Gaurang Shah Curated
Indian Fashion Designer
CURATED BY :
Why it was so important for you to preserve Indian traditional weaves and textiles?
Because that’s our heritage, just like there is a need to preserve old forts, old artifacts, arts and crafts, in the same way, this is our tradition – textiles. After agriculture, textile is the second-largest sector that offers employment in India. There are thousands and lakhs of weavers in India. Each and every state in India has so many weavers and there is so much variety. Take Andhra-Telangana as an example- there are about 10 sectors of weaving, which are 10 major villages, and each village has its own, different type of weaving. Take Kashmir, for example- you have Kashmiri embroidery, Kali embroidery and weaving of shawls. Come to Rajasthan, you have bandhni, kota doria sarees, bandhejas. Come to UP, you have Benaras- which is the main sector, Lucknow and other sectors as well. You go to the East, each and every state has a different type and style. India is a country where each state has its own weave. And of course, all of their lives depend on us, folks like you and me, preserving and adorning these weaves.
what do you have to say about the fashion-fashion induced idea of ‘I don’t like to repeat my clothes’?
That’s a wrong thing, (at my brand) from the thought process of the design, up to the time that the saree actually comes out, it takes at least 1-1.5 years and this is just for one piece to come out. So, after all the time, (effort) and money that is put into it, if the customer only wears it once and discards of it, it is painful.
What’s that one message that you would like to give to young Indian fashion designers out there?
To fashion design students and young designers out there, we have enough weaving centers and weavers in India who are looking for work and we need you to come and work with them. There are enough designers in the west who make gowns and nets and chiffons and all those things. Why do you want to copy that when there are already enough designers doing that? Promote India, promote handlooms. And to others who are reading this, who love to wear clothes – wear handlooms, wear sarees.
What was the inspiration for your latest collection?
Our latest collection is inspired by Vrindavan, an ancient temple city: rich, handwoven heritage with bold patterns and classic cuts that reflected traditions of India. The range was inspired by textiles from around the country, such as organza, khadi, silk, and matka silk. The Vrindavan Collection is an eclectic range for the modern day bride in varied silhouettes like lehngas, anarkalis, kurtas, ghararas and heritage saris. The collection includes a menswear line like chikankari kurtas, Benarasi jackets, plain matka kurtas, patanpatola pagdis with kanjeevaram and embroidered dupattas. Fashionistas can look forward to something even more enchanting as re-create chintz in print, hand-painting, embroidery, and weaving.
What’s the secret to using traditional textile styles in contemporary looks?
Some of the most experimental textiles come from inspiration, such as nature, architecture, the fine arts or contemporary culture. The traditional textiles are the foundation for creative patterns and unique fabrics. Using the Jamdani weaving technique we have created amazing textile fusion that incorporate the past, blending beautifully with modern fashion aesthetics. For example we have a line of saris that are lighter but have the lustre of silk, such silk and organza blends, which allows for effortless draping. So far, our label has introduced ethnic weaves from several different states like patola silk from Patan, bandhini from Kutch, korvai weave from Kanchi, jamdani in Benaras and Paithani, matka silks, tussars and khadi. Vibrant colors inspire brides and bridegrooms to make their own fashion statement.
What are the bridal trends you are predicting?
For the stylish groom, the khaadi Jamdani achkans, Kota kurtas teamed with Patan Patola shawls, are sure to be the latest in wedding looks. The Kanjeevaram kurta paired with a Paithani is also a must-have trend. For the bride, our favourites are Jamdani handwoven heritage saris, traditional ghagras, swirling anarkalis and floor-skimming lehngas in yellow, powder blue, sea blue, mint, green and white. We have introduced unconventional color combinations to provide additional options to the traditional bridal color palette.
How can brides access the collection?
We ship internationally and can be contacted via email, website and whatsapp.
How did your association with weavers start?
I started working with weavers 10 years back. My father has a store for matching blouses since 1962. From the age of eight, I used to go and help him out after school. By seeing various kinds of fabric for many years, I got interested in materials. After my college, I joined my father's business and in 1999, I opened an exclusive store for saris. I identified a weaver from Uppada in Andhra Pradesh, to source saris. I found that people were not interested in those saris as the fabric was not good and the colour combination, dull. Nobody wanted to wear those saris. So, I spoke to the weavers and we changed the whole fabric and made the design more contemporary and colourful and very bright. Slowly, I started innovating on the material and design.
How do you describe your interactions with the weavers?
What I did first was just observe them. I tried to learn how they wove and what their limitations were. They used to weave only small, minute designs but slowly, I started giving them bolder floral and geometric designs.
What sets you apart from other textile based designers?
I only weave designs on the fabric. What others do through embroidery, attaching border, printing, etc, I do in weave. That is my forte.
What motivated you to weave floral designs, butterflies, peacocks, etc on fabrics?
My inspiration is nature. I want people to experience the same happiness while seeing my fabrics. I use the vibrant colours that you see in nature and you feel peaceful seeing them. If I weave a lotus flower on a fabric, I want everyone to feel that it's a real flower! My weavers are doing it wonderfully well too.
Initially when you asked the weavers to weave such designs, how did they react?
It took some time for them to do what I wanted. They live in some remote villages and they do not know what urban women want. They just did what their forefathers had been doing for ages. So, they needed guidance to move away from the beaten path. When they came to know that the new weaves were being liked by all and were being bought in the market, they got enthused. It meant they got more money. So, they love it now.
You started with just one weaver and now you work with 450 weavers. How was the life of the first weaver when you met him?
I started working with a weaver in Uppada in 2000. At that time, the family was living in a small hut with just one gloomy room where they used to sit with the loom and weave. There was no electricity in the house, and there were no roads in the village. Today, if you go and see the village, you will see that there are pucca roads. The weavers have concrete houses with 2-3 rooms with all the amenities like TV, fridge, etc. in them. Earlier, each of them had only one loom, today they have 2-3 looms and they employ youngsters who want to learn the art.
How did you get attracted to khadi?
In 1999-2000, the craze was for Chiffon, Georgette, etc. Nobody cared for khadi. I was looking for an alternative to silk and suddenly one day I found a weaver weaving khadi saris. I liked the fabric a lot and the structure of the material also was very good. It was falling better than silk and it was more long lasting and cheaper than silk. More than that, the weavers I met were ready to weave the jamdani designs (the origins of this design are said to be in Persia and mostly consists f geometric and floral patterns) that I wanted. The fabric was so heavy that even the heavy jamdani I wanted could be done on the material. I wanted to re-introduce such a wonderful material to Indians and the world and tell that this is part of our heritage.
Did you have difficulty in making modern India accept khadi?
Yes, I did. It took me three years to make my customers understand what I was saying. At that time, my almarahs were full of stock; the khadi saris hardly sold. I had to hard sell them to my customers, and I sold them at cost price. I used to tell my customers that even after 10-15 years, the khadi saris would look new but they did not believe me. Today, those who bought in the beginning come and tell me the same thing. Today, it is a totally different picture. My almarahs are always empty. I have so many orders that I find it difficult to meet the demand. It takes 7 to 8 months for the weavers to make one heavily designed sari.
You said it took you three years to make people buy khadi saris. How tough were those three years for you as an entrepreneur?
They were the toughest three years of my career. I had to pay my weavers to weave what I wanted. I did not want my weavers to go and work for somebody else. At the same time, I was forced to sell at cost price as there were not many takers for khadi.
Is the younger generation in the villages interested in weaving, or are they looking for other jobs?
Yes, that is the biggest problem I face. Most of the weavers are growing old and the new generation is not interested in weaving. They are not interested in sitting in front of a loom for months; they are looking for jobs in factories and IT companies. Look at Kancheepuram. The weaving industry is finished there. All the youngsters prefer working in a Ford or a Nokia or a Hyundai factory to weaving. They get more money by working in the factories than in weaving. In Mangalgiri in Andhra also, young weavers prefer working in industries and not in handloom. Also, power looms have replaced large numbers of handlooms. At the same time, in one village in Andhra, I started with one weaver, and today 70 weavers' families work for me; that is 90 per cent of the weavers in the village.
You work with 450 weavers across many states now. Tell us about your experience of working with them.
These 450 weavers are spread across five states: Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. One of the problems I faced in Uppada was, buyers started going directly to my weavers to buy my designs. Some of the weavers even sold my saris directly. So, I had to stop working with them and I stopped all the 125 looms I had there. When I give them designs and pay for their work, I expect them to work for me. Now, I have a secret place where I have looms and weavers work on my designs.
Can you elaborate how you work with the weavers?
After Pongal, the weavers are ready to change the designs. Last year, it took them four months to weave one sari. The intricate designs I have given this year may take them 6 to 7 months to weave, and they are ready to do that. At present, I work with 450 weavers. I am ready to have 1000 weavers if I can get them to work for me.
You were at the Berlin Fashion Week . How did the international crowd react to your designs and the fabric?
Berlin Fashion Week was one of the best in the world and I had to be there to make an international presence. And, I got a standing ovation from all the 500 people and 90 per cent of them were non-Indians. It was an overwhelming experience. I had used floral designs with flying birds, etc on khadi. Other designers took the effort to call and tell me that they felt so peaceful looking at my designs. See, it is like sitting in your garden in the morning. You feel tranquil if you sit there even for ten minutes. They all said that they saw someone showing the tradition of India. I strongly feel that when you go to international festivals, you must show our fabric, our designs, our culture and our traditions. What is the point in doing what they are doing? I showed saris to them saying this were what Indian women wear.
How was the response of the people at Berlin Fashion Week to khadi?
Extremely good. They saw it as an alternative to their regular clothing. I showed them khadi in all western wear too. The show was for eco-friendliness, and what better material than khadi can there be for eco-friendliness? After the Berlin Fashion Week, I have got invitations from Vancouver Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, etc.
How important was getting the best designer award at the just concluded Lakme fashion week?
I was selected as the best designer on Indian textiles and hand weave. Nobody shows Kancheepuram saris or traditional weave at the fashion weeks, and that was why I wanted to show the traditional vibrant Indian designs in an Indian material . I used only four colours.
Are your saris not expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary people?
Yes, the jamdani designs that are fully woven are very time consuming to weave, so they are expensive. They may cost around Rs 80,000. But we also weave saris in the range of Rs 12,000 to Rs 13,000 with simple designs. Remember, in all my saris, designs are woven.
Where do you see the future of khadi?
It will be there for many, many more years. Like it has survived all these years, it will survive some more years. I am quite hopeful.
You’ve had quite the successful journey in the fashion world. Can you tell us what it’s been like so far?
It has been immensely satisfying as we see the rising adulation for handcrafted textiles. What makes me even prouder is the upliftment and economic stability we have been able to create for more than 800 weavers across the nation. We have also been able to introduce a lot of innovation in jamdani weaving technique, block printing, hand painting, natural dyes, and interweaving textiles. What is also heartening is that the new generations of weavers have begun to have faith in the business of weaving, and they are returning to the looms all over again. To enhance sustainability, we have also helped the artisans acquire diversity in their weaving techniques.
Take us through some of the highlights of your career.
Bringing the saree back in vogue on the fashion platform gives me lot of joy. The introduction of the big border is another interesting milestone in my textile design career – new textures, cross-border designs, and techniques! Every day, every saree is a milestone for me! I first conceptualised my fashion design journey sitting in my father’s small Indian Emporium store, which was established in 1962 and which sold sarees and textiles. As I grew up, I felt that women would be ready to move beyond georgette and chiffons sarees if presented with alternative fabric, textures, and patterns. My vision was to create sarees made in traditional jamdani weaves on handwoven fabrics, using eco-friendly techniques like the use of natural dyes and giving a modern twist to our traditional fabrics. Bringing about these changes was overwhelming. Yet I pursued them with grit and eventually I feel great pride when my clients admire the work I present to them season after season.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered, and how do you deal with them?
The biggest challenge was to ‘change’ the conventional outlook of Indian textiles from being a boring work of fashion art to something far more vibrant, youthful, and an all-occasion showstopper. It was a Herculean task to build confidence even at the grassroots weaver level; giving them the confidence that change will bring riches to them and to their work. Most importantly, it will also bring about sustainability.
Who are your favourite fashion icons, and why?
For me, every woman in the universe is a fashion icon. They carry a personality of their own when they wear clothing that becomes a trendsetter. In the influencer world, I have immense admiration for Rekha, Kirron Kher, and Sridevi, who carry sarees with great aplomb. Vidya Balan is a staunch supporter of the traditional handwoven saree, and Sonam Kapoor’s fashion choices, which blend the past with modernity, are also admirable. I am always pleased to see a fashion icon seeking fashion and sarees from us; it is absolutely inspiring and a tribute to our work in jamdani weaving.
What inspires you?
The saree. The six-yard wonder has fascinated me ever since I was an eight-year-old boy visiting my father’s store. The saree has given my dreams life. My team of weavers breathes life into every near-impossible creative thought. Everyone around me inspires me – my customers, my weavers, nature, and the architectural marvels of India, traditions, and culture.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
Knowing is about being practical and things being achievable. It is a continuous process. The passion to learn, the willingness to break new barriers in textile innovation, and the faith in your abilities are the biggest takeaways in my life – as a young boy till now. This was my inner-self, and I knew that I had to harness this as I grew up. What is equally important is the ability to rise even when you fall, and to continue on the path you believe in. Another biggest lesson was to understand everything at the grassroots level. Before embarking on my journey as a textile designer, I learnt what textiles are about – the colours, the fabrics, the weaving technique, the limitation in the looms, weaver challenges, and eventually the distribution. If you don’t understand textiles, then you are not fit to be in the business of fashion.
Do you believe a fashion designer needs to have a presence in the film industry in order to reach out to a wider audience?
It surely is the strongest medium to reach a huge audience and makes a stronger impact to give out a message.
Sari is no longer seen as a traditional attire - it has made it to the boardrooms. To what do you attribute this shift in attitude?
The whole system is going back to its roots. In fashion, living and even lifestyle. Everyone has been taking the traditional route and including it in everyday life.
How important a role does Bollywood play in changing the way the sari is perceived by youngsters?
It definitely plays a really huge role, specially with the younger generation. When they see their idol wear something they start giving it that importance.
Is there a difference in the buying habits of someone from Chennai as compared to a person from Mumbai? And do your clients from New York and London desire something different?
I do very classic clothing which is timeless. So even though someone in Chennai would be inclined to a Kanjeevaram as opposed to someone in Mumbai who would prefer a Patan Patola, all my clients have a similar approach towards clothing and hence in New York or Kolkata my range works with the women who appreciate and understand textiles.
Your saris are known for their rich, vibrant colours and motifs. When you envisage your saris, what kind of women do you see in them?
Any woman who appreciates and understands weaves is the woman who I make them for.
You are instrumental in promoting handloom weaves and reviving its presence in the Indian woman's wardrobe. What do you consider your USP in this field?
My USP is my innovation in textures, colour combinations and contemporising traditional textiles and making them relevant to the world now
Whether someone tags you on Insta, or posts on FB or Twitter, social media today has a reach which was unimaginable before. What are your thoughts on it as a marketing tool?
It is an amazing platform which has made communication so easy in this world. It has connected me to people and given the easiest access to them and me.
Between fabric, colour and motifs (design element) - which is the most important aspect of creating a piece of wearable art, according to you?
t is a mix and balance of all of it. There is no specific route that I go down. Sometimes I come across an inspiration for a motif and it begins from there, sometimes it's a colour that I saw or a combination that I thought of and it begins from there.
What does your new collection symbolise?
Garam Masala was a great way to showcase the traditional styles of India, combining the antiquity with a contemporary outlook. The monochromatic theme of my collection symbolises our daily mundane lives where an ‘out of the ordinary’ experience adds flavour to our lives and makes it interesting, just like the pinch of garam masala when it is added to our food. The collection was in collaboration with Lakmé Salon.
Can you take us through the mood board and colour palette?
The colour white stands for purity and tranquillity and the black stands for the confidence, and strength that every woman possesses. The significant types of ingredients that go into making garam masala are in the colour palette, in addition to a swash of deep red, beige, pomegranate pinks, and blues on motifs or borders.
Where did you source your fabric from?
The weaves are from the handloom clusters of Kanchi from Tamil Nadu, Benaras from Uttar Pradesh, Patan from Gujarat, Kota from Rajasthan, Puttapakka from Telangana, Uppada, Khadi from Andhra Pradesh, Paithani from Maharashtra, jamdani from West Bengal, and Kani from Kashmir.
Can you please elaborate on the weaving techniques and embellishments used?
Our textiles encompassed weaving, embroidery and a variety of surface techniques which can take over six months to create and are wearable masterpieces. To give an example, for the Dhakai jamdani sari in Garam Masala, we used a fine count (300) khadi yarn that took a year to be woven. The yarn is so fine that you won’t see it clearly with the naked eye. It’s delicate, lightweight and involved surface techniques finished with subtlety. For another sari, it took two years just to design the Parsi French knot floral embroidery border. Lavish volumes of the fabric have gone into some of the lehengas and anarkalis. In some of the pieces, we have used up to 10 metres of fine cotton. We also liberally added an extra flare to add a splash of grandeur.
How important was it to have Tabu as the show stopper for the Lakmé launch?
Tabu was an instantaneous choice for me. She lent perfect synergy to the theme that I had visualised for Garam Masala. Her charismatic voice, as she recited the poetry, and the graced with which she walked the ramp with a black Kanjeevaram ghagra paired with Patan dupatta was magical.
What was the inspiration behind making Iqbal Patni’s poem an integral part of your showcase? What does it symbolise?
The theme is an ode to womanhood. It is a reflection of every woman’s inner being, her personality and sensibilities for a distinctive style and appeal. The idea behind crafting the poem was to also echo the diverse, multi-tasking character of a woman.
This was also the first time your daughters made a stage debut...
It was their love for my work, my appreciation for their belief in what I do, and their passion to learn and know Indian textiles. We were in search of ways to complement each other, and this happened.