The Kash­mir con­nec­tion

Speaks to Zubair and Renni Kir­mani of the la­bel Bounipun, which show­cases the best of Kash­miri crafts­man­ship

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE -

Sub­tlety is a rare qual­ity in In­dian fash­ion. Cer­tainly there are a few la­bels like Bounipun with an aes­thetic so min­i­mal­ist that most peo­ple would likely miss the painstak­ing and in­ge­nious artistry that go into craft­ing its gar­ments. Take the out­fit — black wool jacket and pants and shawl to drape — that re­cently won Bounipun’s hus­band- wife de­signer duo, Zubair and Renni Kir­mani, the In­ter­na­tional Wool­mark Prize for the menswear seg­ment from In­dia, Pak­istan and the Mid­dle East.

The jacket is cov­ered in a laser cut pat­tern, ran­dom squares cut into the padded wool. “It’s only when you pull up the zip that you re­alise that the lit­tle squares on the chest forms the face of a snow leop­ard,” says Renni. The shawl, too, is de­cep­tively sim­ple. It’s in fine cash­mere wool, soft to the touch, dyed a muted camel brown and seems rather plain at first — just sur­face tex­tur­ing, which to the eyes and fin­gers, feels like a self weave. But it isn’t, ex­plains Zubair. “It’s em­broi­dered us­ing really fine, 16 mi­cron wool by our ar­ti­sans in Kash­mir. We’ve up­graded the tech­nique so the stitches form tiny loops.”

A bit of Kash­mir is part of all Bounipun de­signs; the Kash­miri word means ‘ chi­nar leaf ’. Both Zubair and Renni, based in Noida bor­der­ing Delhi, trace their ori­gins to the state — he to Sri­na­gar, where his mother’s fam­ily ran one of the old­est Kash­miri craft busi­nesses, and she to Jammu where her fam­ily shifted to from Mul­tan af­ter Par­ti­tion.

Of the two, Renni has the for­mal train­ing in fash­ion de­sign, while Zubair dropped out of engi­neer­ing. “We pro­ject who we are and what we’ve seen since child­hood. As Kash­miris, we have a cer­tain re­spon­si­bil­ity to show­case the best of its crafts­man­ship to the world,” he says. So all Bounipun’s gar­ments in­cor­po­rate Kash­mir’s many weav­ing and em­broi­dery tech­niques — sozni, kaani, aari, etc — which the Kir­ma­nis get ex­e­cuted by craftsper­sons in vil­lages around Sri­na­gar. “We’ve also helped up­grade their craft, and get them to work on new de­signs and ma­te­ri­als,” adds Zubair.

For one of the pieces for the In­ter­na­tional Wool­mark Prize- cap­sule col­lec­tion, for in­stance, Zubair has just got em­broi­dery done on knit­ted tex­tile — dif­fi­cult to do since the knit cloth and thread used to em­broi­der have very dif­fer­ent ten­sile strengths. “You need pa­tience to do this kind of work and Kash­miri crafts­men have it. They have golden hands.”

“Un­for­tu­nately, craft has been badly hit by all this dis­tur­bance. No one will give them work in this sit­u­a­tion, es­pe­cially since even con­nec­tiv­ity lines are down in many parts of the Val­ley. Many of their sons and grand­sons are now choos­ing to get a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and find a white col­lar job out­side the state. Be­sides, it’s a fine and time­con­sum­ing craft and the ar­ti­sans find that there are few will­ing to pay the right price for it. The gov­ern­ment too hasn’t done any­thing on this is­sue. Sozni and kani and many other tra­di­tional Kash­miri crafts are pro­tected by the GI ( ge­o­graph­i­cal in­di­ca­tions) tag but you go to Am­rit­sar and ev­ery­where you find ma­chine- made ver­sions,” he adds rue­fully.

The Kir­ma­nis tried to kick­start the fash­ion scene in the Val­ley when they opened a bou­tique in Raj Bagh area of Sri­na­gar in 2012. But they were forced to shut it down in the 2014 floods when their store re­mained un­der­wa­ter for two months, de­stroy­ing much of their stocks.

The Kir­ma­nis are now hop­ing that the Wool­mark Prize will help widen re­tail op­por­tu­ni­ties in in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. Bounipun al­ready has a pres­ence at a few bou­tiques in France, Italy and Spain, be­sides all the ma­jor In­dian met­ros. It is the for­eign­ers, they know, who’ll have a taste for their mut­edly el­e­gant clothes in wool. That’ll also mean more work for the Kash­miri craftsper­sons.

Gargi. gupta@ dnain­dia. net, @ tog­a­rgi

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