Australian designer Cassandra Harper makes a head-spinning U-turn from block printers of Jaipur whom she has worked with for more than a decade to explore the endearing ikats of Telengana, at LMIFW as the globe trotter, who has lived in Cambodia and Phuket brings to India a fresh perspective.
By Asmita Aggarwal
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Melbourne, but moved to Hong Kong as a young girl, which had a profound influence on my outlook. I returned to finish my secondary schooling in Melbourne; I am now settled in Brisbane.
How did you get into fashion and why?
Fashion has always been a big part of my life, from a young age I was influenced by my very stylish mother, who had a very strong sense of her own individual style. She allowed me to explore my fashion sense, which I believe is important. Whilst studying art at school, my focus was fashion which I continued on at fashion design school.
You have been working with the block printers of Jaipur for a long time; tell us a bit about that experience?
I have been working with block printers in Jaipur for around 15 years; I have worked with three different companies, but I am the most happy at the moment. I work with a lovely family, who have been block printing for many generations; they are very authentic and ethical. What I appreciate most is that they allow me to be creative and enjoy the sampling process with their colour master. Through this process I have found my best work, which is extremely satisfying.
What fascinates you about India? What is your India connection?
India is one of the oldest civilisations in the world; I love that the country is steeped in tradition and in my opinion has the most varied artisans in one country; this is why it is a designer’s dream to work with artisans here. The creative possibilities are infinite. India is also a place that stimulates all of your senses and makes you feel very present whilst you are there.
You also lived in Cambodia and Phuket, how did it develop your alternate aesthetic?
Living in Asia has been a joy and at the same time a challenge as a designer. It certainly has put my designing skills to the test, as I have had to create for the market which I have been living in at the time. In Cambodia I needed to design easy, wearable and practical cotton clothing for the expatriate community living there. Whilst in Phuket, I was designing high-end luxury resort wear for the tourist that would visit the Island.
You have also worked with Shibori?
I have a deep love for the art of Shibori and have been working with beautiful people in Delhi for many years, who create very sophisticated Shibori and specialise in silks.
What are the challenges working with textiles?
The greatest challenge of working with hand-made textiles is that there are always slight variations. This is not always understood by the commercial market although it is my greatest joy to educate my customer about how special their garment is because it is not mass produced.
How do you think we can make clothing sustainable and how important is that for you as a label?
My journey to making my clothing label sustainable, is by producing small quantities, supporting and working closely with artisans and only producing garments as they are purchased so there is no excess.
Tell us about your collection to be showcased at LMIFW?
Usually, I work with the tie and dye technique Shibori and have always found this process fascinating, so when I had the opportunity to work with the beautiful ikat weaves of Telangana through Artisans of Fashion I jumped at the opportunity. My silhouettes are very feminine and classic in design and I like what the ikat weaves bring to this collection, making it modern and fresh, strong yet soft at the same time. My colours have been inspired by the blues of the ocean and the contrast of sunsets —- soft peach, mauve and azure blue. The weavers are based in Telangana and produce everything in their homes. The whole family is involved in the process from the tying and dyeing through to the weaving on traditional wooden looms. It really is humbling when we find the technique so complex and detailed and yet this is in their blood, they have been seeing this done from one generation to the next.