As she performed her hit number Little toy guns at the CMT Awards in Tennessee, US, last month, it was more than just songstress Carrie Underwood’s performance that set the stage on fire. There was no mistaking the mega-watt spangle of mirror-work on her black Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla ensemble, thanks to the over 2,000 individual pieces of mirrored glass sown onto the organza fabric. In wearing the duo’s “Funk Mirror” dress, Underwood, literally, mirrored a trend that has popped up on Burberry Prorsum’s Autumn-Winter 2015 runway, tiptoed on to the Bollywood red carpet and twinkled its way on to bridal finery, indo-western silhouettes and even accessories.
Long obsessed with Swarovski crystals and a surfeit of synthetic shiny sequins, Indian designers are turning to mirror-work, shisha or aabhla bharat kaam to add bling to their creations. An age-old craft, where a mirrored piece is affixed on to the fabric by being encased within a web of threadwork, it finds its roots in traditions branching from the pastoral Rabaris of Kutch, to colourful Rajasthani attire and the embroidery-intensive phulkari craft of the Punjab plains.
While sartorial history claims mirror-work finds its origins in Persian tradition, this handicraft, believed to have been used to ward off evil spirits, is today a constant source of inspiration for designers such as Abu-Sandeep, Manish Arora, Malini Ramani and Arpita Mehta.
Mehta’s preoccupation with aabhla kaam harkens back to her memories of garba performances as a child. “My fascination with mirror-work stayed on and when I launched my label, I decided to modify it to give it a more contemporary look,” she says. Cut to 2013, actor Shilpa Shetty stepped out on Nach Baliye sets in Mehta’s mirror-work blouse and pink sari combo and since then this embroidery technique has become the mainstay of her brand.
“I’ve done mirror-work with golden thread, with the added touch of cutwork, salli, cut daana embroidery, pearls and gota and drawn it completely away from the garba reference,” she says. That Mehta re-visited this much loved technique for her summer collection didn’t came as a surprise to many, but the season also saw sparkly mirror-work adding bling to collections by Suneet Varma, Payal Singhal, Deepika Govind, Shon Radhawa, Dev r Nil, and even Mehta’s mentor Manish Malhotra.
Varma, whose mere mention conjures up visions of Chantilly lace, diaphanous fabrics and the glint of Swarovski crystals, abandoned his Venetian glamour template for his Summer/Resort 2015 showcase at Lakme Fashion Week. Instead, vibrant colours exploded with the glint of mirror-work in a collection that was an amalgamation of Gujarati, Rajasthani and Punjabi embroidery traditions.
“While mirror-work is common to all three, there is a marked differences in technique and execution. While Gujarat also does gold kasab (metal thread) mirror-work, in Punjab shiny kaccha resham is used, and Rajasthan uses natural dyes, regular resham and mixes it with applique work,” explains the maestro, whose mirror-splashed kalidar jackets, lehengas and saris, were also accompanied by western pieces such as dresses, cropped jackets, shorts and patchwork ponchos.
It is this ability to extend beyond the Indianwear paradigm that has kept mirror-work relevant till date, believes Singhal. “It’s a classic embroidery and its versatility lies in the fact that as a raw material, it’s just a piece of mirror. It can be used in myriad patterns and motifs,” says Singhal, who has used it in a kitschy translation in the past, but decided to stick with subtlety for her Summer/Resort line “Palace of Mirrors”. Singhal artfully used single aabhlas to accentuate prints, added hints of zardozi and even combined them with cutwork for a jaali-like effect, proving that mirror-work can be as folksy or as sophisticated as you want it to be.
“There’s something very boho-chic, gypsy-like, yet sexy and glam about this craft, which is why I’ve had bridal clients from as far away as London and Dubai demanding mirror-work pieces,” says Varma.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines