Growing up in Canada in the 80’s was different than growing up in Canada today. As young kids we still dealt with racist remarks, struggled to fit in, and watched our parents work hard at whatever job they could get so they could establish a foundation in this country. Our parents taught us to strive for degrees in ‘safe’ subjects like science and math, so we’d always be employable. Being creative and free spirited was often seen as a negative; something to be overcome. While I don’t fault my parents for seeing the world that way because they wanted the best for us, it did leave me longing for role models in the creative fields I dreamed about working in.
Enter Monika Deol, the girl every South Asian girl wanted to be in the 90’s. She broke the mold, found a space on mainstream television, and created the life she wanted. I would have given anything to hang out with Monika in the 90’s, to ‘pick her brain’ for a few minutes, or even just take a picture with her. Fast forward to 2014 and I find myself at cocktail party being hosted in the H Project boutique at Holt Renfrew Vancouver, where both Monika and I are guests! Holy butterflies.
The H Project is a unique in-store shop of extraordinary products with extraordinary stories, led by Alexandra Weston, Holt Renfrew’s Director of Brand Strategy. The products support culture, craft, and global artisans while giving back to various charitable initiatives. This season, Alexandra collaborated with designer Waris Ahluwalia, of House of Waris, to ‘uncrate’ the stories of India.
Waris Ahluwalia is another ‘desi crush’ of mine. I’ve followed his work long before the infamous Gap ads made him mainstream. I remember reading about his pop up shop in London a few years ago and thinking; this is the coolest sardar I’ve ever heard about. (I have a serious soft spot for sardars, blame it on my inner Punjaban). I love that many of his pieces seem to be inspired by a kara (the traditional steel bracelet worn by Sikhs). In the collection he created for Holt Renfrew there are some beautiful entry level pieces that are very feminine, and affordable enough for someone that just wants to own a piece from House of Waris, but not make a huge investment.
So just as the awe of chatting with Monika Deol about culture and our kids while standing in one of Vancouver’s most luxurious shopping destinations surrounded by products from some of India’s most talented artisans was finally settling in, we moved to Vij’s Restaurant for dinner.
I have no words for the man behind Vij’s. Vikram Vij is the most humble, kind, and considerate host ever. The hospitality at Vij’s was much like I would expect if I was visiting family in India, and the pakoras tasted just like if my mom made them. Vikram shared stories about his journey from Amritsar to Austria, and then Vancouver via Banff and we were hanging off of his every word – he is a master storyteller. What really got me though was when he told us that Pierre Trudeau had visited his restaurant once and Vikram touched his feet; a show of respect for the man who’s immigration policies changed so many lives.
For some people Uncrate India might just be a collection of products, for me, it’s a connection to the country my parents once called home, and a country that will always have my heart; India. I hope you will take the time to visit the Uncrate India shop at Holt Renfrew Vancouver or Toronto before the end of the month and take in the craftsmanship and the art. When you are there, take a moment to think about how amazing it is to see India displayed so beautifully on a global stage, I can almost guarantee you’ll be inspired too.
A heartfelt thank you to Holt Renfrew Vancouver for the amazing evening.