Trend Tracker | Print Run

MINT

Trend Tracker | Print Run

Next week the Spring/Summer 2014 edition of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) will open with a show by Anupamaa Dayal and Masaba. Dayal will show Gulabi, a romantic tale bringing whimsy to tradition, while Masaba will fatten her résumé of quirky prints with new patterns of machinery and what she now calls The House of Masaba print. Other shows at the same event include Nida Mahmood’s collection Bombay Bioscope, which will unravel her tribute to 100 Years of Indian Cinema, while Jenjum Gadi will send out insects set in geometrical patterns on his garments. These collections have little to do with each other except that they are all created from expressionist prints—wacky to homey, idiosyncratic to fiery florals, dazzling geometrics to folk inspired—underlining the biggest new statement in Indian fashion. Block printed, digital or screen printed, executed through various techniques on fabrics as different as net, cotton, silk, organza or chiffon, the blitzkrieg comes close on the heels of some shows at Lakmé Fashion Week’s (LFW) Winter/Festive 2013 edition, which also held up the print revolution.

Both have a point. For the last few seasons, more and more designers (especially younger ones), have shown print-based prêt collections. Florals may be perennially popular or “comforting” as “the Indian woman naturally gravitates towards flowers”, in the words of Dayal but it is the unconventional ones which are most noticeable. Consider these: Om print, circles, balloons, space machines, mudras, film posters, (to name just some by Manish Arora); chai cups, owls, roosters, film images (Nida Mahmood); table fans, cows, cameras, palm prints, Nandi bull, Tamil script (Masaba); doodles, sketches, stamps (Aarti Vijay Gupta); truck scarf, haveli scarf, Nandi pouch, Konkani wallet, Hindi alphabet sari (Play Clan); tribal prints (Tanvi Kedia), digital batiks, black and white motorcycles, hearts (Dev r Nil), Naga-inspired red, black and white prints (Atsu); Kathakali prints (Nikhil Thampi) or dazzling geometrics by newbie Yogesh Choudhary.

Yet the movement also shows how a bunch of designers are collectively challenging the monopoly of embroidery and decorative surface embellishments that ruled casual wear. “I have always been driven by imagery, am an expressionist at heart and incorporate twists of the Dada art movement. The idea is to exhibit a seemingly unimportant and mundane element dramatically,” says Mahmood of High on Chai, one of her former collections. “Most Indians cannot go through a single day without their chai fix, yet they seldom notice how dramatic that simple cup of tea is,” she says, adding that she tries to be socially relevant with humour instead of being preachy. Her collection Sapna Cinema had roosters as the muse, while last season—Captain Must! Qalandar, was a motorized flying ant, a reincarnation of an old vintage bike travelling around time and space on his time machine called Vdo Gaga.

The factory of new prints is a boiler room of democratic design where the moon can be orange and cows blue. It is kitschy and gaudy with regional accents and loves Hindi cinema as much as spirituality. So inspirations dart in from any point of history or currency—as diverse and imaginary as Draupadi’s boudoir to a day in the life of an electrician; from Satan’s workshop to a garden in heaven; certainly of a Bollywood villain’s den lit up by saucy item girls, lovely heroines and indignant heroes. For the path-breaking Arora, it is about translating each emotion and experience into a beautiful colour that tells a tale. “Colour and culture have inspired me through the years. My inspirations are derived from things that I have experienced,” he says explaining that his Autumn/Winter 2013 collection is inspired by the famous Burning Man festival (an annual event in Nevada, US) he visited last summer.

Personal experiences sharpen the narrative of quirky prints. For Gupta, her first collection in 2012 as part of the Emerging Designers show at LFW came from an urge to see her final year sketch book at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in clothes. “I wanted my fabric to look like paper with colour and drawings over it,” she says. “So good was the response that even my third collection is print-based with Indian emblems like the tiger, for instance,” she adds.

For some designers, prints are not only serious business but also the raison d’etre of their creative calling. Like Arora and Dayal, though their persuasions are entirely different. “My signature prints like the circle and Om print are very dear to me because that is what I started with and it got me to fall in love with the whole process of print development and usage,” says Arora. Dayal too emphasizes distinction by technique. “My block prints stand out because I have new themes every time and am never purist. I play with various discharge techniques that result in hard-to-copy form and finish,” says Dayal, who spoke to Lounge from New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2014 exhibition where her block-printed garments and printed pashmina shawls were a big success. Dayal’s colours are bold and fluorescent always suggesting celebration never disillusionment.

Masaba who says that credit should be given to Arora for revolutionizing new prints, also agrees that Satya Paul chose her as the creative director for two reasons: prints and saris. The two were as encoded into her design DNA as they were with the 30-year-old brand. It’s not simply a coincidence then that a majority of designers driving the print revolution like Arora, Dayal, Datta, Mahmood, Masaba, even Arora and now Choudhary and Gupta, to name some, are also those who are reimagining the sari. “India’s experience in creating long fabric hangings and printing saris gave it a canvas. The longer the yardage, the more the space to print, you need a big canvas to create art after all,” explains Kumar.

What additionally defines new experiential work with prints is a dramatic collision of trickle up (making rural motifs urbane) and trickle down (the popularity of wacky prints in small towns). So says the talented Nimish Shah who didn’t just fall in love with prints overnight. Shah whose label Shift is now two years old, belongs to a family of printers who have been catering to a non-urban clientele for the last 45 years. “Deriving from that background, I create patterns through hand-screen printing on purer fabrics, exposing my family archives for a sophisticated audience, adapting them to modern techniques like arriving at new colours through process and treatment,” he says, explaining his use of acid-reactive dyes and how he mixes florals with geometrics, creates digital flowers or pixellates a Patan Patola pattern.

Well-known stylist and entrepreneur Pernia Qureshi points out that prints are doing well on her online store Perniaspopshop.com too. “With fashion trends becoming global, Indians want to step outside their comfort zone and experiment with their style. Prints being huge at the moment, we see not just pretty florals like the ones by Hemant and Nandita or block prints by Anupamaa Dayal become exceedingly popular but unconventional ones like lipstick prints by Masaba for Satya Paul or the Kathakali prints by Nikhil Thampi doing exceptionally well too,” says Qureshi.

The trickle down is there for all to see. Stores of mass and premium brands from Globus to Vero Moda, Ginger to Westside and Lifestyle too are dotted with printed ready to wear for men and women. If there was one commonality starkly jumping out in city exhibitions of small garment retailers last summer, it was derivative versions and copies of quirky designer prints.

Ritu Kumar asserts that the resurgent popularity of prints is no surprise really. In the early 1960s she was the first designer to revitalize Indian prints for fashion while working from Serampore in West Bengal. This was also when Faith Singh of Anokhi worked on Rajasthani hand-block prints, also a towering design statement today. “The world is indebted to India for the hugely skilled craftspeople who used vegetable-dyes and created prints on fabrics and also designed complex motifs which became India’s handwriting for the rest of the world. In the 16th and 17th century prints from across the country, from the Jaipur school, the Farukhabad and Ahmedabad area, went by the Western sea routes as well as from the harbour of Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh in the East Coast. They were exported to European countries. They were known as chintz from the Indian word cheent and became the rage in France and England. In the 18th Century they were copied by an industrialist Europe on machines in Manchester in England and Lyon in France and sold back to the Indian subcontinent,” she says.

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