‘Sari is the Chanel of luxury’

Hand woven and timeless Gaurang Shah for LFW X FDCI 2024 is back with an ode to spring with ‘Gulal’, with hand painted charkha woven khadi saris.

Asmita Aggarwal

Designer Gaurang Shah, won the National Film Award for Best Costume Designer in the Telugu film Mahanati, directed by Nag Ashwin, the film starring Keerthy Suresh is a biopic on legendary yesteryear actress Savitri. This isn’t the only feat that Shah is overwhelmed by, as he believes his real achievement is when he started showcasing at LFW in 2012, he was the only one who came armed with hand woven saris.

In 2001, he recalls, handlooms were ‘finished’, their popularity was dimming, this was primarily due to the lack of design intervention, no direction given to weavers, they were unable to fill the gap between modern needs of a well-travelled woman and traditionality. The consumer and weaver needs to be aligned and this is where Gaurang jumped in. He worked on the yarn design, made sari sustainable, added innovative ideas and he explains, “in India the sari is its innate identity.”

The sari is a six-metre-long canvas for the weaver, if you look at his experiments with the Jamdani, every inch he elevated with fresh hues and discerning motifs. His belief in the Hindu calendar and how to dress according to seasons, is the reason his LFW X FDCI line is titled “Gulal”, paying tribute to Holi, the festival that ushers in Spring. In 2022, he had launched “Sindoori” for the festive season, and he confides it takes two years for the weaving process and that’s why he took a break to be back this year.

“Each state has been represented through pink in this collection, whether it is Kashmir to Andhra and Madhya Pradesh. We have added indigenous weaves, plus hand painting. But this creative process is time consuming —you begin with drawings on paper, then the yarn is dyed and put on looms, families then weave the entire day by hand, we don’t use power looms. Sometimes it takes two years for just one sari, it is a slow process,” explains Gaurang.

2024, the motifs are refined in Shah’s collection, with a use of matka silks, hand charkha khadi, Jamdani, jacquards, to even gara, French Knots, chikankari and the exclusive petit point needlework done by the nuns in Kerala. “We give older techniques a contemporary flavour and the challenge this year was to display shades of pink there is no other colour used,” he explains.

Sari industry is more than Rs 288 billion in India, and it is still the most bought garment in the country till today, though Gaurang also has a range of Anarkalis, lehengas to ghagras and the beauty of his offerings is he uses only natural fibres used, the material only gets smoother and softer with each wash. “We work with more than 2,000 plus looms all over the country, and thankfully over the years, we have built a reliable, sophisticated clientele, which values each weave and hopes to make it an heirloom,” he confesses.

The sari is the Chanel of luxury, he laughs and says it truly transcends time, much like his Patan Patolas, which take almost two-three years to weave, an “investment for a lifetime”. “We work only with real zari, which never goes out of style, woven for generations of weavers in Surat. It is not just looms, sari weaving is an emotion, they put their stories in the fabric. Unlike sequins and heavy embroidery which has a shelf life, our saris are timeless,” says Gaurang as he explains each motif is region specific. The kanjeevarams have wall sculptures inspired by South Temples, but they have innovated by adding ornamental designs and sometimes floral jaals.

 

Dressing Big B

The Sun and Moon two stars have fascinated Archana Rao thus the moniker for her LFW X FDCI 2024 line, but she is excited to have done costumes for Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Kamal Haasan in Kalki 2898 AD, creating futuristic character sketches!

By Asmita Aggarwal

Hyderabad-based Archana Rao is celebrating ten years of her eponymous label, but there is a lot more to be happy about—and that is her foray into South films. She won the National Award for the best costume designer for Mahanati, an Ashwin Nag biopic on Savitri, and she admits movies come easily to her, just like designing. “Costumes for films and designing for a real character seemed real for me,” says Archana, as she shuttles between films and running a successful brand.

In Kalki 2898 AD, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Kamal Haasan among others, she admits designing for Big B in this futuristic film was a learning curve. “It has taken us three years to finally come this close to the release date of the film. Big B is the easiest star to work with, as he does not look at his comfort, rather he prioritizes the character. Deepika’s biggest strength is her collaborative personality, she is open to ideas and we worked with her stylist Shaleena Nathani for Kalki,” explains Rao.

Rao had to begin from the scratch, for this film, as there was no reference that she could dip into, while designing for a futuristic film, but admits, she had used innovative materials for Amitji’s character and created new textiles. “Unlike Mahanati where we could look at Savitri’s vintage photos to craft a character on 70 mm, with Kalki the challenge was different,” she explains adding finally it is a team effort —from the director to the cinematographer and numerous other technicians in between.

Back at LFW X FDCI 2024, Rao a NIFT graduate, who honed her skills at Parsons School of Design, started her career working with a menswear label. Winning the Vogue Fashion Fund in 2013, when she began, she knew she was “doing something right”. “I always design separates, and I do not dictate looks. Even if two people are wearing my clothes, they are styling it differently, personalizing it,” she explains.

She loves designing surface textures, in silk organzas, where sheer fabrics dominate, and on them she adds embroideries. The 2024 line is titled “Sun and Moon”, she liked the contradictions in the two, even though they are different, they share a “secret harmony”. This gave birth to two robust hues—bright whites merging with midnight blues.

This year, less is more for Rao, as she focuses on impactful design, adding minimal shapes, very straight forward with the play of only one key element in the silhouettes. “I have tried bling this year, with 3-D flowers, peek-a-boo with sheer and strong fabrics for our tailored looks,” she confessed.

When she started out, Rao admits her offerings were in some ways too girlie and ultra feminine, fast forward to now she has turned to hassle-free clothing, which is versatile. You can wear her pant-suit that comes with a bustier later on with a sari, you already possess. Or buy a new sari from her that comes armed with power shoulders.

“My strength I have to say is my embroidery, Hyderabad is currently thriving with design talent, but everybody here has their own distinct language,” she confides. “In the future, I do want to do many more trade shows and of course films, which always make me happy,” she concludes.

The War Within

Bomb blasts, barren land, soldier writings on walls and stones, how war destroys the fabric of mankind and its futility has been beautifully mirrored through deft stitches by Sushant Abrol’s label Countrymade.

By Asmita Aggarwal

From writing poetry, to working with 8-10 needlework techniques, using imagery of his late Air Force pilot brother’s life-from plane fuselage to the Morse code, Sushant Abrol’s label Countrymade, launched in 2019 is an homage to ingenious thinking.

At 33, Abrol has won the Nexa Spotlight, without ever giving up hope, even after he faced several rejections, this is thanks to his upbringing, where challenge is part of daily life. He is delighted to get a solo show, a task many veterans have been unable to achieve, complete with 30 looks, after all he is just four years old in the industry. He was clear, he will launch unconventional menswear, but not slide into the comfort zone of ethnic offerings, even though this space is till evolving.

“Menswear doesn’t work like womens wear, the former like to touch and feel, desire right fits, and to get a repeat clientele, you need to understand and customise,” says Abrol. A believer in slow growth charts, building on a strong foundation, albeit consistently, is his motto. Without spending on PR and marketing, he refuses to overexpose the brand, neither has he tested the choppy waters of influencer marketing. “I haven’t evolved with the insta-creator economy, it has been a personal choice,” he smiles, adding he wants to still stay relevant even when social media craze wanes.

This is even though naysayers advise him against his decision, stating he is losing out on opportunities, but his buyers are mature—artists, musicians, and architects, who come to him for elevated basics, so you do not need a Uniqlo in your life. From a distance you can tell it’s Abrol’s clothing, and it is nothing like the designers he was trained under from Rohit Bal to Jyotika Jhalani of Janavi. Though his mentor, has always been the inimitable Shahab Durazi, whom he was curious about, often called as the ‘Armani of India’. “I travelled to Mumbai, met him and since then he has guided me, I always share my progress with him,” says Abrol. Just like he read Vanguard, a book written on the architect of Indian fashion Rohit Khosla, by his sister Rohini.

The core of this brand rests on stark neutrals, hand done embroidery, he mastered neatness, modernised khankas, refused to do animals or flowers motifs, the inspiration is intangible, like poetry which turns into art forms. Using off white threads for his embroideries, chanderis and pure silks, matkas, katyas, as well as linen, prints over embellishments is his lexicon. “Men want to repeat clothing, but I see some reluctance when it comes to embroideries even though we do a lot. They are only now exposed to the beauty of woven and knitted offerings, earlier it was only checks and stripes,” he says. The feeling is if it is ‘worked on’, it is feminine.

Everything Abrol indulges in, comes from a personal space, even if you look at the name Countrymade, it conjures up images of hooch, liquor, or arms, but that is not what he believes. It refers to things made slowly, by hand, a labour of love, a small cottage industry, where there are no industrialised processes.

In 2015, he applied for a scholarship to study at London College of fashion, but didn’t bag it, little did he know that it would be a blessing in disguise as his label today is for a discerning few who value his craft. His brother remains the central character in all his collections, even the latest, titled “No Man’s Land”. This is based on the letters he received which have been preserved till today by his mom, and when he sat down to read them again, he felt a profound sense of loss—-revisiting the pain. The letters would come with a tagline ‘Confidential” meant to be opened only by Sushant, this was today playing in the background when he saw the Russia-Ukraine war on TV.

The questions that emerged were –“What are we fighting for?” capturing the odyssey of a soldier reflecting a personal battle ensuing within. “I believe in dialogue, as humans we must find a common ground, how soldiers feel after war, when he views the destruction, is my inspiration,” he confirms. The line presents this dichotomy and internal confusion through clothing specially Gond art, where the stitches reflect the tyranny of barbed wires and train tracks. The extensive R and D was done viewing thousands of war imagery, from barren land, scribbles on stones and walls by soldiers wanting to vent seeing the inhospitable surroundings, that saw kantha stitches coming into play.

On stamps that come on inland letters were used to show the communication, Abrol embroidered them, the detailing of thought by Countrymade is quite engaging. He created artistic impressions of trees, rivers, and mountains in no man’s land, indulged in line drawing, gave a bird’s eye view of farmland through embroidery, the line is replete with symbolism. “Bomb blasts are also shown through stitches, even capturing how stones fly with impact, I think the idea was to depict the futility of war, I hope I have conveyed that effectively,” he concludes.

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Moon Power

Paying homage to the moon landing and India’s homegrown space programme Pearl Academy students delve into the future to showcase how it could be the next vacation destination through metallics, anti-gravity hair and hybrid ensembles.

By Asmita Aggarwal

The Chandrayaan-3 mission, was a homegrown one, as the country reached the lunar south polar region, “India is on the moon,” Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, the chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation exclaimed. Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft’s Vikram lander touched down, putting us in the league of extraordinary space power biggies. This is a victory cry of a new India,” said the prime minister, Narendra Modi, as Chandrayaan-3 was launched from Sriharikota, in southern India.

It is this moon odyssey that turned into a heady leitmotif for Pearl Academy fashion design and image styling students with their show titled “The Moon’s Echo”. The twist here is, it is a journey which began with exploration in the 70s, now has Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, in full Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, which offers commercial space flight, based in California. With Falcon 1 rocket, it can send small satellites into orbit and with these innovations, turning it into a place where explorations and maybe in the future turn into a “holiday destination”.

This historic win has been the theme for the graduating batch at Pearl, celebrating moon landing through puffer jackets, and grey “lunar luxe”. There are hints of comedy too—where the dark side of the moon is depicted in the form of a crater. Here what is envisioned is finding water and making it a beach vacation, as guests carry their fishing rods, inflatable parachutes, backpacks, and foldable chairs.

Of course, drones serve as butlers, carrying bags and hovering above.  The final sequence is a celebration of sorts, vibrant characters, carrying rare earth objects, dressed like they are part of a “secret society’ ball, a display of an avant-garde aesthetic–  hoping to mimic all that the earth’s grandeur has to offer.

“The theme is inspired by the recent Indian moon landing, and depicts the seamless blending of the realms of fashion and futuristic exploration. What truly stood out were the imaginative designs that seemed to capture the essence of the concept. The show served as a reminder of one very important milestone in the history of the country, and we wanted to celebrate how India is leading the world,” said Antonio Maurizio Grioli Dean School of Fashion, Pearl Academy.

There are many interesting aspects of the show—from the “vacuum hair” resembling zero gravity and glittered up eyes. “The Moon’s Echo” presented 38 looks, and each section has been carefully divided. The moon landing is displayed through stark, grey, colourless outfits, interspersed with metallics, it was a challenge in creating the future, while building each character, with new-age construction. “Sleeping bag inspired gear, texturing, layering to leather and printing, playing with volume, each element is carefully processed,” says Megha Khanna, creative director of the show.

Along with this there has been a deft focus on corsetry, the artistic expressions have been conveyed through 3 D printing, structures emerging are experimental, laser cutting and material manipulation. “The accessories play with form and materials, add depth to the clothing, from metal to punk, dresses get converted into jackets becoming shape shifters, sometimes two garments are amalgamated to make one,” she explains. Interestingly, the headgears have been crafted out of household equipment—oxygen pipes, neck pillows, to give circular patterns and harnesses have been added for strength.

The creativity and passion of Pearl Academy students was visible as the show ended with an overwhelming celebration of vivacity through colour and picture-perfect moments.

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Fashion Design Council of India