In recent times, Vipul Shah’s eponymous handbag label has become a go-to in many celebrity wardrobes. Everyone from sisters Malaika and Amrita Arora to Janhvi Kapoor, Athiya Shetty, Kiara Advani and Aditi Rao Hydari are sworn fans. Not to forget Hollywood icon Julia Roberts, who chose the brand’s signature oversized Banjara clutch for an event for Girls Opportunity Alliance in Malaysia last month. So, how did a slow fashion brand from Udaipur find itself on the international map? Vogue India investigates.
Shining in the spotlight
I first met Shah in July last year when I visited Ganesh Emporium (his family-owned store famous for its collection of heritage collectibles and artefacts, which also houses his eponymous handbags) at a friend’s suggestion. As I arrived at the modest shopfront in the heart of Udaipur’s old city market and announced myself, I was swiftly whisked down a meandering alleyway to the real deal—a courtyard that was the entry into a 17th century haveli store, restored with elements of Mewari architecture collected from all over the state. It was almost like stumbling into a speakeasy.
“The haveli originally belonged to the treasurer of the royal family and is connected to the City Palace. We prefer to keep it tucked away, and only invite select customers here at our discretion,” says Shah of the eight-level museum-like store that boasts five courtyards and 150 interconnected rooms broken into 32 art galleries. One of these is dedicated to his pet project, Vipul Shah Bags—a range of boho-luxe accessories that seem to resonate with urban gypsets. “If you visit us in the winter months, it’s almost like walking into fashion week,” says Shah. This, by no means, is an exaggeration. In December alone, the store entertained the likes of the Marzotto family, Bibhu Mohapatra, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones and Vogue India’s Anaita Shroff Adajania, among others. “Edgardo Osorio of Aquazzura has been here twice. Kim Jones was here back when he was still with Louis Vuitton—his eye for colours and textiles is phenomenal,” Shah carries on. “Angela Missoni has spent two days at the store. Interacting with her was such an education,” he reminisces, adding that Missoni also snagged herself a bag on her visit. Sarah Burton, Karolina Kurkova, Nazanin Boniadi and Dame Judi Dench have also done the same in the past.
Shah’s tryst with Bollywood began with Malaika Arora, who has since become Shah’s muse for all his pieces—be it the embroidered vests or the latest additions to his repertoire of handbags. “She first carried our Banjara clutch for a Ganesh Chaturthi party in 2018, and there has been no looking back since then,” he says. And how did Roberts discover the brand? “Frieda [Pinto], who has been shopping with us for about three years now, introduced her to it. That black and red clutch she carried sold out the very same day,” he exclaims.
Upcycled, hand-made and historically inspired
But how did the brand—which is not only a part of It-girl wardrobes around the world, but was also a nominee at the Vogue x Nykaa Fashion Power List awards—come to be? The family business was pioneered by Shah’s grandfather who collected textiles for wealthy merchants in Ahmedabad. Ganesh Emporium was launched in Udaipur in 1983 as a humble 10sqft store outside the City Palace, specialising in not just antique textiles from the Mughal era, but also in Pichwai paintings (they have the largest collection in the country today), Parsi gara borders and a smattering of restored artefacts.
Upon completing his education in Mumbai and the UK, Shah was eager to add modern relevance to his family legacy as a third-generation entrepreneur. And thus, Vipul Shah Bags was born in 2014. The first bag was a hobo whose shape was inspired by the jhola universally used for grocery shopping in India. Then came the oversized clutches—the Banjara being the most popular till date—followed by the messenger bags, mini slings (their Minion clutches are having a moment), backpacks and belt bags. “Afghani costumes from Ganesh Emporium’s archives were my starting point. We recreated the coins and beads used in those ensembles to accessorise our bags,” says Shah. The upcycled fabric they use is sourced from villages in Rajasthan and Gujarat, and then used as patchwork. “We buy them as sheets, but these fabrics are actually vintage cut-outs of the Rajputi poshak originally made for brides in the community. This is why we only have limited pieces of every design,” he explains. The fabric then undergoes a process of hand-dying to tone down the colours, followed by hand-embroidery and assembling of the patches before it finally hits the racks. “It takes a little less than two months to prepare, say, one batch of clutches. I prefer this model. I enjoy the process. I don’t want it all to happen in one day.”
Next up, Shah is working on a collection of miniaturised belt bags studded with onyx stones, inspired by the jewel-toned carpets from Uttar Pradesh, as well as a line of clothing borrowing from the Gujarati kedia jacket. “Most of my childhood was spent at the store, and it quickly became a crash course in ethnic crafts and vintage textiles. Even today, I only need to take a quick walk around the store for ideas. It helps when inspiration is literally in your backyard,” he says.
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