Amit Aggarwal’s designs are sculptural and have a whimsical dynamism — brims and swoops of gravity-defying effortlessness. The unmistakable lightness and agility are a result of the designer’s affinity with experimental textiles, fashioned from recycled fabrics and industrial materials, which complement his subversive aesthetic. Tanira Sethi’s education (she is a textile graduate from National Institute Of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, and has a master’s degree in textiles from Chelsea College Of Arts, UK) and subsequent work in textiles, have brought her towards a similar artisanal alchemy: to question the norm and then set out to find her own answers. Last January, for example, as an answer to her own question — “If a seven-metre shawl can be woven, why not a sari?” — Sethi, 24, introduced quintessential cashmere saris made from fine Leavers Lace fabric under the label, Taani.
These limitless perspectives of form and fabric blossomed into a special collaboration when Aggarwal partnered with Sethi on Crystalis, his debut collection at India Couture Week, held this July. “We had been talking about a collaboration for a few months, and a couture collection seemed like a perfect moment to come together,” says Aggarwal, best known for translating biomimicry into fashionable wearables.
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Crystalis, a portmanteau of the words crystal and chrysalis, took inspiration from crystal formations at a molecular level, and the metallic chrysalis that will soon transform into a butterfly. Aggarwal teased a palpable emotion behind the hard-nosed science via a 12-piece line-up of pantsuits, pre-draped saris, and red carpet-ready gowns and dresses. The crystal’s mannerisms manifested amidst exacting pattern-cutting and exquisite embroidery, and a radiant colour palette of rose, amethyst, sapphire, emerald and peridot. Sethi’s artistic intervention, with richly spun and woven cashmere lace-draped pieces, which starred alongside traditional zardozi and ari techniques, lent a certain nuanced decadence to Aggarwal’s acutely minimalist take on Indian high fashion. “This is the first time anyone has experimented with cashmere lace, and it helped that we developed the yarn with an Indian company, Ezma, and meticulously had it knitted in France,” adds Sethi. Here, the two innovators talk about what goes into building a successful creative collaboration:
ELLE: What are the benefits of a collaboration of this nature?
Amit Aggarwal: It challenges you to understand a completely new language, that of respecting the rules of engagement between the hand and the yarn. As a creative individual, it was exciting to collaborate with Tanira to explore the limits of what could be done with another aesthetic form; namely, textiles.
Tanira Sethi: Draping and garment construction can go two ways — either it enhances the base fabric and highlights the beauty of the textile, or it can completely transform the inherent values of the textile by excessive surface texturing. Amit, thankfully, followed the former philosophy.
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ELLE: Are the rise of collaborations between fashion design and textile-making perhaps indicative of a broader shift — that the gap between them is closing?
AA: I feel there’s a thin line that separates a fashion designer from a textile maker. Both of them can coexist, but to call a textile creator a designer is inaccurate. Clothing created by textile makers might look beautiful, but what’s the point when it’s cut into basic tunics or kaftans? Fashion needs a deeper understanding of the body, material, movement, culture. Only when the two feed off each other is there a far better future for fashion, especially for India with its rich textile heritage. Tanira recognises this role distinction, and is also well-versed with the fact that structured clothing is not always about collating yards of fabric.
TS: I agree with Amit — to an extent. I’ve done short courses in pattern-cutting and a master’s in textiles; I understand the merit behind the two streams working together. But for me, an unstitched garment such as a sari is fashion forward, and I wish to refashion it for younger consumers.
ELLE: What were some of the learnings that emerged during the collaboration?
AA: Learning to work around the delicate spirit of cashmere was the biggest takeaway. Embroidering over it was a challenging task, since one also had to be constantly mindful that it’s a very expensive gossamer fabric. A slight error of hand and the yarn splits into two. We couldn’t afford to take any chances.
TS: This opportunity allowed me to revisit the draping and pattern-cutting skills that I had studied in summer school. Amit’s work features architectural forms using industrial materials, and to see it finally forging relations with the refined qualities of Leavers Lace fabric was a riveting experience.
From left, on Sunil: Lace dress, price on request, Amit Aggarwal. Leather stilettos, price on request, Christian Louboutin. Metal earrings and ring; both prices on request, Studio Metallurgy. On Aggarwal: Cotton T-shirt, trousers and waistcoat, rubber shoes, metal watch; all designer’s own. On Sethi: Silk dress, AM.IT by Amit Aggarwal. Leather shoes, Sethi’s own. Gold-plated wooden earrings, price on request, Mirakin. Gold-plated brass rings; both prices on request, Studio Metallurgy.
Photograph: Nishanth Radhakrishnan
Styling: Akshita Singh
Hair and make-up: Levo Salon
Model: Namita Sunil/Kay Savino Yhome Scouting
Assisted by: Pujarini Ghosh (Styling)