Harper's Bazaar March 2016 - Page 70

Bazaar STYLE INDIAN INDEPENDENCE With young designers turning to India’s treasury of textiles to create modern fashion, the future of our heritage weaves looks exciting Text by MALIKA V KASHYAP Photographs by JIMMY GRANGER THE RESURGENCE OF BENARASI BROCADES over the last year is not by coincidence. Seen on runways, celebrities, and in the media, it’s the result of a concerted effort to ‘revive’ a truly dwindling textile. But amongst its trellises and motifs, there is a quieter resurgence of a different kind taking place, one that has been growing for a few years and might be defining fashion more than the peacock colours of Benares weaves. This season sees an independent voice reaching closer to critical mass—one that is freeing India’s much-loved textiles from their past. Today’s fast, evolving, and experimental pace is changing the way designers are using so-called traditional fabrics. Gaurav Jai Gupta of Akaaro is currently exploring the waffle weaves of Panipat, traditionally used for carpets and towels. In his hands, they might turn into an oversized cardigan, woven with elastic and comfortable for everyday. Designer Rashmi Varma makes tailored pleated trousers and vests out of kala cotton and mashru (the former conventionally used for stuffing mattresses, and the latter once mainly worn by Muslim women as the silk on the warp and cotton weft kept the insect fibre from touching the skin). Nimish Shah of Shift screen-prints (by hand) camouflage patterns onto a base of Bengal khadi-muslin in caramel colours. These designers don’t call themselves ‘revivalists’. Instead, they embrace the spirit of appropriation. And don’t call this ‘modernising craft’, or ‘contemporary Indian’, either. To say this would mean that these crafts were neither modern nor contemporary in the past. “What is the idea of a ‘traditional weave’ in the first place?” asks Varma. “They have gone through so much change and evolution. We have to remember that none of it was static. Perhaps they had longer periods of existence but now everything is much faster.” On the other hand, because we currently don’t have the right vocabulary to express the current shift, Rahul Mishra is also vocal about the language often found accompanying most garments. “I don’t understand why we need to apologise for something that is part of the textile, especially if it is woven with care,” he says, referring to garments labelled ‘irregularities and imperfections are characteristics of the fabric’. Gupta notes that weaving is one of the oldest professions in the world. The basic logic of the warp and weft is similar everywhere, and depending on the local needs and easthetics, different things are made. “The technique is not invented by us,” adds Payal Pratap Singh. “It is a tool to do something new. I use [woven textiles] when I feel like it—I don’t always feel compelled to.” Shah personally doesn’t feel pressured to use Indian textiles, either. His collections often include knits and mill-made cotton alongside khadis. “I like to have variety across fabrics and consider myself a design specialist, not necessarily a material specialist”. To this effect, early this year many of these designers signed a community declaration titled An Incomplete Manifesto: Textile & Garments—Made in India. Convened by the publication Border&Fall, it is set to acknowledge relevant conversations, concerns, and suggested points of reflection for the industry at large—many that speak directly to the way designers approach their businesses as well as makers and consumers. As the global lens shifts towards India and recognises us for our design talent—and not merely as back-end producers—those focusing on the final product stand to gain. “Design will ultimately be the differentiator, not only craft,” reads the manifesto. “Ultimately, it is all about the product,” muses Mishra. “We do not try to oversell our sustainability. Eco-fashion is over exploited. In fact, its funny how much waste people create in the name of eco-fashion,” he adds. Suket Dhir, India’s most recent recipient of the Woolmark Prize (for menswear) maintains “as soon as the product does well, everyone does well—the weavers and kaarigars included”. Ultimately, true independence would come with fair wages and recognition as contributors. We may not have it yet, but—through designers who are using India’s weaves in their work without overly revering them—we are pursuing it in a way that feels fresh and focused. n 70