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ince I’ve returned to Paris from my trips to India, I find myself unable to wear the color black—I’ve actually given all my black clothes away to friends,” proclaims celebrated Parisian artist Florine Asch. Bold, bright and contrasting colors are what endear India most to Asch. She insists, “Nowadays in Paris, India is very à la mode—the cinema, the fashion. The French are really amazed with the elegance and beauty of saris, and I, for one, am saddened that a growing number of women seem to be abandoning them in favor of jeans and European style clothing.” Yet it is this exact juxtaposition of tradition and modernity that Asch was asked to illustrate and capture by the legendary luxury travel house of Louis Vuitton.

Florine Asche at the Louis Vuitton launch party in Mumbai.
Florine Asche at the Louis Vuitton launch party in Mumbai.

Louis Vuitton commissioned Asch to catalog her impressions of Mumbai for its series of illustrated travel notebooks. But this would not be the first tryst with India for either Asch or Louis Vuitton. The venerable house of fashion has centuries-old connections with the royal houses of India. By the late nineteenth century, the combined orders of the maharajas of Kapurthala, Kashmir, Jodhpur and Baroda outnumbered those by the rest of the world. Asch, on the other hand, first visited India on holiday in 1991. In 2004 she illustrated a 14-page hardbound wedding invitation, which ultimately became a collector’s item, for steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter Megha.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman

Born in Strasbourg, France, Florine has been sketching, painting and journaling her surroundings since she was a small child. “Drawing was in the family blood,” says the artist whose mother was a fashion designer. At the age of 18, Florine studied at the famed Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. By 23 she had her first exhibition, which garnered critical praise and helped establish her as one of the most talented illustrators in Paris.

In addition to Mumbai, she has published her personal travel sketches of Italy, Africa and Egypt. Her latest project is a book about a villa on the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico.

Officially titled “A Passage to India: The New Travel Notebook on Mumbai,” this new work may well be on its way to becoming another treasured collectible. When tried to obtain a copy, we were sweetly dismissed by a manager who quipped, “Louis Vuitton worldwide is sold out, dears!” The coveted notebook is ninth in a series, preceded by Paris, London, Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Sydney, Rio and Athens. Rendered by handpicked artists, the notebooks are comprised of travel illustrations that highlight major tourist destinations as well as city scenes.

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The only musts on Asch’s itinerary were popular destinations like India Gate, Maidan Park, the legendary Elephanta caves, as well as the burgeoning business district. Unfamiliar with the city, she was eager to capture the images that “fixated and inspired [her] imagination.” Reluctantly, she hired a tour guide who led her through the city’s array of sights and sounds. Lingering outside the upscale Crossroads Mall with its exclusive designer outlets, Asch was more taken with the teeming roadside bazaars: “The shops on the streets with their bejeweled colored saris were just a reminder that Parisian couturiers like Emanuel Ungaro and Christian Lacroix didn’t invent color contrast, they just borrowed.” She continues, “It’s really a country of colors, something which lends itself so well to the medium of watercolor.”

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Asch’s travels through Mumbai were limited to just two weeks during the Hindu festival of Holi. So how did the project culminate in 120 unique illustrations? The entire notebook took nearly a year to complete—most of it in her Parisian studio, with the aid of festival photos, travel books, a serendipitous copy of Shah Rukh Khan’s film Paheli sent to her by friends from Mumbai, and an unrelenting imagination. She avows, “For me India is maharajas, turbans, jewels and extravagance.”

Find It

A Passage to India: The New Travel Notebook on Mumbai, $79.

Though it’s currently sold out, the notebook will soon be available at Louis Vuitton stores nationwide and at eLUXURY.com.

Asch returned to Mumbai this October for the launch of her notebook. The Louis Vuitton fête took place outdoors, overlooking both the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, at the private Chambers Terrace of the Taj Mahal Hotel. Awash in a sea of pinks, whites and burnt oranges, the décor was chosen in hopes of recreating a watercolor effect. White flowers with pink and orange gerberas were used to create Louis Vuitton topiaries. Donning a shocking-pink caftan dress, the statuesque Asch was greeted by a sea of Mumbai glitterati including actresses, pop stars, tycoons, models and royalty. Mingling in the crowd were ingénues Ameesha Patel, Kim Sharma and Anupama Verma, business tycoons Pervez Damania, Rajiv and Komal Wazir, and Bollywood luminaries Karan Johar and Farhad Samar, along with famed mother-daughter duo Neetu and Riddhima of Bollywood’s legendary Kapoor family.

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While the sumptuous sounds of the sitar wafted through the air, guests feasted on a cornucopia of Parsi, Goan, North Indian and Gujarati delicacies. One by one, Asch’s well-wishers congratulated her on her vivid depictions, often stating that her illustrations allowed them to see their Mumbai in a new light. A few dissenters in the crowd suggested that she might have romanticized Mumbai too much for their tastes.

As it turns out, Asch’s Mumbai lost a bit of color before she returned to the Continent: She indulged in a shopping spree during which she “purchased 15 stunning Tarun Tahiliani saris”—even though she’s unsure where or when she will wear them. A shame, because though Asch was in Haji Ali, the sticker shock was reminiscent of her native Parisian rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Exotic prices, alas, are a universal language.n

Mili V. Narayen is contemplating ways in which she can get her hands on that book.
Published on November 6, 2006.
Photography: Courtesy of Louis Vuitton and The Washington Post (Julia Ewan) &#169 2006. Reprinted with permission.
Comments are closed.
  1. November 7, 2006, 8:42 pm Mark

    Great article Mili.

  2. November 7, 2006, 8:49 pm Florine

    Chère Mili,

    Bravo tu es formidable!

    Waouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu mais quel bel article, tu ecris tellement joliment , bravo d’avoir traduit mes propos de la sorte, c’est super, Merci beaucoup chère Mili, et la mise en page est trés reussi.

    Encore bravo et peut etre a bientot si tu viens à Paris.

    Florine

  3. November 7, 2006, 9:28 pm Mili

    Florine,

    The gorgeous layout you see here is courtesy of our art director, Priya Patel.

    Mili

  4. November 7, 2006, 11:09 pm Arun

    Those paintings (the ones in the article, any way) are really quite exquisite. I’m from Bombay, and in my opinion, the city isn’t quite as delicate as Florine’s paintings make it look — but I guess that depends on the artist’s perception. They’re really beautiful, nevertheless.

    And yeah, great article, Mili! Congrats on your first.

  5. November 7, 2006, 11:20 pm Pavani

    Yes, congrats to Mili and Priya on a beautiful article!

  6. November 8, 2006, 8:30 am Dhrumil

    I’ll be in Bombay for the month of January. Hopefully this book will come in handy.

  7. November 8, 2006, 10:19 am Sandhya

    Mili, extremely well written article.

    Throbbingly visual, beautifully juxtaposed, I am regretting that the article had to end! It feels like I was transported to the world of the Florine. Her amazing sketches have come alive with your writing.

    I am looking forward to more articles from you.

  8. November 8, 2006, 12:56 pm Meenakshi

    Interesting article, but I must say I am disappointed to see that she lived in Bombay and chose to go with the elephants and snake charmers theme. She is a good artist, no doubt, but I hardly think Bombay looks like what she interpreted in the few pictures that are posted up here.

    This quote disturbed me a bit: ‘She avows, “For me India is maharajas, turbans, jewels and extravagance.”’

    Is this what the picture of India is for folks? When was the last time anyone took an elephant ride through the city and saw a maharaja? Last time I was there I took an autorickshaw and saw countless slums on either side of any road from Churchgate to Borivali.

  9. November 8, 2006, 1:25 pm Nadia

    Meenakshi, the artist chose to depict the richness, vibrancy of India – I don’t think “poverty in watercolor” would do as well for Louis Vuitton.

    Enjoyed the article – loved this quote: “The shops on the streets with their bejeweled colored saris were just a reminder that Parisian couturiers like Emanuel Ungaro and Christian Lacroix didn’t invent color contrast, they just borrowed.”

  10. November 8, 2006, 1:32 pm Meenakshi

    Ok, take aside the poverty analogy in water colour. It just speaks volumes to misperceptions about India and that is why I wanted to bring it up. If she had gone to a rural area of the country and painted that, it would be more accurate. Her paintings represent a limited view of Bombay from taxicab drive-bys and tourist eyes.

  11. November 8, 2006, 4:31 pm Priya

    Meenakshi— Speaking from seeing the rest of the books in the series, each city is presented with emphasis on iconic imagery relating to that city. (New York’s contains images of the Empire State Building, shopping on 5th Avenue and lots of yellow cabs all in a decidedly Art Deco feel. New York was once that city, but not so much anymore. Still a gorgeous book.) Each city is a major city and, with the exception of Rio, has a Louis Vuitton boutique. I’m not sure a book commissioned about a rural area in India makes sense in context to the series.

    I loved Florine’s illustrations so much. So fanciful, great gestural strokes, great color sense. Now stalking the employees at my local boutique for word on the reprint.

  12. November 8, 2006, 7:14 pm Sarah

    I have to agree with Meenakshi on the quote; it is a bit disturbing.

  13. November 9, 2006, 10:39 am krishna

    A great big Harummmph to this calculated, and I am sure, manufuctured Louis Vuitton exclusivity. “Louis Vuitton worldwide is sold out, dears!” . First I’m customer number 1359 for the crocodile kelly green Hermes Birkin, now this! Conspiracy I tell you. Conspiracy

  14. November 9, 2006, 10:54 am Meenakshi

    I don’t mean to be argumentative, but I think its just as important for Nirali Magazine to give a balanced perspective of the views that can arise from art. I mean, art is supposed to lead to conversation, no?

    In the article, the author dismissed people who thought it was over-romanticized as “dissenters”. Maybe they had their own point to make of it? Maybe they should have called it the “Very Ancient Travel Notebook on Mumbai” 😉

    Priya, while your reference to the New York version of this book might be informative, think about the differences in cultural contexts between yellow cabs/art deco vs elephants riders and snake charmers.

    Anyways, thats my take on it.

  15. November 9, 2006, 2:35 pm Nirali Magazine

    Thanks for an excellent discussion! We hope you will all keep it going. Meenakshi, your input is very valid and useful in this discussion. The line about dissenters is not inaccurate or meant to be dismissive; we consider carefully what we print, and those who disagreed did indeed dissent from the general opinion of the party-goers. In fact, the line was in included because it is important to note that not everyone agrees with Ms. Asch’s depiction of Mumbai, as you have pointed out.

    We do strive for balance, and that’s why all your comments here are welcome and necessary. Thanks so much for reading!

  16. November 13, 2006, 7:31 pm Tara

    Great article!

    Definitely want to check out this book..:)

  17. November 17, 2006, 1:58 am Nirali Magazine

    Good news: We hear that the notebook will be back in stores this December.

  18. November 20, 2006, 11:05 pm rekha misra

    lovely . I love the vibrent colours and history of our city and even though the dirt is hidden the spirit shines thru. great article.

  19. November 30, 2006, 3:24 pm angela

    How much does a tarun saree cost?

  20. December 1, 2006, 2:06 am Mili

    Mr. Tahiliani has several collections including bridal, couture, pret-a-porter, and even a men’s collection – so prices vary accordingly. I don’t have exact figures but the low end of Mr. Tahiliani’s saris tend to start at around 800 USD.

    I will interview Mr. Tahiliani for an upcoming story for Nirali. He is widely considered to be one of the preeminent Indian couturiers.

  21. December 3, 2006, 12:32 pm angela

    Thanks Milli. Please ask him that question again for your interview… inquiring minds, here in the West are very interested in his work.

  22. December 3, 2006, 10:30 pm Mili

    Angela- Please email me at mili@niralimagazine.com and I can provide you with information on retail outlets which carry Tahiliani in the United States.

    Please be sure to check out our February 2007 style issue which will be full of Indian fashion stories from all over the world!

  23. March 7, 2007, 11:30 pm Shodan

    Chimanlal’s used to sell Mumbai portfolio many years ago. It had some great Mumbai pen & ink sketches from late 70s / early 80s. Definitely art worth owning. I bought it for a princely sum of Rs. 12. I think Sudarshan Dheer drew those (not 100% sure).

    As a hardcore Mumbaikar, I tend to agree w/ Meenakshi. I don’t mean to diss the talented Ms. Asch here, but the Chimanlal sketches did a much better job of showing real Mumbai.

  24. October 30, 2007, 7:22 am himanshu prabhakar

    Hi !! tussi great .

  25. November 17, 2007, 6:44 am PROLIX

    Bonjour,

    Congrats Florine!!!

    I’m so happy for you!!!

    You’re so talented and gifted. Your drawings are so great, fresh, bright and full of life, as always!

    Bonne continuation!

    Audrey and Fabien.
    ;o)