Harper's Bazaar June 2018 - Page 44

Bazaar

Bazaar

STYLE

CRAFT CULTURE

Politics , caste , and couture — columnist Phyllida Jay covers it all as she traces India ’ s obsession with craft
Phyllida Jay
CRAFT-BASED TEXTILES — NOWHERE EXCEPT INDIA IS THEIR PRESENCE SO KEENLY FELT AS PART OF A BURGEONING FASHION INDUSTRY . It doesn ’ t matter if your budget stretches to the heights of a couture gown by one of India ’ s top designers , a zardosi number from one of the popular boutiques in Delhi ’ s Lajpat Nagar , or a fresh kurta churidar outfit from one of India ’ s domestic retail chains : You will hear the same refrain — craft , craft , craft . Whether handloom or surface decoration , India ’ s fashion weeks are obsessed with craft . Glossy magazines dedicate regular editorials to handloom , juxtaposing it with luxury handbags and incorporating it into international trends . It ’ s a subject of national pride and the object of myriad government initiatives and funding . But who wins and who loses in this game of textile patriotism ? Which begs the questions , what is ‘ craft ’ and why is Indian fashion so consumed by it ?
History provides a clue : In the post-independence era , a new mood of optimism sought expression through the material culture of architecture and public visual culture . Nehru famously envisioned modernity through massive structural engineering projects : Dams , roads , and even a complete city — the Corbusier-designed marvel of Chandigarh . Yet others ( their mettle forged as freedom fighters , their vision of India ’ s future steeped in Gandhian philosophy centered in village economy ) saw Nehru ’ s tectonic vision as emulative of Western standards of modernity .
They wanted something different , something uniquely ‘ Indian ’, and surely that was to be found in the rural traditions of making and India ’ s rich heritage of textiles ? It ’ s this vision of a uniquely Indian modernity that drove legendary activist Pupul Jayakar to set up a raft of institutions devoted to nurturing craft in the 1950s . Today her reputation is mythical amongst advocates and historians of craft . Those of a certain age and milieu go mistyeyed at the mention of Jayakar ’ s name . Her intention was a fine one , but its execution became inseparable from the circles of power and privilege that
History provides a clue : In the post-Independence era , a new mood of optimism sought expression through the material culture
define the leafy avenues of Lutyen ’ s Delhi . To advocate for craft is a privilege of the few . As Indian fashion has grown , so too has the clamour to be seen to advocate for a craftbased perspective . It confers the sheen of moral status , there ’ s a whiff of money , aristocracy even . And in a market where bridal designers invent imaginary crests and shoot lookbooks saturated with imagery of maharajas and maharanis , noblesse oblige is all the rage .
Which brings us to one of the inherent problems with craft , its enmeshment in centuries-old relations of caste and patronage . It ’ s a thorny problem seldom addressed by craft advocates . In conversation with a redoubtable advocate I was told that even though , of course , caste is a terrible thing , “ it does give communities a certain structure ”: Cue Marxist Millennial facepalm .
Can fashion with its glamour and promise of democratic access for all to a shining modernity , provide the answer ? What to make of the trend in recent years , of designers making the penultimate grand gesture of bringing artisans along with them on catwalk ramps to take a finale bow . What to make of this extravagant virtue signaling ? When the lights dim and the metaphorical curtains come down , then what ? Is that craftsman paid more and do we remember his or her name alongside that of the star designer ? What are their children ’ s prospects ? What if their children don ’ t want to be artisans , what if they want to be an astronaut , computer engineer or even a fashion designer ? Does anyone pursue these questions as the applause and
lights fade and the artisan ‘ props ’ return to the shadows ?
Whenever craft is mentioned , why do we take it for granted that craft means a fair livelihood , when no one really questions what a life enmeshed in craft-based labour really means . Does it mean self-determination or drudgery ? How can we separate between caste and vocation ? As we gaze on yet another fashion spectacle that puts craft at the centre , that question should be at the forefront of our minds . n
44
Bazaar STYLE CRAFT CULTURE Politics, caste, and couture—columnist Phyllida Jay covers it all as she traces India’s obsession with craft Phyllida Jay CRAFT-BASED TEXTILES—NOWHERE EXCEPT define the leafy avenues of Lutyen’s Delhi. To advocate for INDIA IS THEIR PRESENCE SO KEENLY FELT AS craft is a privilege of the few. As Indian fashion has grown, PART OF A BURGEONING FASHION INDUSTRY. so too has the clamour to be seen to advocate for a craft- It doesn’t matter if your budget stretches to the heights of based perspective. It confers the sheen of moral status, there’s a couture gown by one of India’s top designers, a zardosi a whiff of money, aristocracy even. And in a market where number from one of the popular boutiques in Delhi’s Lajpat bridal designers invent imaginary crests and shoot lookbooks Nagar, or a fresh kurta churidar outfit from one of India’s saturated with imagery of maharajas and maharanis, noblesse domestic retail chains: You will hear the same refrain— oblige is all the rage. craft, craft, craft. Whether handloom or surface decoration, Which brings us to one of the inherent problems with India’s fashion weeks are obsessed with craft. Glossy magazines craft, its enmeshment in centuries-old relations of caste and dedicate regular editorials to handloom, juxtaposing it with patronage. It’s a thorny problem seldom addressed by craft luxury handbags and incorporating it into international advocates. In conversation with a redoubtable advocate I was trends. It’s a subject of national pride and the object of told that even though, of course, caste is a terrible thing, “it myriad government initiatives and funding. But who wins does give communities a certain structure”: Cue Marxist and who loses in this game of textile patriotism? Which begs Millennial facepalm. the questions, what is ‘craft’ and why is Indian fashion so Can fashion with its glamour and promise of democratic consumed by it? access for all to a shining modernity, provide the answer? History provides a clue: In the post-independence era, WrvBFRbFRG&VB&V6VBV'2bFW6vW'0BbF֗66VvBW&W76F&VvFRFW&rFRVVFFRw&BvW7GW&Rb'&vr'F607VGW&Rb&6FV7GW&RBV&Ɩ2f7V7VGW&RV'RrvFFV6GvƲ&2FFRfR&rfW6ǒVf6VBFW&GF&Vv76fR7G'V7GW&vBFRbF2WG&fvBf'GVR6vƖsvVVvVW&r&V7G3F2&G2BWfV6WFRFRƖvG2FBFRWF&67W'F26RFv6G( GFR6&'W6W"FW6vVB'fVb6Fv&FVvC2FB7&gG6B&RBFvR&VV&W WBFW'2FV"WGFRf&vVB2g&VVFfvFW'2FV"f62"W"Rw6FRFBbFR7F"FW6vW#v@bF( 2gWGW&R7FVWVBvF66VFW&VB&RFV"6G&V( 2&7V7G3vBbFV"6G&VF( @fvRV6ג6rV'^( 2FV7F2f62VVFfRbvBF&R'F62vBbFWvBF&R7G&WBvW7FW&7FF&G2bFW&G6WFW"VvVW""WfVf6FWvFVB6WFrFffW&VBFW6vW#FW2RW'7VP6WFrVVVǒ( F( @FW6RVW7F22FRW6R@7W&VǒFBv2F&RfVBFPƖvG2fFRBFR'F6( &>( 7F'&fFW0'W&G&FF2brBF( 0&WGW&FFR6Fw3&6W&FvRbFWFW3N( 2F2f6vVWfW"7&gB2VFVBv6VSFPbVVVǒFFW&GF@FvRFRBf"w&FVBFB7&g@G&fRVvVF'7Ff7BWV V2f"ƗfVƖBvVP7BԖFWVFV6PF6WBW&gBb7FGWF2FWfFV@&VǒVW7F2vBƖfRVW6V@FW'GW&r7&gBFRS2FF7&gB&6VB&W"&VǒV2W&Wr@W"&WWFF2חF6w7@FW2BV6VbFWFW&֖FbF֗66Vv@Gf6FW2B7F&2b7&gBF6P"G'VFvW'r6vR6W&FPb6W'FvRB֖ƖWRv֗7GЦ&WGvVV67FRBf6F2vPW&W76WVBBFRVFb.( 2RvRWBFW"f67V7F6PW"FVFv2fRR'WBG0FBWG27&gBBFR6VG&RF@F&VvFPWV7WF&V6R6W&&Rg&ЧVW7F6VB&RBFRf&Vg&B`FR6&6W2bvW"B&fVvRF@W"֖G2FW&7VGW&PC