From mixing denim with silk, motif manipulation to paying homage to pure metallic yarns, eight designers changed the design vocabulary of ‘Made in Benaras’ at the FDCI curated show at Surajkund Mela.
By Asmita Aggarwal
His father studied fine arts and grandfather was a renowned doctor, but Hemang Agrawal wanted to carefully craft his own journey in the fashion world. Armed with a degree in business management, and then fashion design from NIFT Mumbai, he explored various facets of the trade before both – joining his father’s business of silk saris in Benaras in 2007, and launching his label in 2016.
He was one of the eight designers, who showcased at the Fashion Design Council of India curated show at the 36th International Surajkund Crafts Mela, in association with Haryana Tourism, on February 9, 2023. Titled “Benaras – A tribute to the Senses”, it bridged the gap between contemporary and traditional, with sacred silks given a unique interpretation. Abhishek Gupta, Amita Gupta Sustainable, Asha Gautam, Hemang Agrawal, Manish Tripathi, Pawan Sachdeva, Shruti Sancheti and Suket Dhir, presented six ensembles each.
Hemang is known for his deftly woven metallic yarns, and 100 percent pure textiles with no linen, cotton or silk blends, using silver zari which gives each piece an undeniable sheen, albeit subtly. “Sometimes you need to find an individualistic language, thus I launched only when I knew, which direction I was working in and what I wanted to say through my offerings,” says Hemang, who has worked extensively with, various famed design houses internationally by producing indigenous weaves whether it was for Japan, Europe or America. If you watch closely, the label is motif agnostic, considering Benaras is known for its rich legacy of boota-pattis. The loom must be tweaked, the weavers taught and took almost nine years to get it right. “I don’t particularly like the word ‘revival’; it has been greatly misused; it is like taking ownership of the entire ecosystem. I think innovation is needed as there are so many interesting techniques and processes that can be elevated,” he adds, breaking away from predictable reds, fuchsias and yellow to offer a more mellow palette for discerning buyers.
Designers believe textiles should not be a vocation, but a profession and this is a treasure trove for the world for weaving. “Anything is possible here,” says designer Manish Tripathi, who met his wife Tanmaya in the holy city, while sourcing fabric. The duo now works with silks and brocades to create a modern language with pant suits. “Our focus this season was on cuts and styling in silk brocade,” he adds. Manish believes the city is not just about the popular silks, but also Tanchois to jamdanis, much more. The diversity of weaves is exceptional and, in many ways, fascinating. “The concepts have been preserved for generations and herein lies the unadulterated beauty of the place,” he adds.
For menswear designer Pawan Sachdeva, it was his first outing with loom-made fabrics, and he was impressed by the interesting options it offered. “I am used to working with new-age yarns, exploring this genre was a learning experience for me. I used kimkhwabs and brocades to craft bomber jackets and tuxedos using champagne, rusts, gold and black. I believe men are abandoning pastels and slowly but surely moving towards brightness,” says Pawan.
On the contrary, was Shruti Sancheti wanted to offer a mix of gunmetal and rose gold threads in her finer and smoother silk to give fluidity to the trench coats, boleros and sharara pants meant to serenade a younger audience and woo them away from the high street. “Mostly fabrics here are associated with festivities, thus vibrancy is almost omnipresent, but to make this globally relevant, we added creams and navy blues,” says Shruti. Moving away from ambis and parrots she opted for Gingko leaves and chevron. Cord work with mokiash added a universal appeal, along with motif manipulation. Gautam of the label Asha-Gautam celebrated the 25th successful year of the mother-son helmed label, with a store in the capital, but for Surajkund, they paid homage to where their story began—Beneras. Shikargah saris replete with forest motifs to Rangkat with its colour blocked stripes and kimkhwab, each of these three were specially woven with design interventions. “Shikargah by combining resham and zari, giving it a tissue feel, for an ease of wearing was the decision we took on the loom level,” says Gautam. Though he admits working in the holy city has many advantages with weavers open to exploring newer patterns and threads.
Amita Gupta on the other hand, took this experimentation to new levels by getting denim woven with silks, mixing two diverse elements—soft and tough. “It took us almost four years to get the consistency and we had to set up special looms in Beneras halting our work for six months, which could weave this in subdued hues,” concludes Amita.