The Button Masala Magic!
Ahmedabad-based fashion designer Anuj Sharma speaks to Brinda Gill about his innovative Button Masala joinery concept that allows the designer and wearer to create multiple silhouettes as well as garments from the same fabric.
Ahmedabad-based Designer Anuj Sharma talks about his innovative Button Masala joinery concept
Imagine transforming the length of fabric into a stylish garment without any stitching. In the ethos of India’s wonderful living tradition of unstitched garments like the sari, dhoti and wrap-around skirt, are the unstitched garments of Ahmedabadbased designer Anuj Sharma. Working only with fabric, buttons and high-quality nylon rubber bands, Anuj deftly constructs attractive garments that drape fluidly, have flowing silhouettes and interesting textures, and can be given a new look simply by buttoning or unbuttoning a few buttons in a matter of minutes! And his creative technique and garments saw him receive the Marie Claire Award for the most innovative design in 2010.
FAST AND EASY!
Anuj’s interest in creating a different style of designing apparel goes back to his days when he was studying Apparel Design at NID, Ahmedabad, (1996-2000) and was keen to design garments that looked good and could be created quickly, easily and inexpensively. The idea of an alternative technique struck him when he saw a man wearing a shirt that had been wrongly buttonholed. As Anuj saw the mismatch of the buttons and buttonholes, he realised that if one button is put incorrectly, it results in one variation in the way the shirt appears. And continuing that thread of thought, he reasoned that if there were several buttons that were put wrongly, a pattern would emerge!
With this idea taking root, he asked his tailor Munnabhai to try out something new. He had a length of fabric dotted with buttons at a two-inch distance from each other, thus creating a grid of buttons. He also had a set of straps with a series of button holes stitched at a two-inch gap. Putting these two together, he created a garment with shoulder straps and different drapes, adjusting the straps to create different lengths and effects. Looking at the creation and its possibilities he realised it would be possible to create an endless number of garments by buttoning the fabric in different ways! Further, the technique was so easy that even the wearer could make adjustments or changes as desired!
EVOLVING THE TECHNIQUE
Anuj then worked on taking the technique further. He figured that he needed to remove the requirement of stitching buttons that involved labour and time. So, he simply placed the buttons under the fabric, pushed them up slightly (in the way cloth is pushed up with the little finger nail in the traditional tie-dye technique) from below, and then tied the button with a rubber band from the main surface of the fabric. He says thread can be used instead of a rubber band, only it would be more time-consuming.
Anuj, thus, created a number of such buttons, that in turn, created texture (such as by working a cluster of buttons); drapes by the way the fabric was buttoned; and joined two fabrics (by either placing them one above the other and joining them with a single button using the technique or stretching a rubber band across two buttons, one on either fabric). In this way, a unique garment was created quickly and easily, using a simple technique that offered possibilities for creativity, and without the use of any tools or stitching. And by buttoning the same fabric in a different way, it was possible to transform it from a dress to a skirt, top or poncho depending on one’s preference, the occasion or the weather! Stemming from the simple joinery technique he discovered, Anuj founded his studio and brand in 2009, and fittingly named it Button Masala.
A RANGE OF GARMENTS
Exploring the technique, Anuj designed a wonderful spectrum of tops, dresses, skirts and trousers. The dresses can be of an amazing number of styles such as long and short; with pleats, folds and ruffles; sleeveless, short sleeves or long sleeves, and each of different style; off-shoulder; single layered or of multiple layers; simple or dramatic; symmetrical or asymmetrical, and more.
As the technique offers endless possibilities, Anuj believes in taking on the role of a facilitator and being guided by the fabric and allow it to take shape and create a garment. Typically, he designs by using a rectangular length of fabric, and there is no cutting required. He suggests draping the fabric on a person or mannequin; gauging its look, feel and drape; and then building a garment by working one button at a time, adding fabric as required to get the desired look and length.
Anuj works with a variety of fabrics namely cotton, khadi, mulmul, silk, knits, viscose, georgettes and polyester. While most of the garments use buttons for the joinery, he suggests using other elements such as sequins, bottle caps, coins or beads. He has used table tennis balls and small tea glasses that have given the garments a sculptural quality. And as the buttons
and the fabric create textures and patterns, he feels there is no requirement for other embellishments such as embroidery making the technique a complete designing method in itself.
ROLE OF DESIGN
Anuj is of the view that design has to be experienced. He wants the wearer of a garment to be involved in and actively participate in the design of the garment, a sentiment that is experienced when draping a sari, yet one that is mostly absent when wearing a stitched garment. Through the Button Masala technique, the wearer can adjust the garment or change its looks in part or significantly by buttoning or unbuttoning sections of the garment, adding or removing rubber bands between sections of the garment.
Anuj feels that apparel designs should also offer possibilities for transformation. The Button Masala dresses subscribe to this philosophy as the entire garment can be restructured by removing all the buttons and rubber bands, getting the length/lengths of original fabric, and creating another different garment from the same fabric. Further, if the wearer puts on or loses weight the garment can be easily adjusted for the weight gain or loss.
He adds that apparel design itself should be simple, approachable, inexpensive and be accessible even to children to make their own clothes, and easy to make from the available fabric whether it is one length or multiple lengths of fabric. This approach was illustrated during a workshop he held for children living in a settlement where he showed and taught them how to make raincoats with tarpaulin, buttons and rubber bands. The children were pleased with the accessibility of the technique and that they could create raincoats for themselves.
As garments following the Button Masala technique can be crafted from any available fabric and at times using different pieces of fabric, and using only buttons and rubber bands without any tools, machines or tailoring required, it is inherently an inexpensive, easy, quick and eco-friendly fashion style. As there is no cutting of fabric involved there is no wastage. Further, as one garment can be worn in different ways, giving it a look of a new/different garment, opting for a Button Masala technique garment is also a money-saver. And the possibility of undoing the entire garment and creating a new garment enhances its eco-friendly appeal.
Anuj can create a dress in as little as five minutes, with a more elaborate creation taking a couple hours. He has conducted several workshops demonstrating and teaching the Button Masala technique in India and overseas. His greatest joy is in seeing people realise how easy and versatile it is, and creating their own garments. For him, it is an inclusive technique that is to be shared by wearers and crafts persons, and he hopes its appeal will encourage people to give the unique technique a try.
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