by Archana PillaiAug 08, 2019
She welcomed me into the studio with effortless warmth, and a smile that said she approved of my reaction to the space. I look around even before I respond to her smile with one of my own - and that was something I had not planned. There is so much to look at in the newest studio of designer Arjun Khanna, and as his wife Shefali Khanna highlighted herself, “Everything has a story.”
From the 1960s fin tail Mercedes grill to her mom’s vintage clothes trunks and his grandfather’s antique cameras, the walls are solid structural testaments to their history as both, individuals as well as a design label. As a couple, Shefali and Arjun complement each other beautifully. There is an ease in their banter that is in no way forced or put on. The same can be said about the Mumbai studio that I am standing in. With his eponymous label ringing in its 30th year, Arjun is all set to enjoy the coming years in this eclectic space.
“I wanted a man cave,” says Arjun, as he studies fabric swatches at the large round table in the centre. True to his intent, what the atelier resembles is an adda, and it aims to change the entire experience of shopping for the man. To one side, along the length of the wall, hang his designs. Behind him, the changing rooms sit smart with their denim detailing. A vintage bike occupies a strategic corner below the suspended staircase that leads up to the mezzanine that houses a small pantry and what is Shefali’s office.
“We already have an atelier upstairs in the same building,” explains Arjun. What they have created here is more like a display-cum-studio where client meetings, trials and other dialogues over design can be held. The vibe is strong, laced with characteristic elements of everything that Arjun, the quintessential ’bad boy‘, likes to surround himself with. In fact, both Shefali and he are collectors, and the space, although busy, showcases the perfect balance of old and new, with a great blend of style, form and function.
When they first walked into the studio, it was an old chemical godown — not the most aesthetically pleasing sight, one would think. Interestingly, they have retained a lot of the old structure, adding new elements along the way. “We didn’t discuss anything. The design of the studio evolved organically, as we worked on Arjun’s vision of the space,” says Shefali, who is a qualified architect. While Shefali tackled the floor plan and worked on putting the space together functionally, Arjun is the one with the visual direction. They may be diametrically opposite personalities, but she is definitely the yin to his yang, and that balance comes through in the space.
Coming back to where I started, there is so much to look at! Vintage cycles, a collection of old cameras, antique barber’s chairs, altars, old photographs, car grills, vintage trunks, military backpacks…so much. And yet, it sits perfectly together, quite like the couple themselves. He creates, she classifies; he forgets, she clarifies; and they both agree that the studio is a translation of his vision. It is his space. “It has never been about what is trending with us. We are both magpies, both Leos, and both maximalists. All of this means that we like our spaces layered, much like what you see around here,” she explains.
It is not difficult to understand what Shefali means. In an age when style has come to stand for what is commercial and expectation is impatient, I can almost hear the clothes racks, the staircase, the exposed walls, the stunning designer jackets…and they all whisper their own special tales of emotional connections. I must say, I enjoyed every story that I think I heard.