Trend Tracker | Fashion’s homeland


Trend Tracker | Fashion’s homeland

With the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela on Friday, Ranveer Singh’s much-marketed kediya, worn as a sexy open jacket with jeans, and Deepika Padukone’s embroidered and sensuously designed ghaghra-choli finally burst to cinematic life. Though designer Anju Modi, who has created Padukone’s clothes for the film, emphasizes that the credit for the extreme attention to detail goes to Bhansali, she says she went on a research trip to Kutch, Gujarat, from where she sourced rare embroideries, then patched the tukdas (pieces) on rustic textiles to create whole outfits. Rejoicing quietly on the other hand, and far removed from the film’s fanfare, is Abdul Jabbar Khatri, a bandhini artisan from Bhuj. Khatri’s applause is for the ever-growing popularity of Kutch in Indian fashion and films.

Modi enhances the desert region’s embroideries and textiles in the movie, while Khatri does the reverse: He gives a “contemporary look to an old technique”. A commerce graduate who took up his family occupation after five generations had given it a miss due to dwindling work opportunities, his mission now is to modernize bandhini. “He is not an ordinary craftsman, he is a thinking artist who understands what fashion expects from his craft,” says designer Rahul Mishra who has created three Kutch-inspired collections since his debut in 2006, with the most recent shown last month at Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. It was an elegant yet sporty take on bandhini in globally desirable shapes and colours like soft grey and muted coral, far from the staple hues of tie-and-dye.

Modi, Mishra and Khatri are all foot soldiers of a larger movement. Earlier if Kutch came and went as a seasonal fad, today designers want to rediscover it as a vast design template. We may gloat about the influence of Kutchi shibori on Japanese fashion, about designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen finding inspiration in the voluminous and embellished garments of rural tribes or the Hermès family of Paris spending long weeks in the region riveted by its rural crafts, but it is actually Indian designers who have taken Kutchi design to another level. Designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Abraham & Thakore, Manish MalhotraMishra, ModiAneeth AroraTanvi KediaPayal Pratap (even that would be a conservative list) have found in Kutch a design vocabulary that is starkly Indian yet globally attractive.

As a mood board, Kutch’s craft repertoire is immense. The district that dips into the Pakistan border in the west of India is the land of Hindu and Muslim communities and gypsy tribes which migrated from Afghanistan, Marwar, Mathura, Haryana, Rajasthan, Sindh and Balochistan. It allows an intermingling of a rare kind, a large diversity of costumes, jewellery and accessories—from ivory bangles, vibrant headgear, hand-worked leather footwear to embroidered bags and jholas in quaint shapes, all seen now and then on the fashion ramp. Besides the better known tie-and-dye techniques of bandhini and shibori, there is batik printing, block printing, two-sided Ajrakh printing on vegetable-dyed fabric, silken textiles like mashru and gajjikharad weaving, embroidered Bhujodi shawls, suf embroidery, Ahir embroidery, Sindhi stitch, mirror-work (popularly known as abla kaam), rogan work (hand-painted textiles), as well as beadwork, mochikaam, leather work, lacquer, taang (braided camel belts), among many others. Silhouettes are varied too. Half a dozen styles of kediyas represent different tribal men’s costumes, with versions for children and for festive occasions or weddings. A variety of ghaghras (skirts), dhotissalwarslungischolis (long, short or backless), jhablas (tunics) and odhnas (dupattas) offer templates for garment shapes.

“No other region in India has this kind of diverse concentration of technique, embroidery and silhouette,” says Mishra.

If the traditional fare is riotous, the fashion recreations are experimental. The kediya has been a showstopper for a while now—a man’s garment interpreted for womenswear in a dozen ways by designers. For Aneeth Arora certainly, who has explored the one worn by shepherds as well as the decorative varieties worn during garba; as a long garment or a short-cropped top; from a lightly gathered jacket with buttoned fronts to dresses as well as wrap tops styled as inners. Her kediya was dubbed the “Péro Baby Doll” and continues to bounce back in her collections. “I explore four craft techniques every season and one of them is invariably from Kutch,” says Arora adding that in her most recent collection she showed polka dots from five states of India that included the bandhini dot. Abraham & Thakore’s Gujarat-inspired collection of 2012 also recreated the kediya as a short top for women, pairing it with skirts and styled as a set.

Then there is Payal Pratap whose debut collection last year, called Gates of Dawn, didn’t just use the Kutchi nomadic shapes but was vibrant with geometric and graphic cross stitch embroideries interpreted for contemporary mindsets. “Even my craft documentation project in college all those years back was on Kutch,” says Pratap. “It’s a region where so many colours are mixed in harmony, where naïve embroideries are used in unusual ways, on yokes, hems and necklines, in trims, home furnishings, toran hangings, cushions,” she adds. Pratap’s corseted tops with choli cups, embroidered gilets and scooped tops were her way of rendering contemporary sensuality to traditional shapes. For her recent collection shown last month, once gain Pratap sent out salwar-pants, sleeveless gilets and layered skirts in chintz prints and framework portrait embroideries.

“Indian crafts are going through an interesting phase and Kutch is the hotbed of reinvention because of the quality, capability and design flexibility of artisans who do not stubbornly cling to their traditional designs, even creating new patterns without mentoring by designers,” says Mishra, whose various Kutch collections have required diligent attention to process. Other designers agree that artisans understand the present-day clamour for vegetable dyes, for instance, and provide authentic stuff instead of taking shortcuts for quick commerce.

That’s why people like Khatri matter. “I have represented Kutchi bandhini through Unesco at numerous exhibitions and art fairs abroad in Europe and the US and understand the sophisticated needs of modern consumers,” he says. The 35-year-old artisan, who is now assisted by four expert dyers and 200 karigars, or craftsmen (all women), began working on bandhini as a 13-year-old despite his father being a bank official. He met designers like Mishra and Nachiket Barve (who were students then) while conducting bandhini workshops at The National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, and their interest in Kutch crafts led to an inflection point in his work. Over the years, he has gained a sturdy global clientele and states with easy confidence that he and his team are capable of precision dyeing in any contemporary shade created anywhere in the world. More than saris in fuchsia, parrot green or vermillion red, Khatri creates bandhini stoles for “Westerners” in dull grey, apple green and burnt pepper.

In the recent book Shifting Sands—Kutch: Textiles, Traditions, Transformation by Archana Shah, who has been working in the region since 1976, there is a quote from a seafarer called Shivji Budha. “Designing a wooden dhow is a combination of suujh and hisaab—wisdom and calculation,” he says. These two standpoints could well be the formula for the collaborative practice of designers and craftspersons keen on crowning Kutch as Indian fashion’s homeland.–Fashions-homeland.html