Handloom : The Threads of Hope

BY DIYA GHAG AND SHIVAANI SENTHIL

Handloom, the most eco-friendly way of fabricating clothes, was formulated by Edmund Cartwright and patented in 1785. In India, it dates back to the Indus valley civilization, where farmers were the prime people to spin and weave cotton. The fabric utilizes the mechanical energy of the weaver rather than electrical energy. 

Opting for Handloom over other fabrics would benefit the industry in myriad ways since it is handwoven and has rare odds of being defective. Skilled weavers and artisans provide the utmost care to ensure good quality products. The handlooms sector is considered the second largest income-generating activity after agriculture. Therefore, encouraging the sector would indirectly mean providing employment to millions of artisans, especially from the rural area, and would boost women empowerment.

The time has come for people to understand the challenges of global warming and make the shift from power loom to handloom. This majorly contributes to a sustainable and eco-friendly environment which is much needed in the world today.  

SOME DESIGNERS THAT HAVE WORKED WITH HANDLOOM

The handloom textiles of India showcase the rich heritage of the country. Many fashion designers in India have worked with various craft and weaving clusters to revive traditional handloom Indian textiles. Lately, designers in India have explicitly portrayed their love towards Indian textiles and have incorporated them in the most distinctive way for the ready to wear markets across the country.

GAURANG SHAH

      

Known as the master of weaves, Gaurang Shah has crafted saris using various Indian handloom textiles like kanjivaram, Khadi, Uppada, Paithani, Patan Patola, Benarasi, Kota and Bengal weaves. His latest collection GHARAM MASALA in 2020 adds a fresh twist, using colors inspired by our spices. The monochromatic theme of the collection did not fail to amaze its audience.

ABU JANI and SANDEEP KHOSLA

   

The duo is a pioneer in resurrecting the best of the past and fashioning it for the future. Being pioneers in bridal lehengas, they have launched a sustainable brand called GULABO, focusing more on hand-spun Kora cotton embellished in linear Gota work and breezy silhouettes giving it an ‘oomph’ factor. 

SABYASACHI MUKHERJEE

       

Be it a collection with minimal prints and embroidery or a heavy dream bridal lehenga, Sabyasachi has never failed to amaze us with the amalgamation of different fabrics that lead to his whimsical collections. Sabyasachi uses Cotton, Khadi, Banarasi weaves and Kalamkari in a luxe bohemian way for pret and bridal wear. This creation of infusing various techniques together has given his designs a strong sense of organic and power dressing. 

ANJU MODI

       

In her recent collections EHSAAS, ANTHEEN and MASAKALI, we can implicitly see Anju Modi’s love for Khadi, Handspun Cotton, Banaras and Chanderi. Anju Modi’s Khadi collection at ‘Khadi, transcending boundaries’ featured various silhouettes ranging from Peplum to Dhoti pants, showing us how humbling Khadi can be.

ANITA DONGRE

      

Anita Dongre is well known for her explicit love for crafts and handloom across the country. She uses handwoven Malkha fabric, Maheshwari silk, handwoven Jamdani, and Ikkats in her exclusive collection, designed into saris, kurtas and dresses, providing the wearer with unparalleled comfort and style. The vibrancy and texture of these handwoven fabrics give the designs a unique look.

RAHUL MISHRA

       

Rahul Mishra’s journey in the fashion industry has been full of exciting innovations. He has worked with various handloom fabrics like Maheswari silk, Chanderi, Banarasi silk, Bhalgapur silk, and Kerala’s handwoven cotton called Mundu. In order to celebrate the heritage of handlooms in India, Rahul Mishra showcased a collection at the Paris Fashion Week entirely made of Maheswari and Chanderi fabrics produced in rural India.

Rahul Mishra X Project Eve collections portray his long association with traditional Indian handloom textiles. A fine amalgamation of Indian textiles is made accessible in the ready to wear market in India.

Today, in the world of fashion, Indian designers have truly played a major role in reviving, uplifting and sustaining the techniques and skills of working with traditional handwoven textiles in our country and also making it viable for ready to wear.

EDITED BY: PRERNA LALCHANDANI

Mother To Daughter : Fashion For Generations

BY PRERNA LALCHANDANI

 Aakansha Sharma, owner of House of Dorii 

is someone who makes custom clothes from scratch and styling videos for fun. Her fondness for fashion comes from her mother. In this conversation, we learn about how Aakansha continued her mother’s legacy. She also talks about her brand and sheds light on some supremely helpful tips and tricks on how to start and sustain your business. In the wake of Covid, Aakansha took it upon herself to give back to society with her campaign #kareforkarigar. Want to find out what it was about? Read along!

Tell us about your brand House of Dorii. 
My love for fashion and wearing new clothes made me start my brand in September of 2018. The initial idea behind the store was to ignite that same passion that I have for clothes in other people. We focus on customized clothing where the client brings us a design, and we create a piece using that design, the client’s sense of style and elements of House of Dorii to create something new. This concept works well since our clients have different styles and appreciate a different type of clothing. The average age of our clientele shifted from 30s-70s and now includes even the younger generation (20s) who have taken an interest in custom clothing since they feel the need to stand out and custom pieces add that uniqueness to their outfit.
What influenced you to get into the fashion industry? Was this something you always wanted to do?
My mom has been my inspiration throughout my journey. She would also design clothes and has a background in the textile industry. She always made her clothes from scratch, giving them a new dimension. At the time that my mother was a part of this industry, people’s mindsets were quite different and unfortunately, my mother decided against starting her own business. That always upset me as a child, and I knew, since then, that I want to be contributing to this industry as well, to carry forward her dreams and legacy. Fashion is a part of my life and my identity, it is not work. 
What is the inspiration behind all your collections? We have noticed how all your clothing includes a lot of print design. What makes you love print so much? 
I draw my inspiration from mundane things in my environment. If I had to pick a few, one would definitely be nature. I have a deep routed connection with planting and the calm look and feel of plants inspires a lot of my collection. I also love the vibrant colors of different fruits and vegetables. It is all a matter of perspective. The simplest of things can inspire a person, if the person seeks it. For me, I feel like prints add a definite edge to your personality. They attract a lot more attention and make the outfit bold without trying too much. Prints also evoke happiness in people and sell more than solid color pieces. 
What colors would you say works best for our Indian skin tone? 
Usually undertones like our browns and dull reds, mustard, and some shades of orange work best with our skin tone and highlight our look. 
What are your future plans for the company? 
At this point in time, my workshop is my house. So the immediate goal is to open a store in Delhi. The long term goal is definitely opening my brand in different cities around India. I wish to inspire people with my designs and get their creative juices flowing. I want to make them love fashion as much as I do, which is also why my concept works since the clients are involved in the process. 

You have started an amazing initiate, KareforKarigar. Would you like to tell us about it? 

Owing to the pandemic and our current situation, we received calls from karigars on a daily, asking us to hire them. Feeling extremely blessed to have a family where I get food every single day, my team and I decided to start this initiative. The basic idea is for customers to purchase a mask for Rs.50, 30 of which would go to the karigar making the mask and the rest would go to people in need, like our house-helps and street vendors. It was quite a success. 
What key points should one keep in mind when starting their own brand?
 
Passion. This industry is tough and having an interest in fashion and designing is very important to sustain the brand. A key determining factor is also capital. It takes quite a lot of money to start something on this scale. You need to have a good workforce, that will make or break your brand’s success. Finding a location for your workshop is also important, and understanding whether or not you can afford to rent a space. And if not, then figuring out cheaper alternatives. 
What are some tips and tricks to ensure a successful business? 
Prioritizing the customer is paramount in this journey. Maintaining a real relationship with them and ensuring all their needs are met is extremely important. Many times, the client will not be completely satisfied with their piece and may want to make changes. It is important to always be patient and kind. Another way to ensure a successful business is by planning for unfortunate outcomes. During this pandemic, I realized how crucial it is to save up. Had I not saved up, my business may have shut down. We need to work on changing our buying habits, ensuring we only buy necessities and not think of items we may need 6 months from now. Lastly, it is important to enjoy your work, celebrate your successes, and never give up.
Instagram : @aakanshasharmaofficial @houseofdorii

             

THE MOVEMENT OF THE ADVANCE GUARDS

What is an art movement? A way of art that is followed which is based on some ideals and is followed by several artists in a period is called an art movement. One of the most famous art movements of the 20th century is the avant-garde. Many artists and designers still link themselves to this art movement.
Artists, designers, communities, and people who have a different and innovative viewpoint that is contradictory to the mainstream orthodox ideas are alluded to as avant-garde or advanced guards. This art movement became popular during the time of modernism and postmodernism and one of the most famous or say controversial artists of this movement was Walter Sickert who made a very contended yet a masterpiece which is known as “Jack the rippers’ bedroom”. It is a beautiful piece of art that is made from the perspective of an open doorway where the furniture and details are made with the help of light and shadow. It is decorated on the wall of the “Manchester art gallery”.  
Sickert was reckoned as one of the most important influencers during the avant-garde movement. Born in Germany,1960 he was one of the establishers of the Camden Town group which is a set of post-impressionism art workers.
Jack the ripper was a serial killer who was known for the killing of 5 prostitutes during 1888 in east London. He made his painting “Jack The Ripper’s Bedroom” when he moved to Camden Town. Emily Dimmocks’ body was found on her bed in September 1907. It was badly mutilated with her organs distorted and heart was taken out. Her murder was known as the infamous Camden Town Murder and Sickert created several paintings and drawings depicting the murders. His work caused controversy in the media, several publishers and authors accused Sickert to be “Jack the Ripper”. Sickert was considered as one of the suspects of the murders but there were some details in the painting that only the murderer would know.  There are two books: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed and Ripper the secret life of Walter Sickert by writer Patricia Cornwell. Despite these controversies, this was the painting that established Sickert as one of the most influencing artists of the avant-garde movement.
There were not just artists who were inspired by the unorthodox ideas of the avant-garde movement but there were designers as well who made collections inspired by such ideas and artworks as one of the designers who is also known as the “enfant terrible “of the fashion industry, Alexander Mcqueen.
Undeniably one of the most enchanting fashion designers not only of England but all around the world is Alexander McQueen. His father was a taxi driver. He left his schooling at the age of sixteen. In London’s Savile Row he worked as a trainee where he learned his irreproachable pattern making and sewing skills that defined his career as a fashion designer. He worked for Koji Tatsuno and Romeo Gigli for a short period, after his stint on Savile Row. Then he moved back to London, the place his heart was. He applied for the job of pattern making tutor in Central St Martins. A teacher in the MA course, Louise Wilson noticed him there and that’s when Mcqueen became a student at the school instead.
In 1992 Alexander Mcqueen graduated from St. Martin’s. He was an avant-garde designer in all sense “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”, this was the name of his collection that he showcased on his graduation runway show, it was inspired by Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel victims of 1888. McQueen’s collections were always highly personalized. One of Jack the ripper’s victim lived in one of his relative’s inn. To make his collection more appealing he had sewn locks of hair.  Pink thorn patterned jacket had hair cocooned in white silk which gave a very real touch to his collection. These are some of the ways Mcqueen used to astonish the viewers. His ways of presenting and his inspirations were so unique that it always left people flabbergasted.   
He was highly inspired by the Victorian era and had his own innovative way to showcase it. For his early collections, Mcqueen used to cut his own hair and attach it to items of clothing to give it a personal touch. He got the inspiration to do so from the Victorian era where the prostitutes used to sell their hair.
The graduation collection of Alexander Mcqueen was hit. Everyone in the audience just loved it. There was another lady in the audience who was present there that day. She was the fashion assistant of Michael Roberts, she was Isabella Blow. Mesmerized by the appeal and the impeccable craftsmanship of the clothing in the collection, she couldn’t resist herself from buying it, and she bought the entire collection for 5,000 pounds. This was the beginning of an extraordinary partnership. Isabella gave Alexander Mcqueen the platform to make his name in a very short period. His designs were outrageous in a literal sense. His ideas and imaginations were not at all something from the mainstream but yet he managed to build a small but loyal clientele. Blow used to help him get the media attention and publicity, his stunning designs made him establish his name as ‘The hooligan of English fashion”. He did live up to this title and as a brand, Alexander Mcqueen still manages to surprise the audience with its designs and always lives up to the expectation of the masses. People like him are the inspiration for others who have their own ideas and beliefs about the surroundings and one should never feel low for being different in terms of their creations. A true artist is the one who can deliver his message through his creations without being afraid of the norms. Avant-garde art movement has definitely gifted the world with such unique gems that have made an unforgettable mark in the history of fashion.

Unfamiliar Territory For Indian Bridal Industry

When Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee debuted his fine jewelry at Bergdorf Goodman in January, he had big plans for promoting his collection. But the coronavirus outbreak forced him and the luxury department-store chain to make some big adjustments.

Social-distancing rules in New York, for example, meant browsing at the Fifth Avenue store had to be relegated to the outside entrance instead of inside the plush jewelry salon for a soon-to-be-engaged couple. And Mukherjee couldn’t talk about his work in person. His appearance came via a video call in early June from his home in Kolkata, India.

“The launch pop-up had to be cut short because of the pandemic,” he said. “But it was surreal to see wedding jewelry being sold on the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue!”

New Delhi-based designer Tarun Tahiliani also has had to conduct business in a different way. He had his first Zoom fitting in June with a bride from Hyderabad, who after postponing her extravagant April wedding, opted for an intimate ceremony at home.

This has been the new normal for the Indian wedding industry, known for its lavish affairs that can last for days, with many rituals and wardrobe changes. The industry is estimated at $50 billion, according to KPMG, second only to the United States, with about 10 million to 12 million weddings typically taking place in India each year.

Of course, there won’t be as many weddings this year. The pandemic has already wiped out the spring and summer wedding season.

When a nationwide lockdown in India was announced on March 24, some couples postponed their weddings indefinitely, while others decided to have small home weddings instead. India’s peak wedding and festive season, which is September to March, doesn’t look promising either, as the current government mandate only allows for a maximum of 50 people at a wedding function — a fraction of the typical guest list that runs into substantial three-digit counts.

Restrictions are being slowly lifted and design houses are cautiously reopening stores and production units, but the effect of the two-month halt in operations has been colossal.

Where does that leave the country’s otherwise burgeoning bridal designers who thrive on multiday wedding celebrations, bridal trousseaus and generous budgets? For most, 2020 is a write-off.

“We proactively shut down all production and stores even before the official lockdown — it meant going from 100% capacity to 0% in a matter of days,” said Mukherjee, who dresses about 4,500 brides a year, with prices per bridal outfit ranging from $2,500 to $23,000. “We are anticipating a significant reduction in volume for the rest of the year.”

For Rahul Mishra, the first Indian designer to showcase at Paris Haute Couture Week, the decline in orders started at the end of February, especially from his Indian brides in Europe. Anita Dongre, who is known for her practical bridal lehengas, which sell for $1,000 to $10,000, had zero bookings in March and April. However, she is beginning to see an increase in inquiries.

SOMETHING OLD

The hunt for that dream wedding outfit — running your fingers over the gilded embroidery, twirling in front of the mirror during trials and shedding a happy tear when you find “the one” — is a sacrosanct ritual for the Indian bride. Touching and feeling are the very essence of this world. Flagship stores are designed for the tactile experience as meticulously as the handcrafted collections they house. Every turn is a sensory treat, not mere window dressing, but a stage for a rite of passage to unfold.

“The in-store experience will be even more valued after the pandemic,” said Mukherjee, who plans to open his flagship New York store next year. “Consumer expectations for beautiful, experiential retail stores will continue to rise.”

Tahiliani also feels that this luxury need not go away. He believes a circumspect approach, with strict adherence to hygiene, safety and an appointment-only policy will do the trick. “The lightness of our bridal pieces defines our brand,” he said. “It’s the bulk of what we stand for. A client cannot gauge the weight of the garment until they try it on. One just cannot duplicate that experience.”

SOMETHING NEW

In July 2016, Mukherjee had skipped the traditional runway shows in favor of showing his collection on social media. So he is no stranger to using his Instagram page as a pseudo-storefront, particularly for his overseas clientele (one-third of his business comes from the United States). The brand is now encouraging the same buying pathway in India during the pandemic, complemented by partnerships with select online stores. “Technology and e-commerce will play an increasingly important role in the luxury bridalwear segment,” he said. “But not as a replacement for the in-store experience, rather as an adjunct to it.”

Other designers, however, are placing more serious bets on their online presence as the way forward. Brands have hastened the start of their e-shops, a need made more urgent in the face of waning opportunities to draw prospective brides to stores. Payal Singhal, a Mumbai-based bridal designer, has had to cancel her summer pop-ups and trunk shows in London, Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey and Vancouver, British Columbia. “The virtual experience is going to be more important than ever before,” she said. “In 2013, we were one of the first Indian brands to launch an e-commerce platform. We have revamped the front- and back-end, and introduced more product lines during this lockdown. New pieces are now being uploaded every week.”

Mishra, whose e-store opened July 7 to coincide with his couture fall 2020-21 release, is emphasizing emotional storytelling to make up for the absence of the original tactile experience. This includes documenting production processes and capturing the journey of a design that could eventually become someone’s wedding outfit. “We are also working with interactive communication tools like intricate illustrations and imagery to highlight those minute aspects of a garment that can otherwise be missed when you’re looking at it through a screen,” he added.

Dongre and Tahiliani both say that brides have adapted to online shopping and virtual consultations with relative ease. “People in India are not used to buying expensive things online, unless there is a proper customer interface with a couture team or certain store managers,” Tahiliani said. “Our sales team has quickly adapted to this need of the hour.”

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Most labels have two bridal collections a year, with seven to 75 designs in each line. But the last half of 2020 will be different. The plan for many is to reintroduce Spring-Summer ’20 collections that did not receive the usual spotlight they might have had.

Dongre and Mukherjee will stick to their made-to-measure model, but probably require longer lead time. That’s not to say that bespoke will be relegated to bottom-drawer status. Mishra predicts shoppers being more enthusiastic about artisanal value, seeking their own customization.

Tahiliani’s bridalwear is divided into ready-to-wear and couture. For the latter, he showcases 10 to 12 samples annually along with archival swatches and panels, all of which can be fully customized. With weddings going smaller, he said, he is confident brides will choose more subtle looks over blingy ones.

“We can now give brides more refined thread work and exquisite detailing that can be appreciated up close rather than under the harsh lights of banquet halls where bigger weddings usually took place,” he said. “So, I expect our couture to be much finer than ever before.”

THE LEGACY OF CRAFT

The Indian textile and apparel industry employs 45 million people directly and 60 million indirectly, making it the country’s second-largest employment-generator after agriculture. Karigars (or craftsmen) at the grassroots level are the backbone of this business — handmade and labor-intensive bridalwear is heavily dependent on their specialized skills in indigenous crafts.

But faced with the current crisis, scores of migrant workers have chosen to return to their villages, leaving ateliers with skeletal staff to fill orders. Tahiliani’s in-house workforce of 500 has been reduced to less than half its strength, so he is now organizing new centers in rural sectors with his old craftsmen. This decentralization of operations has allowed Mishra to resume production with 70% of his team (he says he employs about 1,000 artisans directly or indirectly). The designer championed “reverse migration” six years ago, urging his embroiderers to move back to their villages, while still working with them continually. “We now employ many such craft clusters around the country, which consist of communities working from their homes in their villages,” he said.

THE SHIFT

Some in the industry say there may be a shift in Indian celebrations.

“Weddings might just go back to what they were meant to be — more sober and toned-down, which will have a different symbolism than the great big fat Indian wedding,” Tahiliani said. “The luxury clothing sector will be affected more than we can imagine, and fashion must readjust its outlook. This is not the time for frothy celebrations.”