Fashion as an applied art form has always been a crucible of creativity, often catalysing conversations between craft and couture, savoir-faire and style. Over the last few seasons, a litany of homegrown Indian labels are alchemising heritage with futurism. By looking inwards and celebrating art and craft forms indigenous to our country, these designers are initiating a cultural dialogue. One in which fashion sublimates folklore, ancient crafts get a new voice, art forms take the shape of kaleidoscopic prints, and rarefied weaving techniques get a contemporary touch.
For instance, designer duo Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja’s trip to the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan inspired their recent ‘Fresconian Series’. A modern rendition of their exploration of the walls of these Shekhawati havelis and their painterly quality was interpreted as five distinct prints by the brand.
Designer Shruti Sancheti’s last outing titled, ‘Alchemy’ evoked the frescoes and murals of her home town called Churu, also in Shekhawati. The ensembles echoed the folk music of dhola maru and the intricate miniature woodcraft synonymous with various communities in the region. Similarly Aarti Vijay Gupta in her offerings has artfully celebrated Gond art, Mandana art, Indian miniature paintings and Madhubani over the years. Also worth mentioning is designer Karan Torani, who has always toasted his Sindhi roots in his collections and campaigns incorporating folk music and rituals steeped in symbolism.
When designer Karishma Shahani Khan of zero-waste clothing label Ka-Sha went to London College of Fashion, she started looking inwards and began appreciating things from back home—the culture and art forms were a large part of them. “That’s when I started exploring it a lot more and worked at crafts organisations where I could be close to artisans. The stories behind the crafts really intrigued me. I think that’s when the love for it started and kept growing,” shares the designer, who is known for her dip-dyed bandhani dresses and upcycled appliqued jackets.
One’s world view is often shaped by one’s formative years. For instance, when designer Aarti Vijay Gupta visited Orissa back when she was a fashion student at NIFT Bombay, she was blown away by the beauty of Pattachitra paintings. And from then on, she was on a design journey to explore folklore and art forms. “When I launched my label, the India story was something I really wanted to bring to the forefront. I kept the language simple so in time people can recognise and find a connection to their roots,” she says.
For others like Karan Torani, their label became a voice to rediscover their own personal history and cultural roots. “Being the son of a tentwala in ‘90s Delhi, there was nobody I could share my stories with. Add to that my identity as a Sindhi whose forefathers came from Sindh, Pakistan during India’s partition. The Sindhi community was the largest displaced group and their family history and heirlooms never survived,” he says. Karan has often attempted to narrate forgotten tales of his past and bring to light societal taboos associated with the LGBTQ community (Jamali Qamali 2020 spring/summer) and women liberation (Kaaya 2020 festive) through campaigns and visual story-telling.
Diversity has been a key word for Shivan and Narresh and every time the duo narrows down an inspiration that is regional orcultural from our own country. For example, in their Patu Series, each of the prints derive their core inspiration from distinct tribal art forms such as Pattachitra art, Gond art and Tholu bommalata. Since the inception of her label, Shruti Sethi has worked with various clusters and craft techniques from Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Benares, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. “We still look all over the country for further stimulation and incitement and tap the glorious resources or rather gifts of our heritage,” she says.
As a brand working with peerless heritage of textiles and crafts, Shruti always feels the need to acknowledge the supremacy of the artisans and craftsmen, who have been trained from generations. “The label does not only generate employment for the artisans or craftsmen but also empowers them with a deep sense of self-reliance and confidence and in my small minuscule way, keeps their family tradition of craft alive,” she says. Over the last two years, Torani has been able to create a niche with his design language whilst continuing to serve his community of craftsmen, balancing the both to generate a revenue model which has become self-sustaining and grown at a rapid scale. “From a team of four karigars in my living room, to a company with over 150 employees, our growth has transformed Torani from being just a clothing label to a universe of limitless opportunities and a unique voice that stands apart in the fashion universe,” Karan says.
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