls proliferate. While DLF Emporio showcases the swankiest brands, Select Citywalk, DLF Promenade and Mall of India in the satellite city of Noida combine Indian and international luxury brands with local high-street fashion brands such as Anokhi and Kama Ayurveda.
Good Earth in Khan Market has sassily designed decor and lifestyle products. When you’re not admiring elephant motifs on a bone-china dinner set, you’re appreciating the sunshine-coloured textiles or marvelling over skincare brands and candle stands. The Shop, with its focus on natural fabrics in cotton, wool and tabby silk, offers more home accessories.
Where to stop for coffee
That atmospheric Latitude 28, on the top floor of the Good Earth home store, is convenient. The focus here is international, wholesome fare, with nutritious soups, salads and snacks; avocado summer rolls with citrus dill dressing cost Rs490 (Dh26). Licking crumbs off your fingers happily, while requesting more sweet (and savoury) stuff, is usually how a visit to Elma’s Brasserie in Meherchand Market ends up. Red velvet cake, apple crumble cheesecake and apple pie (from Rs280 [Dh15]) give one the required motivation to carry on with mission retail. To replenish the energy expended after finding the perfect outfits in Hauz Khas, visit Coast Café – an Ogaan initiative, situated just above the store – where plate poetry meets delicious food. Large windows let the sunshine in and let you appreciate the decor driven by attention to detail. Try the black-pepper tossed prawns (Rs580 [Dh31]).
Where to stay
Odes have been penned to The Imperial. Understandable, considering it’s a sensory feast of Victorian, colonial and art deco styles with history etched into its ancient Burma teak furniture, and Italian marble floors. The hotel was the social boulevard for the Indo-British, who rubbed shoulders here in times past. That it also ticks all the other boxes – being centrally located, with all expected facilities and services – is a given. Rooms from Rs11,000 (Dh600) per night.
An oasis in the city centre and on the edge of Lutyens’ Delhi is how The Lodhi has been described. Luxury meets sophistication in every attendant frill – from spa to dynamic art collection, outdoor pool to private plunge pools – making it a popular choice. Rooms from Rs13,000 (Dh710) per night.