Chitra Balasubramaniam studies India’s indigenous apparel industry as it stirs up a delight in its new fashionable avatar.
Studying India’s indigenous apparel industry
Who can forget the gorgeous georgette delicate printed dress that Duchess Kate Middleton wore? The prints inspired from ancient Rajasthani motifs by Anita Dongre created a furore and got the cash box jiggling with orders for it pouring from all over the world. Called the Gulrukh Tunic Dress, it is a great example of how Indian sensibility sits perfectly in international fashion conclaves. It can be called a future progression of traditional Indian fabrics—handwoven, handcrafted and embroidered—moving beyond their traditional boundaries to embrace international fashion.
THE HANDLOOM TRIALS
These are interesting times for the fashion industry. Suddenly the domestic market is swept by a trend for sartorial slickness. The, “look good feel good”, syndrome is at play, adding to the fact that the younger generation is moving gradually towards western wear. Formal dresses and gowns are a part of most urban women’s wardrobe. What is heartening is that most of this western wear is being crafted out of traditional handloom textiles. Women have no qualms of teaming the western dresses with traditional Indian jewellery be it the jhumars
or jhumkas. It is this fusion of revelling and willingness to experiment with fashion dictates which is spurring on a host of excellent designs. An oft repeated statement of yesteryears used to be “the timelessness of the sari”. Of how beautiful expensive saris can be handed down generations upon generations—examples would be of Benarasi brocades, paithanis, garas, pashmina shawls, jamavars and kanjeevarams. However, today the younger doesn’t seem to want to carry it forward as a legacy. Many still do not mind hoarding it, but to a majority, it has more utility if it is given a makeover or converted into a modern garment. There are stories of how western-style wedding dresses have been made from decade old garas. Cut up and stitched, they have their own earthy charm. Old silk saris have been quilted into kanthas.
Katherine Neumann of the House of Wandering Silks has created some fabulous shrugs and robes from kanthas quilted out of old silk saris. Old silk saris are quilted using the humble running silk. It is basically a two-layer quilt, which makes the piece reversible. The quilting threads blend in beautifully with the basic silk. Call it upcycle or recycle or reuse, it is a gorgeous way of using old silk saris and a way for the women to continue to do the humble
kantha. The quilted stoles are fashioned to form a shrug. The shrug, reversible, can be used in any manner. It can be draped on a sari, worn with a pair of tights.
Ritu Kumar, the doyen of Indian designers who has created some fabulous pieces on the shoulders of the Indian textile wealth, has used the brocades of Benares to advantage. At the recent exhibition on Benares brocades at the National Museum, there was on display an ensemble created by her specifically. A very attractively draped eye catching pink ensemble teamed with brocade jacket and churidar reviving the Getua or Gethwa technique is outstanding called the ‘ Paramveer saree’.
Handlooms and handwovens have been bywords for the ethnic brigade. Handwoven sarees are extremely popular, so are fabrics which are fashioned into garments. But what one is seeing now is the re-inventing of the traditional fabrics to be used with elan on Western outfits. The growing preferences of the younger generation for ready to wear apparel, western wear given its higher degree of comfort, a hip feel has made designers experiment with the traditional fabric to give it that cutting edge.
Fabindia has always been on the forefront of this innovation. Their use of the humble craft is given a twist to make it more appealing has always had its share of faithful followers. It is crafted in silk. Fabindia’s range in tabby silk with tie and dye is eye catching. Mulberry silk is used for Ajrakh printing. There is even bandhani crafted in taby silk! Kalamkari is done on light weight cotton which is further crinkled to give it an extra edge.
Chanderi has been fashioned into kurtis, tops and even palazzos. Chikankari finds excellent place in palazzo pants and trousers.
Jiyo, a brand launched by Rajeev Sethi, has managed to combine crafts to give it a very contemporary modern edge. So modern in design and sensibilities that one can just wonder whether it is the same craft which has been used with so much good design. Their beautiful kimonos have intricate sujni done on them. The sujni is done in various colours, the design is so beautiful and intricate that for a lot it does not look like sujni at all. Jiyo’s motto (as their website www.jiyo.net.in puts it), is “an empowering enterprise, creating new livelihoods in creative and cultural Industries amongst skilled but economically vulnerable communities of India, Jiyo!—a design-led initiative of the Asian Heritage Foundation— signifies the arrival of India’s Swadeshi (indigenous) Brand for the 21st Century.”
The Weaver’s Service Centre had come up with a new launch of using traditional handloom wear in western style garments. So, from fusion skirts, shirts and casual clothing, a range of excellent styled creations were showcased. Suparkar from Benares had experimented with using Benaras handwoven fabrics to make some eye-catching ensembles of tunics.
THE KHADI CONNECT
Another legendary textile which is seeing interesting innovation is Khadi. Khadi, today, is no longer the kurta pyjama ensemble. A new variety of Khadi—Denim Khadi—has been launched. Khadi denim is versatile in beautiful shades and is a hit. Khadi has been designed into sportswear. The material is ideal given its breathability and ability to absorb moisture. The best part of khadi is its ability to be blended with other yarns, yes it is being blended with bamboo yarn, modal, polyester, silk. The natural properties of khadi
IT IS THE USE OF HANDLOOM TO CREATE MASS MERCHANDISE WHICH WILL GIVE A BOOST TO INDIA’S TEXTILE INDUSTRY AND TRADITIONAL TEXTILES.
augment the properties of the other yarn, giving a fabric which is versatile with excellent drape ability. What makes the fabric more attractive is that it is a truly 100 per cent eco-friendly fabric. Since it is handspun, hand woven it is pure thus causing no allergies. It is easy to maintain. The production of khadi consumes only three liters of water, while in mills, it is nearly 10 times.
THE FREEDOM FABRIC
Another new fabric has been recently launched, called Malkha—a fabric woven in Telengana. The name is an acronym for muslin and khadi. It is woven using fine muslin and khadi and has also been dubbed ‘The Freedom Fabric’. Dyed with vegetable colours, it is the toast of the fabric season in India. Uzramma the founder of Dastkar Andhra is working with Malkha. It is a step towards sustainability that has taken the world by storm, given its heritage and the story which it unfolds. Making Malkha is process meant to replicate the ancient, using modern technology. Essentially, the manufacturing process is backed by technology; and yet the finished product retains the beautiful touch of handloom and hand woven cloth. The dyeing, performed in vegetable colours, adds to the sheen.
It is the use of handloom to create mass merchandise which will give a boost to India's textile industry and traditional Indian textiles. With climate change and the weather veering towards more summer days, cotton and other natural fibres will rule the roost. Traditional Indian textiles have survived centuries, with such design intervention to cater to both the youth, as well as the fashion-conscious class, it will truly survive the years to come.