March 11, 2019 Asmita Aggarwal

Sanctum sanctorum

Serendipity got her to fashion, sustainable became her mantra, antiques her lexicon, Divya Sheth lets the past and future collide in her ensembles

By Asmita Aggarwal

With a family known to be loyal devotees constructing temples from Gujarat to Bihar, Divya Sheth never thought fashion would be her soul calling. Providence played a deciding part, when while studying food and nutrition at Lady Irwin College, Delhi she was made in-charge of the Fashion Society, a role she deftly managed for three years. A NIFT (Delhi) fashion photography graduate, Divya, who belongs to a traditional Marwari family (her grandparents came as refugees from Lahore) was always encouraged to be academically qualified. So Central Saint Martins’ followed where she studied styling and romanticised textiles. “I got married and moved to Kolkata and natural dyes which didn’t harm human skin or environment was the area I focussed my energy on researching while designing for myself and family,” she confides.

After participating in Sutra, an exhibition in Kolkata, she gained the confidence to launch her first line in 2014 and also an entry in the Vogue Fashion Fund, where she made it to the top 15.  This motivated Divya to work with Ajrak and Kalamkari and as art was her soulmate, she took inspiration from Mary Cassatt’s Lady at the Tea Table, a 19th century classic painting. “We worked with Kalamkari artists who were only making mythological paintings and asked them to create hand-painted botanical flowers using their craft. This we converted into a holiday line complete with trench coats. I felt design intervention is an important part of growth as well as preservation,” she explains.

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Innovation is the fulcrum of the label and her next move being an antique collector was to work with gotta, an art that had been twisted to make it faster and less meaningful in modern times.  She brought back the age-old laborious process and intermingled this with Rajasthani Katputli silhouettes as an homage to slow fashion.

With her husband’s business spanning three centres Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata (steel and stock market), she would take short breaks and visit museums to understand temple architecture, or do R & D for bell designs, find sculptors for the idols, or create garments for gods who will reside in ornate abodes. Her inspirations also come from divinity like the Nathdwara temple in Udaipur where Pichwais were crafted and she put in her combined know-how of art, textile and photography. “We are a sustainable label and our fabric of pride is khadi, sourced from Musheerabad. I can’t do trendy clothes, as most of the time, I use hand-painted fabrics where paintings are translated — it can’t be cut in crazy patterns. It has never been my aim to be fashionable, rather classic is my vision, ensembles that withstand the test of time,” she confirms.

For two-and-a-half years Divya has been collecting Chintz, a fabric that was also loved and nurtured by the British. So she traced the trail when it was made on the banks of rivers the main centre being Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Chintzcame from the Hindi word ‘chint’ or ‘chitta’ meaning spotted and the blocks were made 200 years ago by artisans. She worked with the National award-winning grandchildren of these skilled workmen who were used by the British to trade in this fabric in Europe (they altered the original ethos and added floral motifs). “I made a line that replicates the Imperial era with similar silhouettes worn by rajas, nawabs in hand-painted chintz titled ‘Textile Narrative’,”she explains.

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The future for Divya will be looking at sustainable spaces and even the bridal arena (where she could do garments dyed in turmeric). “I’m working on my studio which has 150-year-old antiques, and this will give me the foothold to then foray into wellness and decor. This is only an extension to the epicentre, as I look at clothes as food for the skin,” she signs off.

 

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