Smriti Irani’s #SelfiewithHandloom may have been an instant hit on Twitter with people posting pictures of themselves in colourful ethnic outfits, but India was already on its way to loving handloom, thanks to fashion designers who have been using these textiles for over a decade now.
The fact is, today, you may not be keen to wear your mom’s old denim bell-bottoms straight out of the 70s with their tweeds and pinstripes, but you would never say no to your grandmother’s beautiful handcrafted silk saree. Something like that would be considered classy and vintage; and even if you don’t wear sarees often, the idea of converting that silk saree into a gorgeous evening dress is irresistible.
Yet, until recently, wearing handlooms was considered uncool and old fashioned. If you were a Khadi-loving person, then you would be dubbed a tree-hugging activist, a politician or one of those mahila mukti morchewaalis. All that was needed to complete the look was a jute tote bag. As a result, the handloom sector declined; sales dropped and artisans turned to other lucrative professions.
It seemed like this sector was doomed to a downward slide, until the fashion industry stepped into this vacuum. There are some who frequently combine elements of handloom with western fashion to create Indo-Western designs while some designers work exclusively with Indian textiles.
Here’s a look at some designers who have kept this sector alive and kicking.
One of India’s foremost designers and a revivalist, Ritu Kumar draws upon museology and art history background to create clothing using ancient designs and traditional crafts. Preferring to work with fabrics like silk, cotton and leather, Ritu Kumar’s outfits are stunning in their richness, elegance and intricacy of embroidery. Her campaign, Beautiful Hands, encourages the purchase of garments and accessories that showcase ethnic Indian styles of embroidery. To go with this campaign, she has started a line of clothing known as ‘The Revivalist’. The premise of this clothing line is to resurrect traditional Indian crafts and integrate them into mainstream fashion.
David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore
Sustainability is a big part of the creative story of these Indian origin designers with presence across the world. An important focus for them is the use of handloom textiles as they have a smaller carbon footprint. Additionally they also recycle their materials. What’s more, the credit goes to them for changing the way the West views Indian clothing and textiles. Although they work a lot with sarees and kurtis, their lines and drapes are contemporary and edgy, making them the perfect examples of fusion. Who knew recycled clothing could be so stylish?
The famous Indian designer has worked with several types of handwoven textiles including Banarasi and Kanjeevarams. But Neeta Lulla goes beyond teaming Indian handwoven textiles with modern designs. She marries Indian textiles with western fabrics like chiffon, gauze and georgette to create exquisite creations. Her outfits are worn by Bollywood’s leading ladies on red carpet and she has won several national awards for her costume work in movies, including period film Jodhaa Akbar. More recently, she has turned towards experimenting with Paithani, the ancient Maratha technique of tapestry that combines multiple threads of different colors and incorporates gold and silver threads woven together to create a dynamic piece of silk. One of her most notable Paithani collections was shown in February 2016 at the Make In India initiative. At this show she showcased a wide range of pieces including flowing lehengas, long kurtas, jackets, dhoti pants, sarong skirts, all of which were embroidered according to the Paithani style.
Known for his exquisite bridal wear, Sabyasachi pioneered the use of Indian textiles in a modern context. His unique contribution was the use of indigenous methods like bandhani, gota work, block printing, hand dyeing and more in construction of modern silhouettes. The designer uses rich ethnic fabrics in his collection including an extensive use of Banarasi fabric. He also started a project called ‘Save The Saree’ where he retails handwoven Indian sarees on a non-profit basis priced at Rs.3500. The entire proceeds go to the weavers of Murshidabad. Over the past two years he has also been involved in reviving cotton Banarasi sarees in pure khadi and vegetable hand block prints from Bagru. What’s more, he handcrafted the entire trousseau collection of around 18 sarees for Bollywood actress Vidya Balan’s wedding for which he specially sourced the silk from Chennai, primarily Kanjeevaram silk.
Having established her name in the couture and pret-a-porter circles, Anita Dongre first went organic and then eco-friendly. She has recently launched a haute couture clothing line called ‘Grassroots’, which features clothing made of eco-friendly fibres, textiles and natural dyes with unique creations like bamboo jackets. She also launched a pret line called ‘InterPret’ with simple off-the-rack clothes using traditional dyeing techniques like Bandhani, Leheriya and block prints from Rajasthan and Chikankari embroidery from Lucknow.
Rohit Bal has designed outfits using almost all fabrics. He especially used Khadi to create exclusivity for the raw product and a demand in the market. Rohit Bal was also chosen by the Khadi Gram Udyog, the largest handloom textile operation in India, to work with them. This ace designer’s clientele has gone international with the likes of Uma Thurman, Cindy Crawford, Pamela Anderson, Naomi Campbell and Anna Kournikova.
Wendell Rodricks is one of the few designers credited with taking Indian textiles to an international platform. This Goan designer was also single-handedly responsible for reviving the Kunbi saree through a project. This is an almost extinct traditionally woven saree worn by women of the Kunbi tribe in Goa before the advent of the Portuguese in the 16th century. His next project is to convert his 450-year-old house in Goa into a heritage textiles museum and Wendell has already chalked up considerable experience abroad with conservation departments of international museums in restoring fragile heritage textiles.
This self-taught designer is credited with reinventing the Jamdani weaver community. As a boy, Gaurang Shah watched the women who shopped at his father’s saree emporium and realised that the younger generation was attracted to georgette and chiffon due to lack of modern designs in handwoven sarees. After college, Gaurang visited Jamdani weavers across the country and convinced them to work according to his designs to help revive that sector. And just like that he was in business! Today his label, ‘Gaurang’ has stores in all the metro cities and he has an A-list clientele including Vidya Balan, Sonam Kapoor, Shruti Hassan, Chitrangadha Singh, Malaika Arora. Gaurang has also worked a lot with other handwoven textiles like Kanjeevaram, Khadi, Uppada, Paithani, Patan Patola, Benarasi, Kota, Maheshwari and Bengal weaves.
Her collections have been featured at Lakme Fashion Week on Textiles Day for over two years now. Nagpur-based Shruti Sancheti has been resolutely working on reviving traditional Indian weaves. Her USP is bringing about sustainability without compromising on fashion. She goes ethnic with her weaves, but her lines and designs are modern and edgy. In 2009, Shruti launched her own pret-a-porter label, ‘Pinnacle’, which combined all these elements with wearability and competitive pricing. Her creations usually come in vibrant colours, with a generous use of natural silk, brocade and techniques like tie and dye. She has an A-list clientele, which includes Vidya Balan, Shaina NC, Juhi Chawla and Nitin Gadkari.
Shravan Kumar Ramaswamy
Based in Hyderabad, Shravan Kumar calls himself a ‘textile revivalist and artist’ and specialises exclusively in handlooms. He has made it his life goal to bring sustainability to the weaver community and his collections include the use of handlooms like Kalamkari, Mangalagiri, Madhavaram, Narayanpet, Chirala, Venkatagiri and Chunnur Khadi. Yet, while the fabrics he uses are traditional weaves, his designs are contemporary and give an appearance that’s desi yet bohemian.