Review: ‘Mashru’ by Sanjay Garg


Review: ‘Mashru’ by Sanjay Garg

Designer Sanjay Garg, who some call a textile artist with the strategic mind of a calculating businessman and others the Pied Piper of India’s second, handloom sari movement (the first was the Indira Gandhi/ Pupul Jayakar phase in the 1980s showed a collection called Mashru. With this, he opened Amazon India Fashion Week’s (AIFW) Spring Summer 2016 edition in Delhi on Wednesday. A handloom line as the clarion call of an event that has publicity hungry sponsors, starry guests and non-radical buyers was not formulaic of our fashion industry even a few years back. The axis is shifting—for good or not is not the point—but the fact that the industry is enthusiastic about this change indicates where we are heading in taste and buying culture.

Garg’s Mashru scored on many points. He had a good story. He displayed three weaving aspects of mashrugulbadan (rose-like body), danedar (series dots) and ashrafi (coin like circular motifs). His story had strands from textile and costume history, it displayed weaving innovation and it aided Garg’s core argument—that fussy, care-demanding weaves can be made wearable and seductive.

If I had to pick three winning values, I would put wearability for the Indian buyer sensitive to our textile traditions as number one. Sensuously juxtaposed colours –especially the use of rose pink with vermillion red, an intoxicating shade of blue and luxuriously hued inner linings—as number two. Finally, making Mashru—not quite silk and not quite not as the collection note called it—fluid to a fault as number three. Additionally, Garg’s focus on the flat choga (a long-sleeved robe) silhouette was a strong central point. A varying version of the Mughal choga lives in India’s costume history as the gaggo, a long tunic worn by the Fakirani Jat women of Kutch as well as the Kutchi abha (loose tunic). Chogasgaggos and abhas were essentially loose garments—the choga in some interpretations had kalis (slim fabric lines on the flat surface) that sharpened its silhouette, but the gaggo and abha, though of similar shape were stitched without them. In Garg’s work however, the kalis were present if subtle and they enhanced the tailoring finish and fit of his flat silhouettes. Most such tunics and tunic-coats were paired with ankle-length cigarette trousers.

The show had other additions. Mogra (jasmine) flowers wrapped in leaves sat on seats for guests. A group of young and energetic performers rendered body created music A-capella style, the ramp was long, the seats enough to accommodate a large and curious audience. Also the applause worthy addition of Garg’s trademark saris—woven with mashru borders.

It is difficult to ignore that Garg’s woman covers her body consciously but not self-consciously. No skin on display, even dupattas worn over lehngas and blouses were wrapped shawl style as were sari pallus. This look is elegant, even fashion forward (a welcome departure from the uncovered as sexy) but its repetition stiffened the narrative flow after a point. Similarity of silhouettes—long tunic after long tunic all with slim trousers—made Garg’s ingenuously woven line like a good idea being stretched beyond its width. Why show so many similar silhouettes in different colours? That’s not variety, its repetition.

Mashru, also called elaicha is a satin faced, silk-cotton fabric and was extensively woven in the Mandvi district of Kutch by the Hindu Khatri community, though historically it is traced back to Muslim rulers. In its Kutchi avatar, mashru had a narrow fabric width, was in multi-coloured stripes in a few bright colours or danedar. It’s weaving challenges and its costume-y stories are documented in books, like in Archana Shah’s Shifting Sands—Kutch: Textiles, Traditions, Transformation. I was born and raised in Kutch and wore mashru every year stitched into ghaghracholis for garbas. So I agree with Garg’s claim about his re-invention given his newer colour palette and the beautiful infusion of gold thread, but disagree, quite strongly, when he calls it “crisscrossing between polarized categories” and “rebellious” (words used in his collection note).

There was nothing rebellious here, neither about the mashru nor the collection. Sometimes intellectualization is best taken off while standing before the mirror. It can be an ill-fitting layer.