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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wool Worth

Ruchika Sachdeva on winning the International Woolmark Prize 2017/18 for womenswear and her idea of slow fashion

Written by Kimi Dangor | Updated: January 12, 2018 12:00:08 am
Ruchika Sachdeva (centre) with models wearing her design Morgan O’Donovan/The Woolmark Company

IN THE seven years since its inception Delhi-based designer Ruchika Sachdeva’s label Bodice has become synonymous with luxurious and transitional wardrobe basics, created with attention to detail and faultless technique, pushing the 29-year-old to the forefront of the Normcore wave in Indian fashion. And while the fashion trend Normcore is arbitrarily defined as ‘a style of dressing that involves the deliberate choice of unremarkable or unfashionable casual clothes’, there was nothing casual or unremarkable about the collection she presented before an esteemed jury at the International Woolmark Prize (IWP) 2017/2018 finals held during Pitti Uomo at Stazione Leopolda in Florence on Tuesday night.

Bodice, the Indian Subcontinent and Middle East finalist, won in the womenswear category, competing against five other designing talents from across the world, making Sachdeva the third Indian designer to join the ranks of past winners like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. Much like her predecessors and former IWP winners Rahul Mishra and Suket Dhir, the London College of Fashion alumni managed to floor a distinguished jury of judges with her “thoughtful” technique and holistic approach to fashion.

The capsule she presented, part of her Autumn-Winter 2018 line, combined Australian Merino wool with Indian artisanal expertise and crafted silhouettes that elevated Sachdeva’s “understated, yet special” philosophy even further. “It was quintessentially Bodice in essence, but with extensive textile intervention and exploration, right from the fibre and yarn stage,” said a triumphant Sachdeva from Florence, hours after her win.

The collection she calls “a marriage of tradition and technology”, marked the launch of her premier line Bodice Studio and displayed no theatrics of flamboyant embroidery, embellishment or vibrant jewelled colours that Indian fashion largely relies upon. Tailoring met drape, art met culture, reinvention met recycling and handloom fabrics met state-of-the-art mill-made textiles in the extremely well thought-out line of garments. And, as with most of her collections, the inspirations were myriad and distilled.

The colour story was derived from the colour blocking techniques of expressionist artist Tyeb Mehta and patterns were drawn from the geometry and linear iterations of Nasreen Mohamedi’s monochromatic works. “Mehta believed colour could evoke emotional responses. And Mohamedi’s penchant for lines and geometry is also something that fascinates me. They were both non-conformists and rejected stereotypes. And that is something I can identify with,” says Sachdeva.

To this colour palette of earthy pink, pale sea green, dusty blue, maroon, forest green and navy, she added swirling silhouettes inspired by India’s nautch dancers. “To represent their love for gold and silver jewellery, third generation weavers from Maheshwar wove silver zari into the silk and wool blend fabrics. Mills in Italy wove 12 per cent steel into Merino wool to give the textile structure and a subtle light-refracting sheen,” she says. Collaborating with weavers from Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, Sachdeva drew on the traditional and highly skilled technique of extra weft, where yarns are added by hand in between the warp and weft to make a pattern.

Mohamedi’s work found rendition in Bodice’s trademark pleating and was further enhanced by the traditional craft of kantha embroidery. “I told the judges how women in India, like my grandmother, have for generations recycled old saris into blankets for babies by stitching layers upon layers with this running stitch. But, instead of repurposing saris, we chose to do the embroidery with post-consumer recycled yarn and reinterpreted kantha in a more contemporary and global manner,” she says.

Also giving the ancient tenets of ayurveda a modern spin was Sachdeva’s choice of working with Bio-Dye in Sawantwadi, Maharashtra, using plant dyes and herbs to derive all-natural colours for her garments. Other touches of sustainability, which is fast becoming one of the cornerstones of Bodice, came in the form of enamelled coconut shell buttons and wooden trimmings. No wonder judges like designer Phillip Lim, digital entrepreneur Miroslava Duma and model Liya Kebede were impressed by Sachdeva’s ingenuity. “From the ingredients and dyes used all the way, to the application and everything in between, her collection really represents a modern woman,” said Lim post show. In essence, what Sachdeva describes as “Bodice’s foundation of slow fashion designed for longevity and the non-conformist individual”.

Sachdeva will receive a cash prize of AU$200,000, mentor support from industry experts and Woolmark certification for her winning collection. But what she is looking forward to is to see her designs and the efforts of the artisans she works with being stocked by some of the world’s most prestigious retailers including Boutique 1, Harvey Nichols, David Jones, Lane Crawford, LECLAIREUR, mytheresa.com, Ssense.com, and Tata CLiQ Luxury, among others. “I’m excited about showing my work on a global platform. Everyone will be able to buy Bodice anywhere in the world,” she says.

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