‘India has a unique textile art-and-craft advantage. Unlike most other countries where you will find pockets of excellence, India has every single state weaving its own textile and with a wide variety of geographical and demographic diversification we are weaving everything from khadi to linen to silks to more modern blended yarns,” says Nishant Malhotra, founder, Weaverstory, a clothing store which specialises in Indian ethnic wear for women.
Looking back at the rich fashion heritage of India, it is hard to neglect the fascinating artwork and diversity of handlooms and textiles that each state specialises in and offers. There is a certain charm and uniqueness to the Indian weaves which is well appreciated not just here, but globally as well. And now, contemporary designers have started collaborating in a big way with local artisans, which bodes well for our traditional crafts.
“While our own designers may have rediscovered or reimagined how our traditional weaves can be made part of everyday fashion, India has been a favourite with the international markets since ancient times. India was known for its handspun and handwoven muslin cloth. International designers like DKNY have been weaving their brocades and satins in Benaras for many years now. The new interest in handwoven textiles is good for our weavers as this will increase the local market and increase consumption, thereby directly impacting the livelihood of many weaver families,” adds Malhotra.
Benaras, in fact, is quite famous for its Banarasi textile, which comes especially in the form of saris. On different designs and famous works from Benaras, Malhotra says, “In Benaras, each design can be woven in 17 different patterns—tanchoi, kadhwa, cut-work, kimkhab, dumpaj and many more. Each weaving technique ends up giving a totally different look to the sari. Banaras has also been experimenting a lot with yarns and fibres. No wedding trousseau is complete without a Banarasi, and such is the grandeur of this art.”
Speaking about some new trends found in Banarasi textiles, Malhotra says, “A few of the famous weaves from Benaras are Shikargahs, Gyasar Jangla (Tibetan brocades—woven for the monasteries and the royal family of Butan), Kimkhab, Raktambari, Pitambari, Shwetambari, Gethua weave,bootidar, and kadhwa jangla.”
Moving on from the marvels of Benaras, Odisha also offers myriads of traditional textiles that are in many ways inspired by the state’s grand architecture. “India’s fashion heritage is eclectic, folk, rich and vast. From styling to design, we are a land of riches, which shows in our historical architecture, textile archives and photography. I have touched upon textile arts like ajrakh, kalamkari in natural dyes, and jamdani, embroidery with thread and gota have been high points of my previous collections,” says Divya Sheth who recently showcased a collection based on Odisha handlooms at a show in New Delhi.
Speaking about the specialities of Odisha , Sheth says, “The most popular are the checkered designs achieved by the ‘bandhar’—tie and dye technique of Odisha and then painstakingly weaving it in yardages. Many other motifs like nartaki and scriptures are also possible.”
Her collection featured fabrics that were handwoven in the villages of Bargarh and Nuopatna, with 100% cotton yarns and a colour palette of a signature combination of indigo, white and black. The painstakingly handwoven ikat fabric is produced by an elaborate tie-and-dye technique called bandhav, in which the threads are pre-counted and dyed, and then handwoven to achieve the desired motif.
Talking about the inspiration behind her latest collection, Sheth says, “It was a prestigious invite to work with Odisha textiles for a grand show at India Gate Lawns during the Odisha Parba in Delhi. Travels to Odisha and its architecture were vital for inspiration. The tribes in India had a deep influence on the styling of the collection. This collection is an ode to the land of unearthed possibilities, Odisha, and could possibly be just the beginning of another passionate textile affair.”
Kashmir is also famous for its own style of intricate embroidery. Acclaimed fashion designer Manish Malhotra recently launched a luxury collection as a tribute to the artisans and culture of Kashmir. The collection showcased intricate zari and tilla embroidery designs with merino wool.
Ashima Leena, a 27-year-old fashion brand, has also launched a Kashmir-centric collection called “The Reversible Shawl”. In a conversation with Guardian 20, Leena Singh, designer from the label Ashima Leena, says, “‘The Reversible Shawl’ Autumn/Winter collection 2018 is a tribute to the skilled craftsmen and artisans of the Kashmir Valley who are struggling for their livelihood, caught in the middle of circumstantial chaos and turmoil.”
Regional fabrics are used in the collection, carrying designs with hand-embroided beadwork and handmade tassels. Collections like these keep alive India’s artisanal legacy and its centuries-old fashion heritage.