The Language of Textiles

London-based designer Nigel Atkinson draws inspiration from fabrics in India for his textured prints.

Written by Pallavi Pundir | Published: September 29, 2013 4:29:09 am

In the late ’80s,Nigel Atkinson found himself in the middle of a fashion textile revolution. Fresh out of college,he had pioneered what he calls,an “individual language for printed textiles” in which he used heat reactive inks — often on the back of the fabric — to create 3D and “technically ambiguous” surfaces. “This had not been done before to my knowledge. Fabrics that look woven or embroidered,but on close inspection are actually printed,” he says. His earliest clients included cult names such as Azzedine Alaia,Romeo Gilgli,Nino Cerutti and Issey Miyake.

Now at 49,and based in London and southern France,Atkinson has also come to be known for his long-standing relationship with craftsmen from England,Japan and most prominently — India. His 15-year association with Indian craftsmen — particularly those from West Bengal,Assam,Punjab,Bihar and Kutch — has resulted in his latest collection called “Light on India-Light from Japan”,which he showcased at the recently concluded London Design Festival and plans to bring to India.


Atkinson is essentially an artist trained in painting,drawing and art history. “My interest was in art,but I didn’t have the precocity as a teenager to concentrate solely on art. I felt that textiles would be more vocational,” says the graduate of Winchester School of Art. Atkinson’s influences are varied — music,poetry,history,art,philosophy and nature.


Exploring the effect of light on an embroidered surface,Atkinson makes use of reflective mirrors and foils,sequins and panels of framed fabric. “For me,light is the inspiration,particularly natural light,as it continuously changes and transforms everything we see,” he says. Along with India influences — seen through his use of Assam silk,hilika natural dyes and silk matka for some of the works — Atkinson uses the simplicity and refinement of Japanese design.


It all started with a chance viewing of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali in 1991,which set him off on a classic trail of Agra,Jodhpur,Jaipur,Pushkar,Shekawati,Kerala and Varanasi. “I was good at finding special,sometimes heirloom,pieces which were easily available but still hidden from most tourists,” he says. Particularly enchanted by the turbans and mirror work from Rajasthan (“Their dress gives them a sense of belonging,identity and community”),his journey began from 1997 onwards.


“How does one approach one’s own creations,as a Westerner? How does one do justice to the skill of the craftsmen,whose techniques have passed down through many generations and are so often sadly squandered on throw-away consumer junk?” Atkinson often wonders as he blurs boundaries in design and sourcing base clothes. “My approach is to carefully observe regional styles and skills,and to then interpret them in a distilled form,with the highest quality of fabric,” he explains. About his style inevitably seeping into the traditional works,he says,“Discerning Indian clients have responded to something which is familiar but looks quite new.”


Working on getting his collection to India,Atkinson says,“India now has a growing refinement in museums and galleries which had not been a part of its past.” In addition,the fabric panels from “Light on India: Light from Japan”,which Atkinson has designed to look like paintings,are a part of an ongoing project. Currently,working on projects in London and Doha,Atkinson will also show in Hamptons,New York and Mustique.

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