Nurtured by the past, weaving for the future
Conversing with Designer Gaurang Shah
In conversation with designer Gaurang Shah, A. Das speaks to him about his work, his past and the inspiration that brought about his designs.
There’s a confident charm to understated yet elegant traditional weaves—delicate, fine gossamer fabrics of chanderi and
maheshwari, grand and bold kanjeevarams and banarasi silks, elaborate Paithanis and Patolas, and intricate Khadi Jamdani, to name a few! This tijori (vault) of Indian weaves needed a fashionable and contemporary revival. And who could have done it better than the 2012 Lakme Fashion Week ‘Best Indian weaves designer’ award winner—Gaurang Shah. The decline of handloom, leading to poor economic conditions for the weavers, touched the heart of this young designer way back in the 2000s. Instead of waiting for a right chance, he dived right in to the depths of these testing times and began his revival stance; village by village, cluster by cluster!
TELL US YOUR ORIGIN STORY. HOW DID YOU GRAVITATE TOWARDS TEXTILES?
I am a self-taught textile designer and I grew up amidst the charm of Indian textiles. My love for textiles grew very early in my life as a young eight year old boy, visiting my dad’s clothing store.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PRESENT AND FUTURE ASPIRATIONS?
We are playing a central role in reviving and sustaining handlooms by creating curiosity and interest in the buyer, apart from making handloom production more challenging and interesting. Simultaneously, we are reviving the traditional handlooms and hand embroideries like parsi, kashmiri, chikankari, kutch, kasauti and bringing them back in vogue.
ARE YOU A REVIVALIST, A FUTURIST, OR BOTH? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?
I believe in marriage of the past with the future; because my inspiration stems from the past and
HOW DO YOU DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF FROM MANY OF YOUR CONTEMPORARIES?
I am a textile man. That is, what I think, gives me a huge plus. I breathe textiles, colours, textures all the time, right from the time I get up early in the morning and before I get in to the state of sound sleep. I am a constant dreamer awed by our traditions and heritage and always trying to find a way to translate its beauty and grandeur into beautiful fabric that women will hold for years, as a treasure.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR PRISTINE WHITE SS’17 COLLECTION.
Our collection titled ‘ Muslin’ was inspired by the romance of nature. It is a play of white tones on fabrics that are sheer and flowy. We have introduced a new dimension of Jamdani weaves, translated into the finest Khadi, Kota and Organza with yarns like Muga and Silk to create an alluring play of light and shadow. The intricate weaves are brought to life with the stunning Parsi
gara style and Chikankari embroidery. Alternately, block prints in shades of white are used with care to accentuate the lines and silhouettes of the collection. Muslin has often been called ‘woven air’ for its fine and delicate craftsmanship. Uniting this intricate fabric with flowing silhouettes like anarkalis, gararas, lehengas and saris; we created a bohemian rhapsody in white. Designed to make a woman feel like a goddess as she treads on clouds, the collection is ethereal and timeless in its vision as well as its aesthetic.
POUR OUT YOUR HEART—TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH INDIAN TEXTILES, ESPECIALLY WITH KHADI.
My first opportunity to innovate khadi came when I got an invitation from the Lavera Eco Show at the Berlin Fashion Festival, to showcase Indian khadi to the international audience.
So we set out to begin our work on khadi with fine khadi of 80 to 100 counts to make the fabric malleable. We also wanted the fashion world to think beyond ‘white’ that is related to khadi. So, we used vibrant floral blooms, birds, butterflies and foliage themes. Each pattern was meticulously woven using our hallmark Jamdani weaving technique, in a combination of colours. The process was wearisome and took immense amount of time. We also introduced off-shoulder flowy dresses with anarkali cuts, layered tunics and short tops teamed up with dhoti-style pants. The khadi jumpsuit with floral patterns was an eye-opener to khadi lovers.
YOU WORK CLOSELY WITH THE WEAVERS ON THE ONE HAND AND ON THE OTHER HAND WITH MOST COVETED CELEBRITY NAMES. HOW CHALLENGING HAS THE JOURNEY BEEN FOR YOU?
It has been immensely satisfying. I have seen the tribe of my weavers grow from 10 to 700 and counting. What is also inspiring is the way celebrities have shown their admiration and adorability towards hand looms we have created. Each one of the celebs who choose to wear our clothing has worn the label for different occasions ranging from a casual outing, red carpet appearance to a bridal occasion.The biggest challenge in this journey was to keep me and my weavers motivated with the outcomes, newness and acceptance to creativity. For me, every design I create is a baby that needs nurturing and attainment of maturity.
FROM THE GRASSROOTS’ LEVEL TO THE FINAL PRODUCT. HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THIS JOURNEY OF APPAREL?
It is a journey of translating my dream into reality. It is a path that has tremendous amount of
THE TITLES OF OUR COLLECTIONS ARE INSPIRED BY OUR ANCIENT CULTURE AND TRADITIONS FROM DIFFERENT PARTS OF INDIA.
intensity that my weavers bring in as we coach them to up their skills and pick challenges that didn’t exist. We also keep an eye on trends both in the fashion platforms and retailing.
Our collections ‘Ardhangini’, ‘Calico’, ‘Stridhan’ and ‘Panchali’ were a distant cut away from the designs that fashionistas knew.
YOUR WORK IS KNOWN FOR ITS INTRICACIES. HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THIS SUPERB DETAILING THAT EXUDES IN BOTH THE DESIGN AS WELL AS THE VERY NAMES OF YOUR COLLECTIONS TOO?
I attribute this it to the Jamdani weaving technique, it gives me immense freedom to break convention and think uncommon. We have also trained our weavers to change through modernisation of concepts and approach pertaining to their weaving technique. The important thing is to stay connected to the woman’s heart for fashion and her traditions when she goes out to shop for occasions that she chooses to wear an Indian garment. We have introduced unseen colours, textures, fusion of fabrics that is absolutely irresistible.
The titles of our collections are inspired by our ancient culture and traditions from different
HOW DIFFICULT OR EASY IT IS TO CONVINCE THE CONSUMER TO SWITCH TO HAND WOVEN AND HANDMADE EXPERIENCES?
It was hugely challenging initially, in fact, there were times when my store shelves were overflowing and there were no takers. Back in early 2000, georgette and chiffon saris were in style. But, as they sensed a change in textures, colours designs and we helped them break myths about handloom, they began to flock to my stores. Today, they await my new collection and some of them pre-book our upcoming season’s collections.
The challenge is to constantly innovate and keep my consumers wanting for more season after season. To a large extent we have been able to bring handloom to spotlight in fashion platforms. Our goal is to expand its beauty and consumption world over.
WHAT ARE THE CLASSICS FROM THE GAURANG SHAH LABEL THAT HAS TRANSCENDED BOUNDARIES OF TIME AND PLACE?
Every collection that we roll out has a distinctive appeal and class. Our biggest innovation has been the ‘Big Border Sari’ which became an instant hit. Every place whether it is an Uppada, Khadi, Paithani, Patan Patola, Kota, Kancheepura sari, or our salwar kameezes and anarkalis in pastel shades, off whites, whites with kalamkari prints, Parsi embroidery and chikankari, among others, are classics in their own ways.
YOUR LABEL IS AVAILABLE WHERE ALL THE WORLD OVER TODAY?
Our label GAURAG is available in seven cities across India, in Mumbai we are known as VAYA. We operate as ‘Brand Gaurang’ in Hyderabad, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru. We are available for our customers in UK, US, Middle East, Singapore, Malayasia and Sri Lanka, through our e-portal, Facebook and Instagram. We will continue to expand our vision to sustain handlooms and its eminence in the world fashion platform both in India and other parts of the world. We will focus on introducing the unique craft of Jamdani weaving and its twists to the world through our fabrics and fashion pieces.