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A style stop turns 18

Their reason to set up shop in Calcutta back then? Lack of options. “Everyone sourced their fabrics and took to the local tailors to stitch…” recall Sangita Kejriwal and Purnima Chawla, the two ladies who stand for the ‘s’ and ‘p’ of Espee, over ginger tea in their 37 Shakespeare Sarani store. Impeccably turned out, they give fabulous at 50 a fresh new meaning.

Known best for Espee, one of the city’s first designer boutiques, their style story actually goes to 1988, when they set up Expressions on Lansdowne Road. Expressions ran for a couple of years, stocking Rohit Bal, Suneet Varma, Rina Dhaka and Geetanjali Kashyap. On September 20, 1994, the neighbours-turned-friends-turned-business partners opened doors to the 1,000sq ft Espee.

With its capsule collection of in-house garments and a clutch of eclectic labels from across the country, it was an instant hit. “We filled a gap in the market. And our biggest USP was the price tag. Designers made special collections keeping in mind our city’s price sensitivity.”

Soon they brought in Rohit Bal and Rina Dhaka. New labels were introduced every few seasons and a dedicated rack for NIFT students took pride of place. Labels like Anamika Khanna and Kiran Uttam Ghosh have also retailed from Espee. How many of you know that Agnimitra Paul started off as an in-house designer for Espee?

In 2004-05, as the country entered a new phase in its fashion explosion, things started changing. Designers turned increasingly inaccessible and inflexible. This is when Espee decided to step up and cross the bridge, pumping up their in-house collection. The response to well-priced easy-breezy pieces (a heavily embellished net Anarkali comes for around Rs 5,000 here, lighter yet stylish cotton suits for around Rs 2,000) was great. So, in 2010, Espee re-launched itself as an in-house fashion boutique. Top on the trend--meter (corsage saris tailormade for those cocktail nights...), high on style, their collections (each piece is monitored by one of them if not both) always focus on fabrics and textures.

Espee has turned 18 and is quite the go-to shopping destination for trousseau hunters and homemakers alike. Things are constantly changing here, and not just the window display and interiors. In end-2011, they introduced a high-end range of kurtas and saris but it’s still all well within Rs 15,000. This year they plan to make a foray into lehngas in a big way. The Espee label can also be spotted at A-list multi-designer stores like Kimaya, Aza, Elahe and Mogra across the country.

And then there are those little pleasures in life. “Nothing is as gratifying as watching women walk into Espee in Espee. It’s been so much fun turning into adults,” the ladies sign off.