Covering today’s hot October sun is a Belgian lace doily, handcrafted by nuns in South India. Follow the source of this shade and it will lead you to Dit, an ancient linen and tableware store in Colaba, where the loveliest stories unravel like spools of lace.
Now slightly run down, here you’ll find Mr Frank Mendes looking after remnants of a thriving business, left behind by his entrepreneurial designer mother, the late Josephine Mendes who started Dit in 1942 as a laundry plus tailoring outfit.
The word Dit comes from Mrs Mendes’ nickname - also a piece of Morse code – given to her by her father who worked in the railways. Once upon a time, tapping on its glass panes were a bevy of models and actresses, her son Frank tells us, but he couldn’t recognize half of them. “The tram to Sassoon Docks passed by the shop and I’d see a crowd of people outside Dit because Madhu Bala or a Miss India had come in for a fitting,” he says, describing the shop then as a loft and ground floor with space for one dozen tailors who executed Mrs Mendes’ designs. She also made blouses for Doorsarshan news anchors including Dolly Thakore, and once brought plus sized Bollywood comedian Tuntun home for measurements.
Then came the oil rush about 30 years ago and all of Mrs Mendes’ tailors left to seek work in the Middle East. “My mother used to come home everyday and make a face about the absconding tailors, and finally my father said, ‘just change the business.’” And so it was decided that Dit would be transformed into a shop that sells home linens, handcrafted and sourced from all over India, a chunk of it made by visiting Belgian nuns.
“You’re crazy if you think I’ll blow my nose in a Rs 1,500 handkerchief,” one customer told Frank. But another, a Supreme Court lawyer, bought one to wear in her breast pocket on court days.
Don’t Blow Your Nose On This
Today, the shop is less starry, but the stock is still special, including showcases of handmade runners, table cloths, cocktail napkins and hand towels in cross stitch and shadow work. Also beautiful are doilies, mats and coasters crafted in cutwork, trimmed with lace and crochet. Most of these are made by nuns that were taught the techniques by visiting Belgian missionaries.
“The 60 by 90 organdy cutwork tablecloth is beautiful, come look at it,” says Frank, who used to be a pilot. Our favourite though, is a range of pretty lace-lined handkerchiefs, priced from Rs 250 to Rs 1,500 each. “You’re crazy if you think I’ll blow my nose in a Rs 1,500 handkerchief,” one customer told Frank. But another, a Supreme Court lawyer, bought one to wear in her breast pocket on court days.
Most of the customers who currently visit Dit are Parsis and Catholics, looking to dress up their homes, especially during Pateti and Christmas, or while shopping for wedding trousseaus.
As it stands now, the future of Dit is uncertain. “The building might go for re-development, so we’re not sure what we will do with the shop.” But Frank refuses to leave us on such a bleak note.
“A few years ago, actress Jaya Bachchan came in to buy something with a friend. I didn’t recognize her but I thought she looked familiar. I asked if I know her from St. Xaviers College. She smiled, bought some doilies and left.
Getting there: Dit, 1 A, Glamour House, opposite Standard Auto Services, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Colaba, call 2832523, handkerchiefs start at Rs 250. Note: The shop will be closed from October 19-25 since Frank Mendes is going on a sourcing trip around India.
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