An Indo-Belgian joint venture in terms of ideas and creativity, Bandit Queen is a retail outlet that offers high-end products designed by traditional Indian karigars.
Bandit Queen, the name probably conjures up images of Phoolan Devi the crafty outlaw in a Shekar Kapur film. At Home Review it means Sunita Namjoshi and Valerie Barkowski’s brainchild of the same name. The Bandit Queen home textile collection was an idea conceived between Sunita, who was keen to give birth to a high-end home linen brand, and Valerie, who is known for her creativity and passion for traditional techniques.
“It took about 2 years to bring Bandit Queen to life through visual identity, product lines and a showroom,” says Valerie, a Belgian who has been working in India since 2002. Along with Sunita Namjoshi and her daughter Yamini, (who joined the company to take care of the branding) this trio has made Bandit Queen what it is.
But what was it that brought Phoolan to the fore? “During the time we were naming our brand, we wanted to choose a queen who had the sensitivity of a warrior. Valerie would often ask me for names within an Indian context. That’s when somebody suggested Bandit Queen – the queen of the rebels,” says Yamini.
The Bandit Queen collection includes three main areas – bed linen, bath linen and table linen. The innovation that goes into each product is enormous. The terry towels for example have hand painted edges that took almost 15 months to get right. Every detail is meticulously taken care of with hard work and a new point of view.
Bandit Queen has a strong philosophy that embodies words like timelessness, elegance and sophistication. Unexpected ideas and a touch of humour add to the creativity and experimentation process.
Bandit Queen also designs a lot of products in the fashion accessory segment. The philosophy here is the same as for the home collection – timeless products with a long life. “I have explored contemporary technology with digital prints. Our scarves are in silk and all the hems are finished by hand. Prints are digital but at the end, the product is a handcrafted product. Our collections evolve but do not change every season. For me, a nice style does not have to be replaced every six months,” points out Valerie.
Brand Manager Yamini resonates the same feeling, “We are not interested in the frivolousness of fashion. What Bandit Queen sets out to do is provide a high-end product that transcends time in terms of its functionality as well as its quality.
No wonder we got a very positive response at our outlet at Maison et Objet in Paris recently. What adds even more value to us is that our products are completely Indian.”
“The flipside of fashion and style is that it is trend savvy, and trends per se have a very short shelf life. The sheets we use, the clothes we wear, and simple accessories like a tablecloth or glassware are not FMCG products. They are not only vital elements that set us apart from a crowd, but are also the components which have to stand the test of time in terms of usability and utility,” points out Yamini.
Our conversation dwells on art and Yamini laments, “It is at times disheartening to see that our nation despite being the focal point of arts and artistry has lost its artistic ethos in this contemporary competitive age. We have definitely moved ahead in terms of technology, but surrendered the inherent artist to our changing patterns of life. Our daily life is dominated with goods that are prescribed, not ones that we would actually like to possess.”
Her face lights-up though as she talks about how a large amount of artworks in the West are still being derived from India. Bandit Queen works with Indian artisans (or karigars as they are locally known) and banks on their skill set which they have acquired through the ages and passed down to subsequent generations. What Bandit Queen manages to do with a great deal of flare and panache, is adding their unique quotient of contemporariness that makes them a runaway success.
Bandit Queen Home Linen is available in Italy, Belgium, Holland, Hong Kong and India.
Text by Vikas Bhadra
Photos by Tom Parker & Neville Sukhia