Stoles Steal the Limelight!
Stoles are increasingly being adopted as a modern, trendier alternative to the traditional dupattas that ruled the Indian apparel scene. Chitra Balasubramaniam explores the trend.
Exploring the trend of stoles taking over the traditional Indian dupatta
Walk down any market or shopping mall and one of the commonest fashion accessories you can spot is the ubiquitous stole. Stoles are ‘in’, haute, happening and more importantly practical, such that owning half a dozen of them might just not be enough. They can be termed a ‘repeat buy’, bought without a second thought. The stole is unisex and versatile; it can be teamed with Indian wear or even used as a cravat. Stoles have taken over the Indian apparel market by storm. In the earlier days, it was the dupattas which were used by women regularly. Every market or shopping centre had arrays of dupattas flying in the wind; they can still be spotted but the pride of place has been taken over by the stoles. Stoles are more comfortable, shorter and easier to handle. Also, with more and more women opting for western wear, stoles make for an interesting addition. More importantly, they can also be teamed with traditional Indian wear such as salwar-kurta and churidar-kurta ensembles.
What makes stoles so much in vogue in India is the sheer depth of material available to make them. In the Indian context, it ranges from the humble handloom to the luxe machine-made ones. The materials–cotton, muslin, natural
vegetable dyes, silk ( tussar, muga, eri), the pride of place – pashmina or cashmere, as well as bamboo, nettle, hemp, the glorious mix of pashmina and silk, jute and silk, voiles, viscose, satin–are part of a designer’s regular collection of scarves, stoles and dupattas which sells the entire year. In India, the presence of textile craft means that there is plenty of experimentation with embroidery–zardozi, sequins, tilla, makkaish, also with appliqué and other forms of tribal embroidery. Almost all brands which deal in shawls and dupattas also have a range of stoles. Stoles are technically half the size of the dupattas, width-wise, though the length can be smaller and the width even smaller. They range from 60-90 cms by 150-200 cms and sometimes even smaller. Customised stoles are also woven on the loom. Thus, two stoles can be woven simultaneously on the loom, the width being divided between them.
It is the materials which make the stoles so special. India’s diversity makes the list long and never-ending. We take a look at some of the material choices available.
THE PASHMINA AND SEMI PASHMINA SAGA
The world calls it ‘cashmere’–our pashmina. Pashmina stoles are the ‘evergreen category’ and are a must-buy for those visiting India and for the local population, especially the elite and those staying in the North where it is cold. However, the combination of pashmina yarn with other yarns has made it to other parts of the country as well. These stoles make for excellent gifting options and are hugely popular with foreigners. In India also, they are catching up as opposed to the traditional shawls. Pashmina stoles come in almost all varieties; contemporary pieces do not have much of ‘work’ or embroidery, but it is the colour combination and play with the textures which stands out. The sheer variety is unimaginable; soft pastels, baby blues, baby pinks work with the contemporary colour palette. They are further worked upon with sequins, zardozi and embroidery. Traditional crewel and sozni embroidery of Kashmir are commonly seen. Kani shawls are seeing a revival too. Along with them, kani stoles are also woven. Kani weaving is a slow, time-consuming process and therefore expensive. Stoles afford a comparatively cheaper option and of course, there is the added advantage of teaming them with western clothes as well.
One of the earliest experimentation that happened is with tussar. Tussar being a more inexpensive silk saw a whole range of experimentation as stoles. The reason is not difficult to see; the rugged colouring of the tussar appeals to the eye. The natural colour of tussar and the fact that it can be hand-woven with other yarns has made it a popular material for stoles. Tussar silk is versatile with drapability, the coarse weaving of the fabric appeals to the designer’s eye and there has been much experimentation with it. Tussar has been combined with muga, eri and mulberry silk also. Pure eri stoles are also equally popular. The tussar pockets of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand have come to the forefront in the weaving of tussar stoles. Moreover, since a lot of experimentation with design intervention has taken place, the mix and match of colours, and weaving it in a combination of geometric patterns with other colours works very well. Plain with twill weaving or the very popular chashme bulbul or bird’s eye design too work brilliantly. One of the best combinations that have proved very popular is the oak tussar from Uttarakhand, hand-dyed using natural vegetable colours and then woven into stoles. It uses contemporary modern designs where gradation of colours and mixing of textures is woven into the stole.
THE BLOCK PRINTED STOLES
One of the latest trends is stoles made using traditional block prints, especially ajrakh, which is then further embroidered. Ajrakh from Gujarat is done using natural colours and its beautiful colour combination done painstakingly by the craftsmen is a rage in India and abroad. The combination of natural colours with the beautiful block print designs adds to the beauty of the piece. The stoles and scarves find huge following overseas. Other block printing techniques like Sanganer, Dabu, Bagh and kalamkari are also used. Handpainted kalamkari is also seeing a revival from a wall art to a wearable form.
One kind of stole which has taken the world and India by storm is the patchwork Kantha stoles. Up-cycled or recycled using old silk saris patched together, it is worn with élan. Wearing old recycled cloth as apparel has been a strict no-no in India; the use of Kantha stoles is seeing the reversal of such a trend. The patchwork quilted stole which can be worn either ways is going strong over several years. In the same vein, the heavily hand-embroidered Kantha stoles made using new silk is equally popular. Done on tussar silk, its vibrant yet subtle embroidery has made it a die-hard favourite. Apart from stoles embroidered here, stoles embroidered using khamak embroidery of Afghanistan are also popular here. Moreover, lawn fabric from Pakistan is used in innovative ways. Embroidered stoles with work done by the Banjara community– banjara embroidery, shisha or mirror work, kasuti, zardozi–can be seen too.
Apart from this, screen-printed stoles with some awesome designs with contemporary logo are popular. Graphic prints are in demand; loin loom woven stoles are another specialty. Those with words written across them are also sought-after. There is much experimentation with ikat in stoles; ikat hand-woven stoles, dyed in organic colours as well as the traditional ones are made. In Andhra Pradesh, the ikat tradition from other parts of the world is also incorporated to give the stoles a very unique touch. In the natural yarn range, nettle is hand-spun to make beautiful stoles; bamboo stoles which look like stoles made from any other material are also comfortable to use and experiment. Organic cotton is combined with hemp to form interesting combinations. It can further tie-dyed to give it a very distinct touch.
What make stoles so popular are the sheer variety that is available and the ability to wear it in as many ways. It can be used as an accessory, tied around the neck, draped and knotted. It can be paired with a T-shirt, a top or a shirt. It can be worn elegantly with a sari or a salwar-kameez ensemble. An informal attire gains formality just by the draping of a stole. Stoles are here to stay; it is one trend that manufacturers can probe as it is evergreen and an impulse purchase.