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August 1-15, 2006


FEATURES

A Passage to India
By Stephen Henderson

A WRITER IS SEDUCED BY AN ABUNDANCE OF COLORFUL, EMBELLISHED TEXTILES AND DECADENT DESIGNS

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"Shopping in India, darling, is as important a cultural experience as sightseeing," a wise friend told me before I traveled there earlier this spring. Taking her advice to heart, I left with one suitcase and returned with three. Each was nearly bursting with tablecloths, napkins, bedspreads, pillow covers, tunics, trousers, slippers, plates and psychedelic posters depicting Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva and other Hindu gods. I'd even commissioned the manufacture of an enormously quirky beach umbrella—its interior and exterior are different patterns of hand block-printed fabric—under which four adults, maybe more, can seek a shady respite from global warming.

In only two weeks, India had thoroughly transformed my sense of style, as it soon may seduce yours. Since cultural power accompanies economic might, trend-spotters predict India's aesthetic, both in clothing and décor, will grow in influence. After all, India is the second-fastest-growing nation in the world (after China).

While fashion has been Eurocentric for roughly the past century—we look to France for chic, Italy for bella moda—throughout most of history, Asian and Indian sensibilities held sway in matters of worldly taste. Traders have crisscrossed the subcontinent for centuries looking for exotica to export. The togas worn by Roman senators, for instance, were made from Indian cotton. What will tomorrow's treasures from India look like? I'd come to see (and shop) for myself.

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