Theory of Harmony

 Bindu and Surya, mother-son duo combine music, engineering and physics to create a line that celebrates tradition, minus the jazz

By Asmita Aggarwal

You could call him the prodigal son, the one who stumbled into fashion, seeing the silent, but evocative efforts of his mother. Mother-son make the best pair, emotionally and commercially too as they balance ideas creating a chord wheel where effective notes bounce off.

That’s the story of Bindu and Surya Giri from Chennai of the label SGBG (symbolic of their names). Bindu from the royal family of Northern Kerala, has been working with textiles for the last 15 years, taking up languishing looms and reviving lost crafts. Masters in business administration from Chicago, Bindu adopted the family legacy of working with craftsmen from her village. Very few connoisseurs of the real art of traditional saris want to pay for authenticity; so she found devotees in UK and South Asia. “The family was in tandem with the traditions of yore and believed in protecting heritage, my mother was passed on the baton and she carried it bravely till the finish line,” explains Surya.

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Surya, studied music and economics at the University of Chicago and graduated two years ago. He had no idea what the business entailed or ever dreamt of joining his mom. But it did happen almost serendipitously. While making a documentary for the BBC, he had a day off and decided just spontaneously to visit the looms under his mother’s care. “I was blown over and as my mother has always been so low key, I didn’t know the extent of her intervention. Though what made me want to join is, it was connected to my roots and design in modern times is more than what meets the eye; there are many subterranean layers which are intangible,” he explains.

History has been coded in the warp and weft of the ensembles and the duo took up the onerous task to elevate these art forms. The wheels got kicking and they went for the Paris Fashion Week (Tranoi Week) to participate in the sustainable edit, hoping to curate weaves in a contemporary form.

Literally born with a diamond spoon, Surya’s father was the VP Accenture, and his maternal grandfather Nandkumar was a respected royalty in Kerala, both families appreciated art, culture, fashion and music and the same genes were passed on to the subsequent generations. “Poetry exists in Indian textiles and we must create a cocoon around it to preserve it. Fashion has so many interesting stories sewn in its fabric that as designers we try and present them in the ten minutes we get on the runway,” he smiles.

Just like music, Surya says where rhythm and balance is the key to hit the right notes, in design you need an eye that looks beyond just colours and ornamentation. “We did a more densely packed version of the Kanchivaram and our version of the Banerasi weave, when it migrated down South got greater intricacy and was incredibly textured,” he admits.

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Fashion is more visual now and about fearless concepts and ethics and less about shapes and form. “I view our brand as an art project that’s why our LMIFW’19 showing has sculpture, drape and embroidery amalgamated in its foundation. Our clothes are global, they can be worn anywhere from Los Angeles to Kochi,” he concludes.

Going the whole 6 yards

The sari is one of the few pieces of ancient art, which withstood the turbulent Indian history and the western influences that came with it. In conversation with the industries leading designers, about this infallible traditional creation and its relevance in a modern context.

By Asmita Aggarwal

The simple sari, with its many regional interpretations, has proven to be a 6-yard-long, unstitched piece of living culture. Its presence throughout periods of history, otherwise centuries apart, is a testament to its timelessness. From its potent imagery in the Vastraharan, the event that sparked the beginning of the Mahabharata, to its seductive representation in Satyajit Ray’s film ‘Charulata’, the sari has not only been a part of the Indian wardrobe but also lies at the heart of India’s cultural zeitgeist.

Indian fashion designer, Rina Dhaka says, “Besides the flattering qualities of a saris silhouette, I appreciate it for its strong culture. The craft of creating a sari provides livelihood to generations of craftspeople. Whether it’s the saris adaptation by the experimental youth, its utilitarian form imbibed by the working woman on the streets, or its illustrious renditions by the royals– the sari unifies an extremely diverse country.”

As with every existential crisis, the traditional sari cannot ignore the modern context it struggles to remain significant in. Textile designer Peter D’ascoli addresses this reality. “The cultural identity associated with a sari is of strong traditionalism, and at the same time, western silhouettes are becoming associated with modernity. It is because of globalization, that not India, but the whole world is facing a grave loss of cultural diversity in all forms – cuisine, regional dress, language and textile. In order to survive, one must evolve,” he says.

It is this process of evolution that designers strive to contribute towards, using a variety of different strategies, one being that of Payal Jain’s. “If I were to recreate a kimono from Japan or a cheongsam from China, I would preserve the authenticity of that particular silhouette, the same applies to a sari,” she says. The designer expresses her undeterred faith in the unadulterated sari, “For many reasons, be it culture or comfort, everything in our wardrobes has been completely transformed. The sari, however, at its core, remains as beautiful as it has always been. As a country, we are looking at our past to create for our future, in all aspects, be it art, design or architecture.”

From a similar school of thought, comes Pratima Pandey, champion of understated elegance. “The ’60s witnessed the fitting sari, a drastic change in the blouse came in the ’70s, the ’80s experienced a hoard of block prints, and for the two decades that followed, the influence of the west subdued the saris wonder,” she says. Despite this, the designer sees a promising shift of perception towards ethnic wear today. “There is an obvious sense of coming back full circle and being proud of our own culture,” she says. In these circumstances, Pratimavaluesher voice as a designer, and the responsibility that comes with it. “I would work towards bringing the sari back in its most crude and authentic form. In this venture, my efforts will always be towards elevating handlooms, textiles and the communities that depend on them,” she adds.

While some focus on the fabric, Rina Dhaka’s take is a clever play with form. “I have created modern variations of saris, including stretch saris and skirt saris with an inner pull four-way stretch, but regardless of my manipulation of its form, my attempt has always been to retain the look of a tied sari when worn. Holistic, simple and ready to wear,” she says.

Medha Khosla of Anomaly, adds detail to this philosophy of functionality. “A few years ago, the pocket wasn’t given much importance on dresses and skirts. Now, we can’t do without it,” she says.Expert in minimal office-wear further explains, “I believe that function and tradition can go hand in hand. This is why we are seeing designers experiment with petticoats, blouses and creating pre-stitched saris.”

AnavilaMisra is one such designer, who in four years managed to bring back the glory of the traditional draped sari with her signature linen creations. This designer managed to retain the classicality of the garment and further, give it her own subtle contemporary twist in the form of daring drapes and pocketed petticoats.

Another stand out effort towards driving the modern millennial customer back home was that of DikshaKhanna’s, who experimented with metallic yarn inserts with handloom khadi denim. “Today, the key lies in striking a balance between being contemporary, fuss-free and yet traditionally rooted in India’s textiles and surface techniques,” says Khanna.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is the eclectic Anushree Reddy, who works towards satisfying a very different customer base with her dainty ensembles. “For my recent collection, we did saris on organza with classic threadwork and cutwork. Emerging from the cutwork was a petticoat with a net frill. We did ruffle blouses with a heavy sari as well. Evolution is necessary within every plane of the multi-faceted market,” she says.

While the industries best roll up their sleeves and get to work to ensure a longer lifespan for the sari, ShrutiSancheti hits pause and raises a reasonable concern. The designer calls for introspection. “An influx of new interpretations of saris blend western sensibilities of tailoring, and kill the original essence of the sari,” she says. She raises the question of whether this evolution of design, however well intended it may be, is forgetting about the very basics that this age-old wonder is known for – simplicity.

She turns her attention away from the designer, and towards the customer, “To revive and reinforce the sari, awareness has to be created amongst Indian woman and the world, that the sari is not an exotic item of dressing or occasion wear.” The designer asks for a collective effort towards embracing the sari for its ability to accentuate a woman’s features, rather than as an exotic item of dressing. “One needs to embrace the sari not only as occasion wear but as a garment that can work in any context – climatic, social and cultural,” she adds.

 

 

 

 

Imprinted

Organic café, interiors, menswear, there are many plans in the floral printed life of Charu Parasher

By Asmita Aggarwal

For 25 years Mohini Kakkar, a buying manager, wore woven saris to work at Central Cottage Industries, with a large red bindi. Closely observing her was her young daughter Charu Parasher, who on Saturdays, would accompany her to see her interact with weavers showcasing their products from all over the country. This left a lasting impression on a young mind, which propelled her towards starting her label sixteen years ago.

Charu began her ascent into design when she was in college, borrowing Rs 20,000 from her mother and opening a small, block printing unit. The first line was bought entirely by Meena Bazaar and it gave her the impetus and motivation, she was on the right track.

The ethos of the brand rests on Indian ethnic luxury, where everything is done painstakingly, especially hand embroidery, in an effort to keep crafts alive. “I started with prints and it has been my strongest point, but I had to digitise them as we faced issues of bleeding while exporting. I work with chintz, and florals have been my inspiration for a decade now,” she explains.

For every brand to remain relevant, when you have a flood of designers coming in every year, can be a challenge. And most naysayers believe, infusing fresh blood is the only way to sustain. That’s why Charu’s younger son Arjun has joined the business, after studying international hospitality, he is now ready to leave for Parsons, New York.

Street wear mixed with prints, can be attributed to Arjun, who helped his mom launch the menswear line, a first for the label. “Many clients would request me to make clothes for their brother or husband. When Arjun joined the business he offered to help; we are showcasing a few looks from our line this season,” she confirms. Track suits, tees, bomber jackets come with a flush of colours, displaying Charu’s unabashed affection for everything vivacious in a range that begins at Rs 3,000 and ends at Rs 15,000.

Fabrics play an integral part of every designer’s vision, for Charu, khadi silk is her playing ground, that she sources in pristine white and then prints it. “They become so elaborate when we translate them on to skirts that you can wear them for even destination weddings. This time for women’s wear I have used knit and stretch for the first time,” she confirms.

The world is changing and Charu has understood to survive, change is imminent. Her bridal offerings are lighter, less embellished and she is creating outfits for her LMIFW’19 line, which can be multi-functional. Layering helps the client decide how she can pair all the four pieces in any way she wants—jackets, skirts, tunics, dhotis, that can go from day to night and are not complicated. “I know the fashion space is moving towards minimalism and easy going, but there are some who also love structure and construction, I cater to that lot,” she smiles.

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Charu looks at fashion not through an artistic lens, but commerce and admits, if you are not commercially successful, it is “the end” of your ideology. “I do want to move into the eco-friendly space and work with ideas, interpretations and fabrics that minimise pollution and incur less harm on the already fragile environment,” she says.

Fashion is a ruthless world and Charu believes the options to grow and evolve are easier now as you don’t need a brick and mortar store, with the parallel burgeoning online universe, a choice she did not have the liberty to make two decades earlier. “I want my label to grow and I do think about doing interiors as beautiful homes have been a passion. I would like to also open an organic café, it is a dream project,” she concludes.

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Beautiful fall

30 years and counting, bustiers and 3D embroideries, Suneet Varma has now turned his lens to photography and is paying an homage to new entrants with an exhibition

By Asmita Aggarwal

He worked with the inimitable Yves Saint Laurent, the only living designer, besides Rei Kawakubo, who was celebrated by the MET; he still has books that he will proudly show you that were gifted by the man, who introduced the Le Smoking suit into women’s closets. Suneet Varma after 30 years has changed his lens a bit, well literally and metaphorically.

For LMIFW’19 he has photographed 26 participating designers (one garment each) which is a part of a photography exhibition by the Fashion Design Council of India. Suneet started this as a passion, something where he could bring all the years of experience in terms of aesthetics and working with the best from Farrokh Chothia, Suresh Natrajan to Abhay Singh. “I had turned to photography a year back, now I’ve graduated to shooting for the top magazines in India. I wasn’t sure I was good at it, so I rented a camera. I noticed what young designers were doing, while photographing their ideas and philosophy in my series for FDCI,” he adds.

The game is changing so quickly, he says, if you don’t update you will be booted out of it. Even though social media, he says remains a beast you have to feed every day, it does translate to business. “I am quite old fashioned (despite the kiss with Rahul, on the catwalk during the Rainbow show), I never put up personal things on my account, I have kept it purely for work. I must admit of all the requests we get on instagram when we put up our new line, at least 15 per cent translate to sales,” he explains.

The challenge for Suneet and others of his generation, is they began when things were simpler, there were only a handful of them who were dressing women fairly austerely. Time was slow, urgency was missing, there was more camaraderie among this small industry. “I didn’t know the existence of some of the designers I photographed. You can’t rest on your past laurels. Look at late Karl Lagerfeld, at 85, he was managing two brands-Fendi and Chanel. He lived in the future, his body gave up but his spirit was 25-years-old,” he confirms.

Though the guru, who brought 3D embroideries to India in the 90s, Suneet reveals, there is no formula you can follow to be successful. “We are dressing people and people are changing—their mindset, attitude and professions, especially women. You need to be analytical, can’t be complacent, and look for keywords that define the identity of your brand,” he adds.

His shaded chiffons with whimsical artworks have found him many devotees, but finding a balance in that space where embellishments are the key is what will be an uphill trek. “As I am getting older, I have realised you have to learn to reinvent, juggle, rethink. Even sexy is now changing, but it will never go out of fashion. Glamour is the soul of good dressing, I like sensuality in my ensembles, and it is true, fashion belongs to the young, even though we may all be trying to squeeze ourselves into Gucci pants,” he laughs.

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Art, architecture, textiles, Soho, fabric innovations, people and most importantly human contact, Suneet believes is his biggest influence on design. This combined with the hunger for knowledge a trait, he inherited from his mother, “who at 80 is learning to do her taxes, online”.  “I enjoy the creative process where I am developing new embellishments; I look at a painting and wonder if it can be rendered in sequins. We get them cut in the shapes that we want manipulated, so R & D becomes an important factor,” he adds.

Seeing two waves that have swept fashion recently—textiles and prêt-a-porter, Suneet admits he is incapable of doing the latter, as “I am really bad at it”, but in the former he admires the Benerasi weave for the grandeur and opulence it offers. This LMIFW he has worked with white tissue crush, and added grey metallics to it along with appliqué (he has done this technique on tissue and tussar before). A thin foil which resembles liquid gold is added for pure shine to complete the look.

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Cinched waists, corsets and bustiers have always been a part of Suneet’s repertoire, as he believes clothes portray sexuality as they overtly mask the human form. “My trajectory in fashion has been a journey of trial and error and I am not one to say that in the next ten years I will learn nothing. For me, it is a continuous process and that’s what makes this area even more exciting,” he concludes.

Fashion Design Council of India