Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A journey through Provence- Aalayam goes to France (Part -1)

We promised that Aalayam would get bigger and better and today we take you on a global escapade of sorts! My husband and I are back from a trip to France. Yes! The trip of a lifetime, really! When we started planning for a summer vacation last fall we unanimously agreed on France, for different reasons perhaps.. still, France was an easy decision.
 I had heard of the saying - "everyone has two countries - his or her own and then France" and I know now that it is actually true.  I am spellbound by the bistro/cafe culture, sun-drenched village squares, abundant gardens, soul-stirring stamps of gothic, baroque and belle époque architecture, romantic Seine, in -your-face fashion and cultural footprints at every corner. 

Our trip was rousing and unforgettable! 

I hope to bring you France or at least parts and provinces as UJ and I experienced it via pictures and posts. Despite stretching our legs (quite a bit!) and checking off most things on our itinerary, France left us wanting for more!

Today, I kick off Aalayam’s France extravaganza with Provence.  As we planned our vacation itinerary, we did save the very best for the last.

 A drive along the Cote D' Azur, taking in the mighty sweep of the French Riviera all the way from St. Tropez to Monaco and stopping in quaint Provencal towns, primed with prospects, was a dream come true for travel enthusiasts like ourselves. This was the last part of our 10-day vacation and we sure did make the most of it!

I hope to do five feature posts  (though not consecutively) and cover Provence,  the French Riviera, Loire Valley, Paris. There will also be a post on French Chic! So, stay tuned Aalayam readers as we bring global culture right to your doorstep.

Geographically, Provence is a historical province of southeastern France, which extends from the left bank of the lower Rhône River on the west to the Italian border on the east, and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the south. (Source: Wiki)

Sadly, we skipped the Lavender Route – blooms last till mid-late August and we were late by a few days (will probably have to go back for it someday!) but instead experienced Provencal life via picturesque hilltop villages perched high on the cliffs along the sparkling Mediterranean.

From the game of Petanque played in dreamy village squares to crisp and food friendly Rose wine to vibrant street markets – we uncovered the real Provence by talking to friendly locals and asking lots of questions! We made stops in 3 interminably alluring villages – Grimaud, Haute De Cagnes and St. Paul De Vence where many of the images for this post come from.

When in Provence ask for Rose wine – the locals prefer this to white wine we were told (by a local wine steward). It is an utterly versatile wine that reportedly pairs well with most foods. We learnt that the rose color is because of the shorter duration of contact of the skin of the red grapes with the wine! In the backdrop of the sun setting over the gleaming Mediterranean, the rose indeed tastes heavenly!

The English call it Lawn Bowling, the Americans call it bowling, the French call it Petanque – a form of boules where the goal is to throw metal balls as close as possible to a wooden ball called cochonnet (source: Wiki).  The click of metal balls in sun-bathed village squares is now a part of my Provencal nostalgie!

Strolling through village markets that carry everything from fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano, garlic) to art work to natural dyed fabrics laid out in fortified medieval villages is a perfect way to spend a vacation day (at least for me!) and a great shopping experience (you’ll have to wait for a future post to see my prized Provencal finds!) 

In addition, the ramparts of these villages offered moving views of the sea, sky and the mountains making me wish that time would stand still!

Postcard perfect cafes and bistros dot the cobblestoned alleys and sit prettily below rustic Mediterranean homes with prismatic windows filled with blooming bougainvilleas. 

The food is exquisite speaking for the freshness of the ingredients and the ambience is spirited reflecting the joie de vivre of Provence!

While the Riviera itself was glitzy and flamboyant (more on that later) these tiny hamlets have managed to retain their primeval appeal and rustic elegance. 

They managed to win the attention of masters like Monet, Renoir, Gaugin and Van Gogh back in the day. Art and artists are relevant to Provence even today making it so culturally rich!

My secret love affair with Provence (and a lifetime of longing) made it a must see on our itinerary. 

And I am able to bring you some gorgeous imagery thanks to my husband’s perseverance! 

But before I leave, I want to share Virginie and Etienne’s darling little store in the village of Grimaud that overlooks the bay of St. Tropez (stop by if you are planning a trip to that part of the world).

The shabby chic elegance of their store is to die for! Selling everything from natural soaps to aroma oils to Provencal fabrics to dried herbs - this store is a shopper's paradise! 

A great place to buy gifts for friends back home! For me, a visit to their store was more than just a shopper's pit stop. 

I will forever cherish the lively conversation we had with this adorable couple on Provence, French culture, and our mutual love for travel. UJ even managed to thread a few French words into  broken sentence stems!

Thank you for telling me all I needed to know as a tourist – Merci Beaucoup! I hope you do realize your dream of opening your Provence store in New York someday Virginie – you know who will be a regular!

and for good measure - a couple more images of indelible Provence!


I hope you add Provence to your bucket list if you have not already visited. It is an experience of a lifetime!

There is a nip in the air!  The leaves are turning color and the season of celebration awaits us. Aalayam readers, as always we'll jump start your festivities with inspirations from our homes. Supriya is up first with her impressive Dasara Golu display. So, make sure to check back with us in a few days. But for now, take in the sights of Provence and perhaps start planning your own vacation!

Until next time, Au Revoir!


P.S: All images in this post are from our personal archives and were shot by my husband. Use without permission is prohibited.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

An Artist with a Heart...A Brand with a Soul!

Courage, Grace, Friendship, Enigma. Words that describe today’s featured artist. But words that do not do complete justice to her earthy charm, and the noble cause she espouses.

There is some attraction about this gorgeous lady, who lives a continent away, that draws me to her. It’s like we are long lost friends, bound by an inexplicable connection, although we have never met, or spoken. We seem to be kindred spirits, with similar aspirations and matching unflagging positivity.

I feel it only apt that I am so taken with what she says, and how she says it. I am agog with excitement to view her curated collections. I always watch to see what she is wearing, because trust me, she is very well put together, she is a global desi and wears her pochampally, kanjeevaram, ikkat and kalamkari with aplomb! I am eager to see her brand babies, as and when she conceives them. I am keen to read her responses to my questions, and I am ecstatic to share her with you, my dear Aalayam family!

Presenting to you Hema Subramanyam, and her eco-socio brand of terracotta accessories – Color D Earth.

Hema designs terracotta (clay) accessories – earrings, necklaces and matching sets, replete with sublime color & intricate aesthetic . She also designs terracotta Ganeshas, chotchkies and home accessories. She has a warm, welcoming and rustic looking studio full of color and life in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, India. Apart from this brick and mortar establishment, Hema curates her accessories via her website www.colordearth.com.

I for one, know that I will visit Hema’s Color D Earth studio, and come back with tons of goodies for me and my friends (desi and videsi), whenever I am in that part of the world. Take a peek inside her studio, you will fall in love.

Terracotta has always held allure to me. I used to buy it in Desi Angadi in Bangalore, and exhibitions at Chitra Kala Parishat. I would love to wear them with Khadi Kurtas or Kalamkari Sarees. I still own a few pieces of this earthy gem. And I bring it out now and then whenever my nostalgia for home is paramount.

What attracted me to Hema’s brand Color D Earth ,is that it’s one of a kind. Not a cliché, it’s true. The designs that we see, are like those never seen before in the realm of terracotta. Jewelry brands a dime a dozen these days, and it take a keen eye of a jewelry connoisseur to get drawn to a brand, and to stay enamored by it. And the positioning that Hema has done to her necklace & earring sets to complement any ensemble, be it a luxurious Kanjeevaram, or a cool cotton saree, is just what is the order of the day. I have even seen her offer terracotta pairings with ensembles with a heavy western influence as well. Now that's true cultural translation, being able to work in the fabric of any style….any influence….any continent.

Hema's personal treasure trove...and look how lovingly her sarees wait to be picked.
Now I am hooked, I want to know more about Hema, and what she does. I follow her on Facebook, and see that she is involved in many social causes, she runs Color D Earth as an eco-socio enterprise , she employs many deserving artisans and keeps their families fed and schooled. She also mingles in the entrepreneurial and academic circles hosting workshops and conferences, talking about her one-woman entrepreneurial journey, educating, inspiring and mentoring many who aspire to be like her. Her business model is globally appealing, because it is ecologically sustainable, it supports minority artisans, it supports diversity and the best part is (bonus!), her brand is GORGEOUS!

Hema is also a super-mom, juggling everyday commute, school lunches, homework and teenage angst, amidst rubbing shoulders with celebrities and the terracotta’s unsung heros. In the midst of this all, she is always smiling, always exuding positivity & enthusiasm. Always inspiring!!

That’s what it takes to be a An Artist with a Heart...A Brand with a Soul!

Ladies and Gentlemen – Hema Subramanyam.

Hema works with her artists

Supriya (S): Hema, I personally love Terracotta jewelry. They are so versatile. And you seem to have captured the quintessence of Terracotta perfectly in your brand “Color D Earth”. We want to pick your brain to know more about it! First of all, what got you started?? And why Terracotta?

Hema (H): My heart has always skipped a beat when I see anything handcrafted from the vast repertoire of our country’s cultural heritage ! I started working with terracotta as a medium 11 years ago, in 2003, by accident! The psychologist in me, wanted my kids, then toddlers, to glean from the therapeutic benefits of working with clay. I didn’t realise that there was some unfinished business with that medium from some past life! Because nothing else can explain the love I have had for anything related to clay, earth and artisans from that day on J

Wall Mural in Hema's studio

S: Where do you derive your daily inspiration from? What gets you started designing an ornament?
H: As clichéd as it may sound – my mom’s positive spirit, coffee, Bhoomi devi, color, nature, people and art  form the ingredients of my daily inspiration J
When you work with a medium as profound as the earth, when you believe that the creativity born of Bhumi Devi is infinite, then art begins to take on a different meaning. Terracotta jewelry was the first kind of jewelry humankind adorned. Terracotta is the bringing together of the 5 elements of nature, the Panchabhoota – earth, water, wind, fire and ether!
I am not a designer by profession, but have always had an eye for aesthetics and detail! I am inspired by geometry, symmetry, balance and intricacy!
I started out wanting to be an HR professional and was a trained vocalist in Carnatic music. Somehow the artist and the professional came together in a way I had never imagined! There was an innate desire to do something meaningful, something that would make a difference! When I started making terracotta jewelry in 2003, we started with the name Alankriti Terracotta Jewelry. I trained 3 women in the craft and worked from home and we handcrafted our own designs. Our color combinations and the finish was what made us stand out!

When you give yourself completely to what you love, then it’s also the start of the journey inward! I am also blessed to have found my inner calling - to champion the cause of terracotta artisans who were not getting the true value of their labour of love! Today I work with 11 artisan groups from across 6 different states who put their fascinating talent and creativity into creating the most exquisite jewelry from riverbed clay!

S: Color D Earth is an eco-socio enterprise. What do you aspire to achieve with that branding, and what have been the highlights of your career as an eco-socio entrepreneur?
H: Initially, we supplied our work to some reputed boutiques in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. Our work was appreciated but we worked on the consignment model which according to me was not working. At the same time I started working with a few other artisan groups who were also struggling. I decided that I had to find a way to make this work! Except I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to run an enterprise successfully! Barely anyone from my Tambram Iyer family had forayed into business, much less using clay !

Hema smiles brightly as she rolls up her sleeves and brings her designs to life!

It took me 6 years of persevering through some really tough times, making sure I was giving the artisans continuous orders, while still sometimes not breaking even! I was praying for a miracle when I applied and got selected to do the 10000 Women program for Women entrepreneurs! That was a turning point because I was able to learn the key aspects of business that I had been missing out on!
Right after the course, I researched, how handcrafted businesses had grown and discovered that the Social Enterprise model was a for profit model while working for a social cause. This was exactly what I had been doing all along! Color D Earth was born early in 2010. Today we showcase the widest variety of terracotta jewelry from 11 artisan groups across the country at our Studio and our online store – www.colordearth.com. Our forte lies in forging meaningful associations with our wonderful customers from across the globe! Color D Earth is not just a jewelry store but a brand that represents  a cause, that stands for the expression of a woman’s individual sense of style!

I was nominated by the US Department of State for the International Visitors Leadership program on Women and Entrepreneurship in March 2012. I travelled across the United States with 11 women entrepreneurs from South and Central Asia for 3 weeks on this prestigious and amazing learning experience!

Last year I was selected as an investee with UnLtd Hyderabad, an organization that finds, funds and supports social entrepreneurs. This has been more often a very challenging yet fruitful learning journey that gets better every single day!

S: Hema, please talk to us about your collaborations. With Fashion Houses, schools and other brands.
H: One of the exciting highlights of our journey this year was being featured in the Fox Traveller channel with the renowned designer duo Shantanu and Nikhil! They brought together the exquisite geometric weaves of Pochampally fabric with terracotta jewelry in a contemporary outfit created for the actress, Yami Gautam.

Check out the Ganesha viewing a laptop, and the Ganesha doing belly crunches! 

I am happy to share my journey with students and organizations that are motivating the younger generation to look at social entrepreneurship as a career option

S: How, in your opinion, does your art contribute to the preserving of culture?

H: Terracotta has traditionally been a seasonal occupation. The evolution of terracotta jewelry as an art form has ensured that it’s a sustainable means of livelihood! 

Working with our artisan groups on  fair trade principles has given them the confidence to hold on to their cultural roots. Each artisan group’s creativity represents their unique heritage and culture.

Hema's family pet, sits undisturbed in her beautiful home

S:  Has your creative entrepreneurship changed your everyday perspective - at home, at work and at play?
H: Color D Earth is born out of the culmination of my creativity, inner calling and value systems. I believe in sustainability, preservation and green living. I am in my element when I wear a handwoven cotton outfit/sari accessorised with an exotic piece of earth!  I don’t wear any other forms of jewelry anymore!

When it comes to eating, I love  my food to be a healthy mix of green and brown. I look for an earthy alternative to everything – jaggery, brown rice, red rice poha, brown rice dosa , multi grain rotis. Thankfully for me, my kids love it too! I make sure we have a creative, eclectic yet nourishing menu planned every week!

Hema, with famous Telugu actress Amala Nagarjun

There’s one thing that I dread - monotony! The true Geminian in me seeks learning, variety and excitement everyday! I love to read about inspiring people, spirituality, fashion. Art and music is the food for my soul.    I love the outdoors and go for long morning walks with my daughter Deepthi and our dachshund Elsie.  We have tried every possible outdoor sport/activity from tennis to birding to yachting while not particularly excelling at anything J

S: How do you give a modern slant to traditional designs? We see your jewelry being worn with the classic Kanjeevaram and also paired with Guccis. So tell us more!
H: The sheer versatility of the medium of clay gives it the power to be handcrafted by hand into an accessory for ethnic Indian or a contemporary outfit! There was a time when women could not think beyond gold and diamonds to wear to a wedding, but today there is a huge change in their mindsets! Women are looking for that eclectic yet earthy medium to express their unique fashion sense! Women are more socially and ethically fashion conscious than ever before! Therefore their attire and accessories naturally express their attitude! This evolution has been amazing to witness and we imbibe our inspiration from these beautiful women who are not afraid to express themselves!

Today we cater to the woman who likes to wear an ornate piece of earth to a wedding with her finest silks to the woman who likes to wear our trendy terracotta range to work, college, or just anywhere!

S:. Finally, what does a Day In The Life Of Hema Subramanyam look like?
H: I am an early riser. I begin the day with listening to vedic chants while working in the kitchen and getting my teenagers to school and checking on mails and Facebook! A 20 minute oxygen boost with a brisk walk either on the treadmill or outdoors is key to a high energy level all day! I do have the luxury of getting to work at 11, but that is usually after few errands on the way! I get back home early if the kids have exams, but usually at 7:30 and eat an early dinner made by my godsend cook Janaki. For 2 ½ years when we had a kiosk in a mall, I worked 365 days of the year without a day off! Now that we work out of a Studio, we are closed on Sundays! They are the day I recharge by doing the things I love, sometimes doing nothing can be the best thing!
I have some wonderful friends who make my life so much more meaningful! I meet amazing women who are my customers, many turn into good friends! I am part of a few meaningful  groups - community service groups and women entrepreneur groups, and attend meetings during the week! I am blessed to have an interesting life! Being a woman entrepreneur means you have to deal with work while at home and deal with home matters at work! I honestly find it difficult to separate the two and quite enjoy the madness of it all!

Hema, you truly are a kindred spirit. I feel we will be very good friends when we meet. It will be a conversation that will not stop.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for agreeing to be featured on Aalayam. I am honored to be featuring you and your brand.

Aalayam wishes you and Color D Earth only the best in the years to come.



Saturday, August 30, 2014

Aalayam - Planning for bigger and better!

Touched by the rousing feedback we received over the celebration of a century of posts, I sit and contemplate about what lies in the pipeline for Aalayam, as I look at this vignette arrangement in my living room. Image from Supriya's home.

Its time to plan ahead. We rarely sit on our laurels, so anxious are we to keep you engaged our dear readers, eager to keep you coming back for more, determined to keep you wanting more out of Aalayam.

Deepa and I look forward to figuring out how to make our little niche grow larger. We have been talking about it quite a bit. With Aalayam in the next 100 posts, we aspire to reach a wider audience, we hope to activate a lot more everyday inspiration, and of course, we aim to have tons more fun, and get more edified along the way. So, you get it, the key word here is MORE! 

MORE inspiration, MORE information and MORE cultural curation. 

In all the everyday spectra that matter to us - Life, Home, Culture, Food and Art. 

So I went to you. Our market, our niche, our crowd. I started asking first in my social media network. I asked you to voice your opinion.  One of the most crucial drivers of Aalayam's success over the last 100 posts. 

I asked you this question: "As we strive to make Aalayam bigger and better, what are the kind of posts you'd like to see?"

You responded with fabulously formed opinions on your desire to see different posts in Aalayam, about various things that mattered to you!! I can only feel fulfilled that you engaged, that you participated in the whole planning process for Aalayam.  

I promise you, I will work with the editorial team to bring to you what you want to see. Because you matter. You truly do.

Here's the list of your responses. In all candor, no edits.

Deepa sends her love and her well curated inspiration straight from the heart of Paris. Stay tuned for more party planning, decor, travel and casa related posts from all over the world from Deepa's scribe.  Image from Deepa's home.

That is a good list don't you think? But I still have one more, very vital group to ask the same question - you fellow bloggers!!!! Here goes.

 "As we strive to make Aalayam bigger and better, what are the kind of posts you'd like to see?"

I really want to know. So please tune in and comment. Without you guys, and your constant patronage, Deepa and I would have let our enthusiasm get dampened. But you kept us going. So we want to hear from you. Tell us, what you want to see, and we will make it happen.