Sonam Dubal after a year-long hiatus is back, fully empowered, working with NGOs like Sasha and teaching at alternate mediums like Adishakti
By Asmita Aggarwal
Unlike a world gripped by the Snapchat syndrome that peddles transience, Sonam Dubal, a NIFT (Delhi) 1990 batch took a year off, just to introspect, after 12 long years of churning out collections, twice a year.
Back with ‘Dream Sequins’ his autumn-winter 2015 line, Sonam’s break exposed him to a world far removed from the flashlights of glitterati. His first stop was at a social initiative Sasha, an NGO that works with craftsmen from all over Bengal, started in 1978, to stop exploitation of artisans. “It is a fair trade organisation, which is involved in craft revival and skill enabling. It directly deals with weavers, mostly women, and you work at the grassroot level, unlike a factory environment in big cities, so it nurtures rather than commercialises,” says Sonam.
Then his wanderlust took him to Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts & Research on the outskirts of Pondicherry, where you have writers, dancers, and academicians attending seminars. Sonam taught costumes in theatre and linked it with historical facts, holding workshops and met the most fabulous ‘real’ people. “That’s why I would rather have a Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC) wearing my tunics than a Deepika Padukone, even though I know that the latter will get me better publicity,” smiles Sonam.
Born in Assam and a St Xavier’s, Kolkata product, Sonam grew up in tea plantations with his parents, though it was NIFT that exposed him to a more sensitive, humble and discerning audience which taught him the magnificence of austerity and realism. That’s why even if he uses embroidery it is subtle, there are sequins, minus the shine, and of course there is a blanket ban on lycra and neoprene. “Textiles have their own character, unlike stretch, and they have an innate melody, that’s why you can’t make constricting silhouettes. Also I feel with the advent of technology women are increasingly looking at simpler shapes, which offer an unspoken calm in a world that is drowning in noise,” he adds.
Despite being in the first batch of NIFT, Sonam took a good ten years to launch his label, Sanskar, in 2003, before which he was happy working with the National School of Drama (NSD), and designing costumes. “When I started, there weren’t many women who could distinguish an ikkat from a Patola, so even a simple embroidered tunic would sell. Now that has changed, they want organic clothes, natural dyes, but a tunic with a tweak, the modern woman has evolved, is super confident and wants to buy an ideology when she comes to you,” he confesses adding that fit, comfort and feel are still a priority along with elegance.
Counting the kinetic mix of colours as his mainstay, two strong, almost opposing hues can be effortlessly blended by Sonam, despite autumn’s darkness, as he believes layering adds that much-needed warmth. From Khadi, hand-painted raw silks to ikkat woven with jersey, Sonam is on a high with vintage 70s prints and bold motifs. So you will see an olive green with pink and a maroon with jewel tones and a lot of Merino wool jackets, capes and kaftans in charcoal greys and dark browns. “My biggest weakness is that I want to diversify, maybe do a home line, but it hasn’t happened, as I have a mental block. E-commerce interests me; so that is in the offing. But my heart is really at showing at museums and encouraging women to adopt traditional textiles,” he concludes.