June 14, 2018
A Holi experience in India by Ruth Chapman
Tom and I sold our business last September, and the invitation arrived days later. Well, not so much an invitation, more a casual ‘save the date’ from our dear friend, the crazy beautiful Saloni Lodha. Yes, the same girl who is the brains, creativity, and energy bomb behind the coveted brand Saloni. We both adore her, and so I immediately said yes. Hell, we (supposedly) had more well-deserved free time and longed to visit India again, so a three-day Holi fest sounded like a great idea. Plus, fabulous friends would be there as it turned out.
I first met Saloni about five years ago in the Hotel Lotti in Paris. She was showing next to Charlotte Olympia and I stumbled into her small room at the end of the corridor entirely by mistake. I was smitten from then on, not only by the handful of dresses and separates in printed silk jersey (packable and oh so holiday/wedding vibe/lazy summer dinner vibe) but mostly by this vibrant young woman creating things in India, who had sass enough to bring her collection to Paris, set up shop, and wait to see who came by. We bought her collection on the spot, launched her globally, and the entire collection sold out. Reorders happened, a fashion star was born, and a deep and lovely friendship began. So going to India was a no-brainer.
Our trip was mainly planned by the extraordinary Nick Vinson, another wonderful friend whose abilities with a travel itinerary are off-the-scale great; plus Pippa, our mega assistant without whom nothing much ever happens. And so we flew to Delhi early in March full of anticipation, with our dear friend Kim Hersov, the brains and creativity behind the brand Talitha, also heading to the party.
After an overwhelmingly heady train journey, (think teams of men in red vying for the opportunity to carry our luggage on their heads, weaving through the throngs of sari clad women and sandaled men, clad in shades of tan, dusty from the heat of the day and jostling for train space) we arrived in the heavenly Amanbagh hotel in Ranthambore, a pre-Holi idea to get us in the spirit. We spent three blissful days tiger spotting from jeeps, climbing the beautiful fort steps, and imagining how the Indian Maharajahs of Jaipur used their hunting grounds in the time of India’s independence. The weather was warm and the people were so kind and happy to share their abundant knowledge with us. We ate dahl and paneer under the stars, recounted our tiger stories (we saw eleven, and two by night - apparently a good count), and slept in huge tents, woken only by the sounds of the monkeys scampering across the tarpaulin roof.
Two days later we left, relaxed and ready to party, and began the nine hour precarious drive to Udaipur. As anyone knows who has ever done it, driving in India is like a game of dodge. Nervous passengers cover their eyes. Speeding up and braking suddenly behind someone, swinging out to overtake or to avoid a rogue cow are commonplace, as is the use of the horn as rebuke but mostly a warning. Thankfully our driver was adept at it, and we tried to watch the vivid landscape scoot by as he jockeyed our path across India. Finally, towards the evening we arrived at the fairytale Lake Palace Hotel, sitting white and sparkly on the inky black lake.
The next day at lunch, in the ancient tiled and rose-clad sunny courtyard of the Lake Palace, with its creaky old sage painted doors, we found Nick and Alvaro, fresh from their London journey. Saloni sent over some of her Holi dress collection for me to choose from for the black tie event that evening, white outfits for all of us for the Holi celebration the following day, pretty shoes from Charlotte, and woven baskets full of Indian goodies.
In the early evening we all set off up to the Devigarh Hotel, a looming and beautiful old palace cut into the mountainous land on the outskirts of Udaipur, which Saloni had taken over for the week. Tom, Nick and Alvaro all looked dashing in their tuxes with their bindi foreheads, and me in a sparkly full-length thigh split gown from Saloni’s new Holi collection. A team of hairdressers, makeup artists, and dressers littered the compound, and a room full of gowns meant that no one turned up in the same dress. Saloni had thought of everything. The grounds of the Devigarh were bathed in pink dusky light, Saloni’s name huge in multicolour neon against the teal walls of the palace. The entire hotel had been transformed into a Saloni paradise: more than one hundred and fifty places set for dinner in the main courtyard to a table festooned in fuschia, crimson and yellow, with long neon satin ribbons billowing from the trees. We caught up with old friends, made new ones, and drank delicately flavoured cocktails to the thrum of an intoxicating Indian beat. We stumbled to bed in the early hours after the feast, saving our energies for the next day's Holi celebration.
The Indian sun was low in the sky when we arrived: Tom, Nick and Alvaro, ridiculously elegant in their white khurtas and sandals (courtesy of Alvaro), and me in a slim white kaftan dress in broderie anglaise, all created by Saloni. The terraces were strewn with last night's guests all dressed in white, sipping on mint teas in the late afternoon heat or taking flavoured ices from the delicate Sucres des Terres stands placed around the fort. Amongst the chatter about last night, we all headed one by one to the turban maker, who took swathes of multi-coloured sacred threads and expertly wrapped our heads. The ever-gallant Peter Dundas and Evangelo Bousis found fabric for me and sat me down for my turn. Apparently the Holi paint throwing tradition means that light coloured porous hair will be vivid with multi shades of paint for weeks unless your head is well protected against the Holi paints.
Finally, with marigold garlands swaying around our necks, we climbed down what seemed like hundreds of ancient steps to the gardens below, where a traditional Rajasthani village had been built by mizzistudio sustainably: a mud hut structure hand painted by local artisans of Udaipur including Mandana work in deep pastel hues and inlaid mirrors next to tented zones for bars. Cosmo Gonik beats thumped under the skies, happy drinks by The Herball and King Kalu meant that amidst the kaleidoscope clouds of paint thrown by all of us guests, spirits were high. Holi is an ancient Hindu celebration of love, and traditionally ushers in Spring and represents the triumph of good over evil. This was a true Holi commemoration, masterminded for the full fun impact by the genius Saloni. All of us, her guests, were enthralled, and she spent time with each and every one of us in her special and inimitable way. It was a thrilling and sensory evening. We left late after giggling over potato pancakes with Gian Luca Longo to fuel our journey home.
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which colour love the most.” So said John Ruskin, and Saloni posted on her instagram during those few magical days. I think it's true, and the thoughtfulness and purity of Saloni’s mind will be imprinted on ours for years to come.