Indian crafts are now a powerful narrative and fashion designers are elevating handlooms to the level of couture, says Asmita Aggarwal
two years ago, by net and georgette, has embraced rich and roomy handloom fabrics today. Designer Rina Dhaka, known to be a proponent of everything Lycra, also jumped on the bandwagon and went last year to Yeola and Paithani in Maharashtra to source woven fabrics. “In the interiors of the state, I met a weaver producing the most beautiful and classy golden sari. But he refused to sell it for a penny less than `90,000, as he said he already had many buyers,” Dhaka says, adding, “that’s the reach of handlooms now.”
And at Dhaka’s swanky showroom at a posh South Delhi mall, where slinky designer gowns are available in abundance, her handloom sarees find favour. This is a nifty revelation: now even the gownflaunting fashionista wants handloom because it is a luxurious trend and comes in limited edition!
Over the past few years, several efforts have been made to revive the lost glory of handloom. Bringing Chanderi fabric into the spotlight in brilliantly experimental ways at the Amazon India Fashion Week (AIFW) spring-summer ’17 held last year by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) was one such move. “Our efforts have been to create a space for handloom – that’s why this year at the AIFW autumn-winter ’17, we had Day 1 fully dedicated to crafts. Our association with Sally Holkar’s the Handloom School and Good Earth was a step in that direction,” says FDCI president Sunil Sethi. The FDCI also reverenced heritage of the craftseeped states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, as seen through the prism of designers at a fashion extravaganza held at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi last year, which included fashion designers Swati Kalsi and the label Virtues by Vikrant, Viral and Ashish, as well as Rajesh Pratap Singh.
Smriti Irani, the Union textile minister, mobilised millions by starting the #Iwearhandloom campaign, which got over a crore tweets and established the popularity of not just khadi but also other handloom- woven textiles. She has received a `6,000 crore special package for textiles and apparel, which hopes to create 10 million jobs and attract $11 billion in investments.
Designer Aneeth Arora has been using khadi for the last six years, and her label Péro has never deviated from its commitment to the hand-spun fabric even when it was considered coarse and unfinished. While Vaishali Shadangule, who recently showcased at New York Fashion Week, says, “I have used khadi, jamdani and Chanderi among other Indian fabrics. My brand resonates with the concept of Indian handloom fabrics intermingled with modern cuts. The colours and textures were carefully chosen to suit Western perceptions at my New York Fashion Week show, so yes – handlooms have found an international audience too.”
India has an unsurpassed legacy of weaves, printing techniques and crafts. Since time immemorial, it has produced exquisite handmade fabrics, with each region of the country boasting a particular tradition. Luscious silks woven with real gold zari threads and opulent sheer fabrics, along with finely woven cotton and mulmul were an integral part of Indian textile history. However, with the advent of man-made fabric and exploitation of Indian raw material, which was taken to Manchester in the UK and later the processed form sold to Indians, a downfall occurred in the handloom sector and weavers were unable to compete with the swift deftness of machines. “The lack of infrastructure, unavailability of yarns, exploitative middlemen and also the rise of other lucrative career options for the next generation of weavers led to a sharp reduction in yardage of handwoven fabric. Handloom, once an integral part of every Indian wardrobe, is a luxury today because of its time-consuming nature. The lack of proper facilities and skill sets has made this process even more tedious. With the intervention of designers, who have introduced better thread counts and innovative methods, cost has risen, making handlooms an extravagant purchase,” explains Nagpur-based designer Shruti Sancheti. Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango, who has created a niche by retailing Indian weaves with a distinct design intervention, firmly believes that he doesn’t need acknowledgment from the West to know that this is a good move. “It’s not about someone at the Oscar red carpet wearing Indian brocades. When a discerning buyer in Nagpur and Kanpur flaunts them, I will think I have achieved something,” he says.
However, Rina Singh, of the label Eka, who has been at the forefront of the handloom movement and was in the running for the Woolmark Prize, feels there is a vast difference in the quality of handlooms available in the market today, directed by the quality of the raw material, execution as well as design sensibilities. “Designers create one product at a time, everything is hand-made, so much so that some techniques take eight hours of weaving, and needle and thread-work. We are elevating crafts and techniques and making them aspirational rather than what you commonly see, which is ikat prints (not woven like they should be) and computerised embroideries and digital prints, which have taken away the magic from fashion,” she concludes.
The author is a senior fashion writer and the views expressed in the article are her own