Venkat Nilakantan, chatting with Kiran Rao, finds her sensibilities in style echoed in the space she surrounds herself with, Amethyst
“I think you find yourself in every form of aesthetic that’s presented to you. It’s a journey that everybody can make people are magpies by nature; they like accumulating things and want the experience. I like complexity, variety… I like layering“
There’s this tale of a carpet weaver, who was so entranced by a princess that he created a carpet dedicated to her, reflecting her every facet in its meticulous weave. When the carpet was unfurled, the princess stepped on it, only to dissolve right into it, to a court full of shocked gasps; such was the intensity of the weaver’s craft.
Amethyst, to me, is Kiran Rao’s carpet. You’ll find her reflected in every part of the visual and emotional space Amethyst occupies. So I’m going to look at Kiran, through Amethyst. A decade or so ago, something changed in Madras. A new space had opened, set in a lovingly restored heritage building named Sundar Mahal. At the time, Amethyst changed the face of retail in the city. It was a curious melting pot of part cafe hangout, part luxury retail, but it had something we could almost reach out and touch: personality.
“I’ve always been drawn towards the practical, what has applications in day to day life. That’s always been more attractive to me. I’m interested in people – I feel everything everybody does is a bit of an installation!“
The heritage building’s layered, sometimes peeling, visage was respectfully represented, and very little attempt was made to coat the onionskin layers that age revealed. But perhaps, above all, this was the warmth Kiran infused into it. Amethyst became more than a name and an address. It became a sanctuary. Like Kiran, it was eclectic, intriguing, imposing, inviting and layered: replete with stories and detail.
So it seemed like the end of the world when one day, we were all told Amethyst would be moving. How could you move a space that had taken root in a city’s collective heart? Happily, the world didn’t end, and some time later, a new Amethyst set up shop in a reclaimed granary warehouse. It couldn’t be more different than Sundar Mahal, and curiously, it also retained enough elements to be similar. For Kiran, times had changed. Indian retail and design had moved forward dramatically, and she needed more space to fully curate her viewpoint.
And although the building style was different, the common weave of Kiran’s style is evident and a link through both seemingly disparate spaces.
With a background that includes (but is not limited to) art and archaeology, history studies, some fine art, anthropology, a stint working with Central Asian craftsmen… Kiran calls herself a “poly-something”, which seems aptly amorphous.
Kiran’s interests in multi disciplinary aesthetics, from a lifetime of scattered prisms of influence, come together in a creative kaleidoscope at Amethyst. She speaks a language that is a mélange of memory, imagination, exposure and hyper recall, resulting in a style signature that is unique to her because the sum of the parts is hers alone.
Ask Kiran to describe Amethyst, and she refers to its “worlds within”. For Kiran, as much as for Amethyst, that pretty much says it all.
>>Next week: saving the best for last?