Mahatma Gandhi said, “I see God in every thread that I draw on the spinning wheel.” There is absolutely nothing more luxurious, nothing more gratifying, and nothing more beautiful, than draping six yards of pristine handmade textile around you. It is a jewel woven by a karigar bearing the hallmark of exquisite craftsmanship, detail and heritage.
Indian textile has had a beautiful journey from being daily wear to making a stunning statement on the red carpet. Be it in the form of kalidars or a beautifully, hand-embellished six yard saree.
Our crafts and textiles are the perfect mix of history and heritage enticing you into their fold. What began when I shifted to Kota, was my education in the fabric and the need to ensure its survival. Lack of patronage meant weavers migrating to other jobs which also meant a slow death for the weaving industry. Time was critical, so absorbing the shock over the state of affairs, I knew what I had was an opportunity staring at me — to step in and infuse some much-needed oxygen into both the weaver and the craft. A knee jerk reaction would have been stepping in as patron, but I knew, that stepping in as patron was not a long-term solution. It had to be a business model, which worked. Economic empowerment gives both respect and much needed remuneration.
My role was to infuse energy, to translate the Kota and Banaras weaves into an avant-garde style statement, to be that textile revivalist while ensuring the protection and survival of this heritage craft. Also, I strongly believe that if you have a quality product in a limited edition, to an extent, with the right design there is no reason that it will not find its buyer.
Inner aesthetics and interpretations, combined with the artisans’ skills and ability to translate my ideas, gave birth to a reimagined luxury fabric. The high level of craft and intricacy of work made each piece an heirloom that could be passed down the generations. That is what caught the eye of the many who began buying it and applauding the craftsmen’s efforts as well. In fact, my most prized possession is my mother’s real zari Banaras sari that she wore during one of her wedding functions.
The inspirations have always been overtly rooted in tradition. The bandhanwar, the traditional auspicious door hanging, the chattars in ancient temples, the kalasha harping on the prominence of the water bearer, the four-coloured thali covers used by royal families looked beautiful on the palla, while the royal elephants that came in as the motifs of the Gajanand collection, the Sada saubhagyawati bhava chant from the gangaur pooja became a graceful print; the Mughal jaals design is synonymous with the marble - and carvings in the palaces, even the colours I use — haldi yellow, kumkum red, mehendi green, kesariya orange — are Rajasthani influences in my life. This coupled with my fondness for the Garas and Paithanis of the Parsi and Maharashtrian culture respectively, Sanjhi work of Vrinadvan, Kashmiri paisley, our lovely flora — champa, lotus and marigold — and fauna — parrots, the dedicated honey bee and her honey comb, the delicate titlis in silver and gold, the birds in flight denoting freedom and philosophy, geometrical patterns from forms of architectures that make the most beautiful motifs, juxtaposed with the contemporary palate of blacks, indigos, charcoals and ivories — the fusion of so many elements creates a perfect blend of art and fashion, history and heritage.
For me, sarees are a wonderful embodiment of all women’s hopes and aspirations — to walk into a board room meeting with her head held high, to live her dream of being a happily married woman, those special moments when her darling sister puts mehendi on her hands, her best friend glows radiantly on her cocktail, her precious daughter finally takes that sacred vow — my collections orchestrate a veritable fable of sarees that suit every age, and every mood. Ranging from solid colour blocking to pastel hues, coupled with immaculate techniques, one common thread that binds each creation is the finesse of the loom and the pure undiluted ode to the weaves.
Both the oath and the Banaras, come into the category of what we term as ‘Handloom’ which recognises the role of the hand in the final product. The word ‘hand’ in the word indicates that no two products can ever be the same. So, bespoke as the word most often used in the global world of haute couture is something which has been intrinsic to our craft, since inception. Each imperfection, each deviation from the design, adds to the inimitability and luxuriousness of the product.
Let me borrow from the legendary designer Coco Chanel: whose famous words ring true even today: “Luxury must be comfortable in order to be luxury.” Its sheer weightlessness married with intricate design is synonymous with bespoke brilliance.
Life has enough to weigh you down without fashion too being a burden. The inclusion of silk yarns in the Banaras, increases the fluidity so that they drape beautifully. If you are spending a substantial amount on a handwoven heritage, they should be light yet extravagant. Our saris glide with you; don’t restrain you. That is refined glamour.
Moreover, comfort is what makes you feel good when you look in the mirror. One should never be restricted on how an outfit has to be worn. It’s entirely up to you to redefine the look — it should complement the personality of the wearer. In fact, its versatility adds to its plush element — you could always pair your jeans with a gorgeous kani shawl, or opulent jadau earrings donned with a simple saree, or sarees be teamed with shirts, jackets, sunglasses and bags for an edgy spin. East meets West also works for generation Z. Be it a bejewelled Cartier Secret watch, paired with Christian Louboutin shoes, an elegant Banaras and maybe a hand crafted jewelled silk potli. You can reimagine your luxury ensemble as long as the central star is the six-yard hand crafted story.
The Indian weaving industry is an effective combination of luxury and sustainability. It has conventionally been one of the most promising sectors of huge employment, second only to the agriculture sector. There are over 40 million people weaving in different pockets of the country. I work with about 100-150 master weavers who have 1,000-1,200 weavers with them. That’s just a drop in the ocean.
When you talk about creating jobs and employment, there are so many people with the right skills who are unemployed. Weaving is a huge area of employment in the rural areas and we need to focus on that. The Fabric of India Exhibition a few years ago at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Lakme Fashion Week’s day dedicated to the textiles of India are great initiatives. When I began about a quarter of a century ago, I was among a handful of women working to ensure that both our textiles and weavers had enough work and got their due worth. I am happy it has come a long way. There is a world there waiting to pick up our stories. Let us keep weaving new ones.