In the warp and weft of Indian textiles lies one of the richest traditions of Indian history. Victoria & Albert Museum in London is acknowledging this in The Fabric of India exhibition which began this month. Indian weaves are increasingly becoming the muse for Indian designers as they revel in the lushness of fabric and richness of motif to make statement pieces in fashion.
Sanjay Garg began his love affair with Chanderi, but it was Mashru, the traditional silk and cotton weave from the Mandvi district of Kutch, he showcased at the Amazon India Fashion Week (AIFW) Spring-Summer 2016. The grand finale in the same show was a paean by a collective of 16 designers to the Banarasi weave, a royal, glistening spectacle that held the spectators awestruck.
“Our first step of identifying India as a huge fashion market has been accomplished,” says Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) and AIFW organiser, “and the focus is now pretty much on bringing back Indian weaves and textiles to the industry.”
Be it silks, cottons or mixes, the power loom yard has been relegated to the sidelines and handloom walks the ramp. “Going traditional is a conversation everyone in the fashion community has been having,” says J.J. Valaya, the high priest of fashion design.
It showed at the recently concluded AIFW, where 115 designers participated, and a considerable number of them had traditional weave as the core, even if the designs were modern. Thus Garg’s Mashru collection was replete with straight kurtas and lehengas that ended at the knee, “a treat for the working Indian woman”. Anamika Khanna too celebrated ‘Indianness in fashion’, her ready-to-wear collection pairing sari drapes with crisp cotton shirts and silk kurtas with striped track pants. Samant Chauhan, who is known for revolutionising Bhagalpuri silk, went Victorian with Indian embroidery on stiff draped, flared dresses. Rina Singh of Eka welcomed the Indian summer and used hand-woven cotton for loose-fitted, clean-cut dresses. Anavila Misra brought back zari on her lightweight, knitted linen saris, kurtas and maxi dresses. Even the fresh faces—showcased in ‘The First Cut’—kept up with the trend. Sonali Pamnani worked with Ikat for her entire collection, Shreya Oza used only natural dye and all six brought an inherent Indian quality to their line of fuss-free clothing.
“The hand-woven material has a different, more natural fall to it which has also influenced the designs, which are more fluid and loose, yet shapely,” says David Abraham, one half of the celebrated Abraham & Thakore label.
Handloom weaves alone, however, were not part of the AIFW story. Malini Ramani’s tie-and-dye collection of saris was a refreshing change from the otherwise weighed-down fabrics; the blouses with bold cuts as much of a statement. Siddhartha Tytler used ethnic print in his entire collection of clean-cut trousers and blouses; Kavita Bharti’s cross-stitch embroidery in gold and nudes was another comeback of old household craft.
More than anything, however, it was the return of the sari that created the maximum stir. “There was a flood of saris,” says Abraham, “and not just the ramp but the audiences too.” Perhaps, designer duo Shivan and Narresh, better known for their eponymous swimwear brand, showcasing saris in their segment was enough to drive home the point.
It’s clearly a return to the roots. “It is a much-needed fashion revolution,” says Valaya. Abraham thinks it’s a coming around of the fashion community to fabrics, threads and styles that have always existed but had been left by the wayside in the desire to excel in international markets. A blind hankering for motley silver pieces when you are sitting on a goldmine at home. Marry Indian tradition to fashion, and the world can only be at our feet.