Susie Lau gets her first taste of the country


Susie Lau gets her first taste of the country

...ahead of the Fabric of India exhibition at London’s V&A Museum in October

By Susie Lau  September 21st, 2015

India had always been on my bucket list, but it felt like an impossible dream. Then, thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I made my first ever trip, which both confirmed the stereotypes (chaotic, overwhelming, an assault on the senses) as well as got me curious about what lay beneath. In the wake of the V&A’s forthcoming The Fabric of India exhibition, I was invited on a three-day whistle-stop design tour of Delhi and Jaipur. Witnessing the deep love and appreciation of textiles among designers and craftspeople here was the best, most intense sort of introduction I could have had to India. Here’s what our whirlwind looked like, measured in pit-stops.

CRASH COURSE
Our journey began in Delhi, where we were taken through the textile exhibits at the National Museum by the curator of decorative arts, Anamika Pathak.  One of the most impressive pieces there was a 16th-century south Indian temple wall hanging, about 10 metres long, and depicting in intricate embroidery the seventh incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu. This artefact will be a part of the exhibition at the V&A. 

DELHI BY DESIGN
Dilli Haat was an obvious but enlightening first stop, filled with made-with-love objects. A good place to practise our tame haggling skills. Hauz Khas is young and hip, and at Ogaan, I got acquainted with some new designers and their aesthetics. I bought a beautifully customised denim jacket by péro by Aneeth Arora — purely for research purposes, of course. At Good Earth, I saw how Indian motifs and crafts could feature prominently in the kind of lifestyle that would appeal globally. In Shahpur Jat, we met designer Rashmi Varma, who marries the once-politicised khadi cloth with contemporary silhouettes.

FACTORY GIRL
It was at Manish Arora’s office and factory in Delhi’s garment district, Noida, that I got really excited. As someone who is passionate about slow fashion, I found it satisfying to have an internationally renowned designer like Arora take us through production processes where every seam and stitch is done on-site. Huddles of embroiderers were hard at work, completing production for Arora’s latest collection to go into stores. The techniques were traditional, but the motifs were anything but. This is why his work has managed to resonate on a wider scale. I loved discovering too that Arora has a separate Indian line, aimed at the domestic market. The sari on an acid trip? Yes, please!

We also glimpsed a very different side to contemporary Indian fashion at the offices of Abraham & Thakore, where we were mesmerised by the tactile subtleties of their clothes. I love the way they use neutral tones to allow techniques and skill to shine. Again, these clothes are rooted in tradition, but the results don’t owe their merit to craft alone. 

CRAFT CLASS
For the second part of our trip, we flew to Jaipur, where a day of crafts awaited, and we started at Haji-Badshah Miyan’s dye workshop. He and his apprentice demonstrated the traditional way of knotting up cloth to create resist patterns. Having watched the process of Japanese shibori dyeing, it was interesting for me to see the Indian take on the technique. 

 

In the old town of Jaipur, we went to the Sankalan workshops to witness probably the most intricate embroidery skills we saw on this trip. Silks stretched out on huge canvases were being worked on by skilled embroiders sewing on tiny flecks of silver metal ribbon onto chalked-out patterns. As a natural magpie, I had particular pleasure in seeing this gota embroidery done in the flesh and mostly, surprisingly, by men. 

To conclude our craft tour trio, just outside of Jaipur, in Amer, we went to the studio and workshop of textile designer Brigitte Singh, who is responsible for bringing block-printing back to the forefront of Indian design. It was hypnotic, watching the printers at work, repeatedly pressing down intricately carved blocks onto fabric, and building up layers of patterns with each coat of ink. One of the main attractions at the V&A exhibition will be an 18th-century block-printed tent belonging to Tipu Sultan. The red floral motifs on the tent are not dissimilar to Singh’s signature red poppy motif, one that adorns her quilts, handkerchiefs and tablecloths. There’s an authenticity to her work that is hard to resist.

Fabric is everywhere in India, and each region speaks a different textile language. One visit, you might agree, just isn’t enough.

The Fabric of India, supported by Good Earth India, with thanks to Experion and Nirav Modi, is on at the V&A, London from October 3, 2015 – January 10, 2016. Vam.ac.uk

Photographs: Susie Lau; Victoria & Albert Museum (Manish Arora factory)

 

India had always been on my bucket list, but it felt like an impossible dream. Then, thanks to the Victoria and Albert Museum, I made my first ever trip, which both confirmed the stereotypes (chaotic, overwhelming, an assault on the senses) as well as got me curious about what lay beneath. In the wake of the V&A’s forthcoming The Fabric of India exhibition, I was invited on a three-day whistle-stop design tour of Delhi and Jaipur. Witnessing the deep love and appreciation of textiles among designers and craftspeople here was the best, most intense sort of introduction I could have had to India. Here’s what our whirlwind looked like, measured in pit-stops.

CRASH COURSE
Our journey began in Delhi, where we were taken through the textile exhibits at the National Museum by the curator of decorative arts, Anamika Pathak.  One of the most impressive pieces there was a 16th-century south Indian temple wall hanging, about 10 metres long, and depicting in intricate embroidery the seventh incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu. This artefact will be a part of the exhibition at the V&A. 

DELHI BY DESIGN
Dilli Haat was an obvious but enlightening first stop, filled with made-with-love objects. A good place to practise our tame haggling skills. Hauz Khas is young and hip, and at Ogaan, I got acquainted with some new designers and their aesthetics. I bought a beautifully customised denim jacket by péro by Aneeth Arora — purely for research purposes, of course. At Good Earth, I saw how Indian motifs and crafts could feature prominently in the kind of lifestyle that would appeal globally. In Shahpur Jat, we met designer Rashmi Varma, who marries the once-politicised khadi cloth with contemporary silhouettes.

FACTORY GIRL
It was at Manish Arora’s office and factory in Delhi’s garment district, Noida, that I got really excited. As someone who is passionate about slow fashion, I found it satisfying to have an internationally renowned designer like Arora take us through production processes where every seam and stitch is done on-site. Huddles of embroiderers were hard at work, completing production for Arora’s latest collection to go into stores. The techniques were traditional, but the motifs were anything but. This is why his work has managed to resonate on a wider scale. I loved discovering too that Arora has a separate Indian line, aimed at the domestic market. The sari on an acid trip? Yes, please!

We also glimpsed a very different side to contemporary Indian fashion at the offices of Abraham & Thakore, where we were mesmerised by the tactile subtleties of their clothes. I love the way they use neutral tones to allow techniques and skill to shine. Again, these clothes are rooted in tradition, but the results don’t owe their merit to craft alone. 

CRAFT CLASS
For the second part of our trip, we flew to Jaipur, where a day of crafts awaited, and we started at Haji-Badshah Miyan’s dye workshop. He and his apprentice demonstrated the traditional way of knotting up cloth to create resist patterns. Having watched the process of Japanese shibori dyeing, it was interesting for me to see the Indian take on the technique. 

 

In the old town of Jaipur, we went to the Sankalan workshops to witness probably the most intricate embroidery skills we saw on this trip. Silks stretched out on huge canvases were being worked on by skilled embroiders sewing on tiny flecks of silver metal ribbon onto chalked-out patterns. As a natural magpie, I had particular pleasure in seeing this gota embroidery done in the flesh and mostly, surprisingly, by men. 

To conclude our craft tour trio, just outside of Jaipur, in Amer, we went to the studio and workshop of textile designer Brigitte Singh, who is responsible for bringing block-printing back to the forefront of Indian design. It was hypnotic, watching the printers at work, repeatedly pressing down intricately carved blocks onto fabric, and building up layers of patterns with each coat of ink. One of the main attractions at the V&A exhibition will be an 18th-century block-printed tent belonging to Tipu Sultan. The red floral motifs on the tent are not dissimilar to Singh’s signature red poppy motif, one that adorns her quilts, handkerchiefs and tablecloths. There’s an authenticity to her work that is hard to resist.

Fabric is everywhere in India, and each region speaks a different textile language. One visit, you might agree, just isn’t enough.

The Fabric of India, supported by Good Earth India, with thanks to Experion and Nirav Modi, is on at the V&A, London from October 3, 2015 – January 10, 2016. Vam.ac.uk

Photographs: Susie Lau; Victoria & Albert Museum (Manish Arora factory)