When Godrej Interio, the home furnishings brand, launched its television campaign ‘Make Space for Life’ last year, it was a statement acknowledging new changes in the Indian home. The objective was to redefine the furniture brand to be a designer of spaces for nuclear Indian families, some of who may even be working from home.
The design changes that the company’s traditional almirah has gone through over the years, for example, reflect in its store. At the Fort, Mumbai, outlet of the company, a striking burgundy almirah is the first in a line of them along the wall. With a golden handle and a gold sun rays-design patterns on the front, this difficult-to-miss piece is followed by slightly less flamboyant but colourful models in white, parrot green and fuschia pink, among others. Further up on the next level of the store, wooden almirahs buck the trend of what was considered a steel-only brand.
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BLAST FROM THE PAST
There is a story, a part of family folklore and quite possibly mythical, of this feisty lady who one day walked out of her over 25-year-old marriage. This was unheard of in the family at the time, in the 1970s. However, the punch line of this fantastical tale used to be the fact that she asked for nothing from her husband when she left, except for her two Godrej almirahs.
Besides this story, the others one heard of while growing up was how the impregnable almirah was the protector and keeper of all things precious, the family heirlooms, that diamond engagement ring, cash or even the only child’s first fallen tooth. If the steel almirah that was a permanent fixture in every middleclass Indian home seemed to have been pushed into the background a bit in the modern age, because of hip online furniture stores that make cupboards out of compressed hay, then you should know that it is fighting back.
The Godrej Group, one of India’s largest and oldest engineering and consumer goods company that was established in the late 1890s with locks, segued into almirahs much later. The almirah soon became a symbol of gifting to newlyweds and there used to be a waiting order of two to three months in the busy wedding season, Anil Mathur, chief operating officer, Godrej Interio, said in an email.
Image courtesy, Godrej
“I got my first almirah after our wedding,” remembers Kalki Narayanswamy, a retired schoolteacher in Chennai. “Our collection grew with every child we had—three—and we have all the six almirahs collected over a span of roughly 35 years.”
Her daughter Saumya, who moved to the US several years ago after marriage and therefore gleefully skipped inheriting an almirah, now “feels a glow of comfort” when she visits India and hears the familiar loud, creaking sound of the almirah door open. She says, “It really is so ironical, isn’t it? The same sound used to make my skin crawl when we were kids. Now, it just reminds me that I am home.”
WHEN THE DOORS OPENED
Godrej Interio, a division of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Company Ltd. formed in 2006, has over the years added a variety of colours, shades and other design interventions—purple, marigold, deep blue, magenta, maroon and carmine red are just some of the shades that populate their online stores. They also ventured into the wooden wardrobe segment with the product range Kalista four years later, a series of cupboards that provides wall-to-wall solutions and personal customisation. You could have wooden wardrobes with a glossy steel-like finish or a steel unit with a wood-like look.
The 14-year-old Slimline range, an extension of the tried and tested Storwel, is the first range that diversified from the popular welded steel variety. Sleeker looking, it came in a knocked-down condition, becoming easier to transport—and making it compete directly with the Malaysia/China-made ready-to-use flimsy varieties. The modular metal range of Kreation gave the possibility of adding any number of units—it’s an extendable wardrobe that grows. The modularity of this range allows a user complete flexibility to choose the size of the wardrobe.
“From different designs, shelf arrangements, finishes and even safety features, we have constantly evolved with changes in consumer demands and expectations,” says Godrej Interio COO Mathur. “In India, gifting an almirah has been closely associated with a milestone in life—whether marriage, new home etc.”
The first model of Godrej’s almirah was called the “safe cabinet” and was usually available in grey enamel with five adjustable shelves. In 1923, Godrej launched steel cupboards and they soon became an integral part of young Indian couples’ new matrimonial home—and an almost mandatory dowry requirement.
The symbolism with weddings was best expressed in the television advertisements of the 1980s with the tagline “hum kuch aur jagah banayein” (let’s make some more space).
“Its doors opened with a reassuring clang,” adds Mathur. “In its safe disappeared the slim gold bangle or the little pearl-drop earrings not deposited in bank so that they could be accessed for the suddenly organised ‘fancy’ evening. The USP mentioned in the earliest catalogues: they were thief-resistant, vermin-proof, handsome and cheap. And so, as shown by their wide footprint, they continue to be.” The year 1999 was some sort of a landmark with 20,000 units sold—so far, the company has sold over 120 million units.
Although Narayanswamy has seen some of the newer models in other homes but has no intention of replacing her almirahs. “The ones I have, they work fine and,” she adds laughing, “they will probably outlive me.”
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