‘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.

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Fashion Design Council of India