When names of places like Beldanga, Barpali and Barabanki crop up in conversations in the perfumed corridors of the St. Regis hotel, Mumbai, you know it is Sustainable Fashion Day at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). At the 14th edition of the day dedicated to celebrating India’s traditional weaves, creative collaborations between designers and artisans took centrestage yet again.
The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) presented a show where Pallavi Shantam’s label Buna, Saloni Sakaria of ‘Third Floor Clothing’, London-based Lars Andersson and bridalwear designer Jewellyn Alvares were teamed with khadi weaving clusters from Burdwan, Murshidabad, Kanjarpur, Malda, Punjab and Chhattisgarh. Even as Rina Singh of Eka presented her most colour saturated and commercially buoyant collection yet, she highlighted the contribution of her textile technicians and cut shuttle weavers from Shantipur, West Bengal, ‘sojani’ embroiderers from Kashmir and chintz wood block developers from Pathapur, Gujarat. This spirit of widening fashion’s rarefied circle and broadening the spectrum of inclusion permeated day two and three of LFW, extending to include the craftsperson, to blur gender binaries and define identity and space.
While terms like Skype and Google Hangouts may not feature in every designer-weaver partnership, for labels like Indigene, Naushad Ali and Three by Pallavi Dhyani, they became mediums of communication in their collaborations with different weaving clusters, thanks to New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF). The designers relied on video conferencing to conduct workshops in colour trends and contemporary design with wi-fi enabled handloom weaving communities. Ruchi Tripathi and Jaya Bhatt of Indigene worked with ikat weaving clusters in Barpali and Nuapatna in Orissa. Their collection was a tribute to this resist tie–dyed and woven textile that evolved along the Silk Route in India, Central Asia, even Persia and Syria and took inspiration from motifs, geometric florals, silhouettes and shapes from these regions. Ali was inspired by the weaving cluster village of Musiri in Tamil Nadu and worked their cotton weaves with interesting geometrics, oversized checks and offset stripes into sleek and quilted separates. Dhyani worked in conjunction with the cotton weavers of Saidanpur village in Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, and presented a relaxed line of separates, predominantly in earthy tones with minimal applique and quilting details. Besides the fact that these labels were able to give traditional crafts a contemporary and commercial voice, the #ArtisansOfDigitalAge showcase was especially interesting because it took the designer-artisan alliance forward with the digital empowerment initiative, working towards socio-economic sustainability.
On Friday afternoon, as part of the #GenderBender group show, designers Resham Karmchandani and Sanya Suri’s male and female models exchanged jackets in a bid to display their label The Pot Plant’s philosophy that clothes needn’t heed gender normative restrictions. While gender neutral could be dismissed as fashion’s latest buzzword, there are a host of young designers, who are pushing the envelope for inclusivity in fashion. The Pot Plant’s ‘100% human’ line saw clamp dyeing, bandhani and hand-painting on kedia angarkhas, relaxed jackets, jumpsuits and pant saris aimed at both sexes. Sumiran Kabir Sharma’s label Anaam presented ‘Behrupiya’, with a fashion-art-performance installation led by poet Divya Dureja, supported by Engendered, a transnational arts and human rights organisation. His motley cast featured a wide spectrum of gender identities, including trans men and women from marginalised Hijra/Kothi communities. In another cubicle, Ayushman Mitra of Bobo Calcutta painted canvasses as his male and female models wore hyper printed and embroidered garments to illustrate his idea of gender homogeneity. Bloni by Akshat Bansal worked with regenerative nylon Econyl, wool and organza to communicate his mantra of neutral sustainability.
Later that evening, Kallol Datta presented ‘Volume 1 Issue 2’ in an installation format in his ongoing quest to understand form, fabric and their interactions with the human body. His preoccupation with the hijab and the subversive use of suppressive forms of clothing continued as shrouds and amplified shapes wore his trademark circular pattern-cutting, layering and cowls. For a man of many ideas and few words, Datta’s deliberations are best experienced in three-dimension.