October 18, 2022 FDCI

Sari whisperer

From recreating 35 Raja Ravi Varma paintings, which took five years, 200 kg of yarn, 600 shades into detailed traditional saris to introducing Jamdani ghagras in sindoori red this year, Gaurang Shah, is a master of innovations.

By Asmita Aggarwal

He has been in the business of working with traditional saris for over 23 years and his home boasts of a design library, detailing the evolution in this genre. But the survival mantra for Hyderabad-based Gaurang Shah is his appetite for adapting, updating and innovating existing templates, to give artisans all over the country work all year round.

The most challenging weaves, Paithani and Kanjeevaram or Ikkats, have seen a sea change, in not just colours, but also yarns. Guarang believes, mixing two techniques in one sari gives it a unique dimension, and these ingenious plans started when in 1998 he entered a market which he terms as ‘dead’, referring to design repertoire.

He decided to make Kota in silk organza, Kanjeevarams in organza, and chiffon so that you can wear it during summer, not be straddling the heavy silk in June. “You don’t ask M F Husain why he chose painting? This is a passion for me, and six metres is my canvas. We have woven saris like the jamdani where every centimetre you have a different colour and the yarn offers a 3D appeal. Unlike the jacquard where you keep repeating the four inch by four inch graph,” he explains.

His most ambitious project till today is reimagining the legendary painter Raja Ravi Varma’s 35 artworks and weaving them into masterpiece saris. And if you look closely, in the kind of details Gaurang has managed, you are in for a surprise –even the facial expression, hairstyle to the minutest toe nail is replicated in yarn on a hand loom. “Laxman Aelay, my friend and filmmaker, who paints Telangana women on canvas asked me to create his art on textiles in 2010. We did that, it gave us a sound footing when we began work on the RR Varma paintings,” he confirms.

The RRV project took five years, executed in natural dyes, using 200 kg of yarn, creating 600 shades and employing women weavers for three years. “I wanted to show the world we can do the impossible,” he says. Today Gaurang is working with almost 2,000 weavers, from Kashmir to Banaras, West Bengal, Andhra to Uzbekistan and even Cambodia where he weaves his mesmerizing ikkats.

In 2012, Gaurang wanted to showcase his saris, to a discerning audience, as he says his clients didn’t consider him a fashion designer, until he was part of the fashion week, and admits it gave him ‘name and fame’. Though he says the family business of fabrics is still run by his father and brother, as he has diversified into woven saris.

“The challenge with working in this niche segment is design intervention requires skill to train weavers, who earlier wouldn’t listen to me, as they were set in their ways. It requires a great deal of cajoling and making them understand why this is important to do. And new design takes at least a year to perfect, so the whole process is a lengthy one—-four years minimum,” he confides. It is a place where you need both patience and dedication, as most weavers by 50 years have trouble weaving as it is a laborious process, their children have moved on to the IT industry in cities, so we started programmes where we counselled, urging them to come back to home, work on looms, enabling them with better wages, healthcare and work.

Today the sari maverick has five stores in India and one in New York, he has 14 artists working with him who research on motifs, colours, flowers, arches, Mughal architecture, Turkish carpets, the list is endless and the yarns are as diverse—organza, silks, tussar to chiffons and georgette. For FDCIxLFW he has introduced ghagras, hand woven Jamdanis, with Kutch embroidery, French knots and chikankari. “We chose sindoori red, for the festive season to add a bit of brightness this season,” he admits.

Gaurang believes design can’t be taught, in any school as they know theory but have no practical knowledge, it has to come from within you. “My daughter is not interested in design and my son is good at online selling but is not an artist, so let’s see who will take over this business,” he smiles.


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