Featured image: Me
Diamonds have never been this girl’s best friend — nor will they ever be. But despite my resistance to go glacial, I do like my rings and bracelets and other Christmas-tree-like-getups big. With a capital B. I just don’t do understated. And where better to bask my dainty fingers in some bold bijouterie than at Ishaveya’s Beijing headquarters — bringing a bejeweled piece of India to the Middle Kingdom. A little Throwback Thursday, yet one still as swish-delish as ever.
“We’re Indian. Indians do not live in China.” These were the prophetic words spoken by Jahanavi Bhaskar Laag’s mother when her daughter announced she, together with her swish (Swiss-Swedish, come on) husband, would be moving to Beijing. As the old Indian saying goes, “One’s mother and homeland are greater than even heaven.” Mom sure did have a point here; however non-PC this may sound. India and China, the two most populated nations in the world and both so alike in their substantial economic growth of the past decades, sometimes seem more like the curious cats down the lane peeking out of the kitchen curtains, than two strategically cooperating global tigers on their way to create a massive roar on the international stage.
From working in her mother’s interior design company to wanting to work in wildlife protection to majoring in social anthropology and ancient history at University College London; from India to London to Sweden, Laag has been around the global block. Yet she never could have imagined China would feature on the itinerary. After setting foot on the Beijing tarmac, it was only a matter of time from thereon before her brand Ishaveya, importing affordable Indian hand-crafted accessories, came into being. Laag cares most about the story behind every piece; in this light she can rest assured: China will give you stories to tell your great-grandchildren (or grandchildren, but I prefer positive thinking).
The ring that is Beijing
“I just wanted to crawl under the duvet and cry.” Jahanavi B. Laag
The boxing ring, that is. I think plenty of us can at one point or another identify with that feeling of just wanting to stay in bed and stare into Beijing’s snow-filled grey blank winter sky. For some it’s the language barrier, for others it may be visa issues (I can almost hear the collective sigh of compassion blowing in from the foreign front on this one), and for yet others it’s both. Beijing can deal a serious blow to even the most grounded and together people out there. Laag indeed got her share of the moon cake.
The Missus herself: Jahanavi Bhaskar Laag at the Beijing Ishaveya HQ. (Image courtesy of Time Out Beijing)
The China hill at a distance appears smooth… (I did indeed brush up on my Indian proverbs for this one). But when you zoom in, you’ll see it’s dressed in potholes. With no job, no friends and nowhere to go, Laag spent her first few months in China hauled up at the couple’s serviced apartment. Not too shabby, you might think, but when you are fully dependent on your husband, cannot utter a tone in Chinese and have to fly back to Delhi every 30 days in order to pay a visit to the city’s China Visa Center (hooray), the feeling of general malaise can hit you like the nightmare that is Guomao subway station during rush hour. Room service won’t help you one bite.
Nevertheless, she made it through her hazy China months and things were looking up. The path up the hill started to resemble more that of Beijing’s Fragrant Mountain and at this point, her frequent (euphemism, granted) trips to Delhi often saw her paying a visit to the jewelers her family had been going to for generations, since many of her Beijing-based friends expressed an interest in adorning themselves with some unique Indian pieces. As do I for that matter. The idea of setting up a China business to import these gems and create a platform for Indian design in China was now officially taking shape. One question remained: How to polish her China company?
BCBG vs PCPG
“The trust between the customer and myself is essential.” Jahanavi B. Laag
China and fashion have one thing in common for sure: Neither is entirely politically correct (but then again, who is?) and both require parental guidance (sobbing long-distance phone calls…happens to the best of us). When your mother was once named one of India’s 50 most stylish women by the nation’s Vogue edition, you are bound to have some BCBG (“bon chic, bon genre,” just for good measure) running through your veins. Laag took the rough cut of her idea and ran with it by starting to organize small jewelry showings at her home. The hand-polished and hand–crafted luxury stones, from lapis lazuli to turquoise to sapphire, found resonance with both foreign and Chinese women; Ishaveya was a fact.
Even though many clubs and hangouts across China’s capital city are still blinded by the “wrong” kind of sparkle, think Gary Glitter boots, the Chinese woman is now increasingly fashion conscious and interested in creating her own style through accessorizing, or learning how to do so. As Laag said herself, “An accessory can make or break any outfit; it can lift it from day to night. Put on whatever you want, but just make sure you are comfortable with it. Only then can you carry it off. Confidence is the best accessory of them all.” She may not be protecting wildlife, but she’s definitely carrying on her cultural heritage — even better than “protecting,” methinks.
Ishaveya plays into this sense of curiosity and desire for new, more “exotic” if you will, fashion items and who knows…it may even help chip away at the wariness still in place between the giant neighbors. Bold, statement pieces at affordable prices attract both Beijing’s foreign and Chinese clientele, but the most important asset for Laag in setting up her China stage is the bond of trust between her clients and the company. Fine, swift service — a rare commodity in today’s society — lies at the core of the business, with Laag’s ethics of duty giving the company a truly PCPG aspect. I see it as ethical fashion taken to yet another level. Laag’s dream of creating a China platform for Indian designers may yet be an uncut diamond, but given time it will become a round brilliant one.
The pieces may have cherished histories to them, but Ishaveya’s story has only just begun.
A little Ghandhi never hurt anyone so bear in mind:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
PS: On a personal note: Understated is overrated. Go big or go home. (Though Laag might disagree here.)
PPS: Do check out #Ishaveya on Instagram!