Sweet tango

How does a fashion idea translate into confectionary? Pooja Dhingra and Nimish Shah let us sit through a brainstorming session for their latest collaboration

Fashion designer Nimish Shah knew of chef Pooja Dhingra, of course. But he had a complaint. "All her desserts were so girly. Even the inside of her patisserie Le 15 is pink and flowery," says the man behind Shift, a deluxe label with Scandinavian aesthetics often read as normcore. "It’s not like boys don’t have a sweet tooth; I feel they have even more of a sweet tooth," he says.

Nimesh Shah and Pooja Dhingra's tin box can be a keepsake.  Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Nimesh Shah and Pooja Dhingra's tin box can be a keepsake.  Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

So their new collaboration, Dhingra jokes, is all shades of brown. "Ecru, beige, camel, etc," Shah laughs. "I had to really hold myself back and decorate with flowers, or sparkle or dainty paper cups," says Dhingra.

Dhingra often works with designers to transfer their design aesthetic to sweet somethings. "It’s fun to collaborate with other creative people," she says.

Nimish’s idea was of a small box of treats that held memories for him. "I remember while studying in London, I would have this sneakers bar after a meal," he says. "I also wanted something savoury, like cheese straws. It had to reflect Shift, which is deluxe pret brand not couture or premium, but curated; nothing something that’s just a sugar rush."

The end result was a cheese cake brownie topped with chopped Sneakers bar, Old Monk-fed banana bread, cheese cookies for the savoury element with parmesan and paprika cheese, a granola bar with hazelnuts and cereal cupcake (chocolate cupcake garnished with caramelised cornflakes).

"These were items that Nimish chose," says Dhingra. "These are again mundane, everyday pieces that have not been used in an alternate space," says Shah. "making them indulgent. They are not shocking in any way, like my clothes. There was no sheer logic behind choosing these pics — just instinct. I think I wanted to go with the theme of something chewy, with no frosting or feminine details. There’s an element of crunch and nostalgia."

In keeping with his aversion to frosting and feminine elements, the confectionary is not dressed in anyway but left to look raw
and industrial.

The collaboration took some time in the oven — about three months. It was first slated to come out with Shift’s men line for Le Mill, then at Diwali and now finally on the first weekend of December.

During the taste trials, the cheesecake brownie was thought to be too sweet and had to be toned down. While arranging them in a box, they found they needed an oblong element, like an eclair or cigar, and finally went with the granola bar.
"That’s lunch," says Nimish as he goes through a second round of tasting the banana bread, cheese biscuit and cheesecake brownie. Dhingra raises an eyebrow and he says, "When you work in fashion, you have to be careful," he says mock apologetically.

Besides the taste, the way the products were shot also had to be in keeping with Shah’s aesthetic, or "boy-ey" as he calls it. No pretty wedges on lace doilies please. Cyrus Dalal, who shoots most of Le 15 works, brainstormed to come up with chalkboard bases.

There’s were several contenders for the packaging. "I wanted like a tin lunchbox with sections," says Shah, "to remind us of our tiffin boxes or birthday packages that came with cake and chips and they all rubbed off on each other a bit and that’s how we ate it."

They went through tin and cardboard options with masculine motifs, such as moustaches, a British dandy and so on, to finally came back to the tin box which can be used as a keepsake. The box says: A gentleman’s box of confection.

The collaboration will be in stores for a while and later available on order. But does all this peddling below the surface interest the sugar junkie who comes to Le 15 for a fix? "Before a collaboration, we train our staff to disperse some information," says Dhingra. "The special edition items are pointed out to customer and many of them are interested in the thought process."

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