Passed on from one generation to another,a vibrant phulkari dupatta or odhni is what a Punjabi brides trousseau is mostly packed in. Mine was carefully held together by a flaming red phulkari dupatta,that was once my mothers. Wear it on special occasions,no safety pins and make sure you wrap it in mul-mul, was my mothers advice before she placed it in the bags I would carry to my new home. Phulkaris,as the embroidered dupattas are referred to,are indeed a prized possession in Sikh homes mainly because the hand embroidery is a dying art. Literally meaning art of flower,where phul comes from the word flower,and kari is the technique of embroidery,phulkari was made by the ladies in the village who would embroider elaborate pieces. In the bagh style,its hard to spot an inch of the base material. Over the years,it has,to use a cliche,been out of fashion limiting itself to a trousseau must-have even though traditional khadder (handspun cotton) has made way for softer chiffon.
There are few craft clusters in Punjab that have been revived by the government but the finesse is missing. Also the new generation sees Phulkari as a thing of the past, says Sikh couturier and designer Sahiba J Singh. The Chandigarh-based designer has always admired the geometric designs of the embroidery and was looking for ways to contemporise it. I first made a few suits that used phulkari in parts. For instance on the lapels,on cuffs,as a highlight,even on juttis and paired it with block prints, says Singh. The collection was well- received and Singh decided to go with the flow. While her Spring-Summer 2012 collection saw phulkari panels on suits,tunics and dupattas,shes now working on an exclusive menswear line with phulkari. Usually phulkari denotes all over embroidery for women. I have used patterns of it on shirts,jackets and salwars for men for Autumn-Winter 2012, explains Singh who has been booked for orders already.
Using traditional designs but keeping the silhouette contemporary is the way to keep Phulkari alive,feels designer Gunjan Nagpal. Under her label Aura,Nagpal has designed a collection of limited edition Phulkari ensembles inspired by the traditional Bagh. The densely embroidered kurtas with their asymmetrical hemlines and sleeves in fine net have been designed to appeal to a younger age group. The idea came when I decided to send in my work for the Generation Next category at Lakme Fashion Week, shares Nagpal. Looking to present the states vibrancy,Nagpal decided to work with phulkari. It was hard work to to source embroiders who could stitch according to my colour palette and designs, says Nagpal. Thought meant to be just samples first,the demand from customers has got Nagpal to dish out a collection .
Phulkari is no longer restricted to just a dupatta says one of Punjabs foremost designers Honii Sandhu. Having dressed the royalty of Patiala for years,Sandhu is pairing Phulkari with other Indian embroideries like dabka and aari. The odhni is an heirloom piece and can be made to fit in with todays times by the way its put together. Phulkari saris are also very trendy, says Sandhu who has tie-ups with artisans in Punjabs villages who embroider for her. Working on designs that include Phulkari motifs like phool-patti (florals) and jaal (all over) with gota,Sandhus work has found takers in Canada,UK and even Dubai. The best part of a Phulkari are the colours. Sunny yellow,flaming red,parrot green,kesari orange,fuchsia…the vibrancy of Punjab and its people is so well reflected in the Phulkari. It would be a shame to let this heritage fade away, sums up.