Fusing modern designs with India's vintage weaves

New Delhi, June 27 (IANS) Get the modern look in traditional Indian textiles!

On a mission to revive the Indian craft industry, contemporary designers are fusing modern designs with vintage weaves like ikat, khadi and chanderi, describing them as "conversation pieces" that are not too hard to create.

If modernization and mechanization elbowed out traditional textiles, embroidery techniques like zardozi and chikankari or printing processes kalamkaari and bandhej, top-notch fashion veterans like Wendell Rodricks, Ritu Kumar and Ritu Beri have brought them back in the wardrobes of fashion connoisseurs.

Explaining the growing fascination for old art forms, Rodricks said: "In modern fashion, there is a phenomenon called 'the conversation piece'. A garment, by its originality, rarity and unusualness elicits remark - 'Where did you get that? What does it mean?'"

And the conversation flows on.

Rodricks also said wearing a heirloom or a revivalist garment attracts people, who "gravitate to the fabric and ask: 'This is so unusual. What is it about and where did you get it?'"

"A simple t-shirt and jeans outfit gets a remarkable facelift when paired with a fabulous phulkari stole or an antique shahtush stole," Rodricks told IANS.

Rodricks revived the 'kunbi' Goan sari from extinction. Worn by tribals, the four-five yard sari was difficult to drape and he has innovated a new technique to overcome this.

"I have a shawl woven by one of (Dastkari Haat Samiti founder) Jaya Jaitley's artisans. It has the verses of Kabir on it. People have stopped me on the street to ask what the shawl is about. Even inside a fancy brand boutique like Hermes or (Louis) Vuitton, sales persons and shoppers will ask about the shawl. That is the power of our Indian clothing heritage," Rodricks said.

Ritu Kumar's creativity revolves around reviving Indian crafts. From block prints to bandhani, kalamkaari and kasauti to chikankari and zardozi, the designer generously infuses them in her creations.

"I usually keep the original aesthetics in mind while modernising the process," Ritu Kumar said, adding it would be wrong to term the fabrics "old" as "they are classics and can be contemporised very easily".

Bangalore-based Deepika Govind has also been working on ikats for the last few seasons.

Is it easy to maintain the sheen of traditional textiles while interpreting them in a modern way?

"Introducing traditional fabrics in a contemporary silhouette may be a bit of challenge. But, nonetheless, not a very difficult one," Govind told IANS.

Govind has used ikat in every possible western silhouette - be it a knee-length jacket, a cropped jacket, a short dress, a halter top or a bustier. She has also presented short fitted jackets and off-shoulder dresses in muga silk.

"The characteristic of traditional textiles gets enhanced when we give it a modern look. Blending khadi with modal or tencel makes it stronger. It becomes more supple and colour retentive. Silk knits done in ikat have an enviable shine," she added.

Making traditional fabric appealing for today's "ultra-casual" generation is not that difficult.

Ritu Beri feels fashionistas explore varied possibilities. Therefore, it is interesting to mix age-old fabrics in modern garments to give them a creative look.

"Phulkari is extremely beautiful and we can make almost everything out of it - from dresses, kurtis and jackets - or even use it in the traditional way as a dupatta. It can also be used as inserts of yokes, necklines or hemlines and thus transform ordinary fabrics into something special and unique," Beri told IANS.

She feels "handloom khadi and linen are the preferred fabrics nowadays".

"They are modern, besides being one of the most comfortable fabrics to wear in the Indian seasons. Khadi retains its look for years and it can be interestingly embellished with different handwork. It can be used to make almost everything - from trousers to jackets and it is up to you how you think out of the box," Beri added.

Eco-friendly fabrics get a lot of attention as there are connoisseurs who care and want to be a part of the green movement.

"They are willing to pay to be ahead of the trend and wear what is avant garde and eco-friendly," said Rodricks.

If that is not enough, Rohit Bal made Kashmiri embroidery fashionable, while designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have revived the depleting chikankari art form.

The likes of Niki Mahajan, Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Rina Dhaka, Madhu Jain and Tarun Tahiliani too have joined the campaign to revive old weaves.

(Nivedita can be contacted at nivedita.s@ians.in)

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