The P&P Project

Beyond Six Yards: Gaurang Shah

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Gaurang Shah embarked on his journey as a textile advocate almost two decades ago.  His mission was simple: Make handloom relevant to the global Indian woman because he believes that she is the best ambassador of India and its unique textile heritage. His story began with reimagining the Upada of Andhra Pradesh, and in the last 17 years he has grown from working with 8 weavers in one region to more than 800 weavers through the country.
With a focus on textile fusion and artisanal diversity and harboring a soft spot for the Jamdani weave, the brand has now expanded to include Kota, Paithani, Benarasi, Patan Patola, Khadi and Dhakai. We caught up with the designer to chat about our fave fashion topic — the sari.

What was the sari scene like back in 2001?
The love for the sari were almost fading as more and more women in India were choosing western wear. Back then, handlooms lacked the modernity women craved and there was a strong drift towards chiffon and georgette due to its ability to drape easily. For a textile admirer like me, it was like a moment of ‘pause’, where I felt the need to come up with ways to make the handloom sari back in vogue. Weavers needed to be convinced to innovate with unique techniques and to create a new fusion of textiles. It was challenge but I loved every moment, and today when I see the sari receiving  standing ovation on fashion week runways or on celebrities, the satisfaction is immense.

The designer specializes in Jamdani. Jamdani is a brocaded fabric woven with discontinuous extra weft yarns. When Gaurang couldn’t find craftsmen to weave his creations, he began training local weaver’s families, even setting up new looms and introducing them to new forms of Jamdani weaving.

What is the mission of your brand?
We believe that there is a heirloom piece for every single woman out there and we hope that women will take great pride in wearing the sari on every single occasion. Our mission is to make the handloom relevant to the global Indian woman because we believe that she is the ambassador of our nation and its unique textile heritage. The goal is not only to make our brand universally appealing, but to make handloom a sustainable grassroots activity offering weavers and other ancillary trades a stable livelihood. Creating new clusters, new looms, artisanal diversity for our weavers and rewarding them with economic boom, was and will always continue to be my main focus. The goal was to bring sari back in vogue and according to me, the only way you can make craft a passion is if you emphasize on productivity and economic impact.

How would you describe your design sensibility?
A fine balance between traditional heritage and a contemporary sensibility.

Looks from Chitravali, an anthology of 40 handcrafted ensembles inspired by 30 frescos from caves of Ajanta. “A master painter replicated the frescos of the caves and Kalamkari paintings were created using natural dyes and involved 17 tedious steps to process.” Kanjeevaram’s signature bright colors were subdued in the natural dyes, using korvai weaving technique while maintaining with archaic temple tales.

What is the process of creating a Gaurang sari?
Every pattern that we envision is laboriously sketched for days and months before turning them over to the weaver to be woven in his looms. The process and the technique are different and unique for each weave and state, so the timeline depends on the design and weaving complexity. Some of our creations have taken over three to four years to become a reality.

Did you ever imagine your label to experience this mainstream success and how important is it to have a celebrity like Vidya Balan patronize the brand?
The mainstream attention certainly wasn’t immediate. It took me a couple of years to make my customers understand what my creations were and what it would mean to them as a fashion statement. In the early days, my almirahs were full of stock, the khadi saris hardly sold, and now they fly off the shelf as soon as they leave the loom.
Vidya Balan is a constant inspiration for us. She is passionate towards the handloom, especially the sari and has a deep understanding of how it is woven, the eco angle, the natural colors and so much more. It is the confidence with which she wears a sari that makes it glorious.

Runway image credit: Gaurang Shah

P.S: High Heel Confidential is an associate producer of a film that’s part of The Sari Series: An Anthology of Drape. The passion for Sari is real, like you didn’t already know that!

Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017: Top 5 Looks

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Having sifted through the usual winter party cocktail mix of faux fur, sequins, leather and big earrings, here are five new looks/trends that stood out from the recently concluded Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017.

Volume With A Side Of More Volume
Cocktail dresses are fine, but something has to be said to said about a woman in high waist graphic pants and a high shine metallic blouse. 431-88 sent out their ‘Studio 5’4 top tucked into a 70s style pant. The tuck in did the trick. And here I have spent so many days trying to ‘balance’ a voluminous bottom with a fitted top.

The Sculpted Sari
A contemporary style story set in a vintage backdrop, Amit Aggarwal is one of the most lusted labels on these pages. This season, we can’t stop staring at his saris. His signature moulding and cording, architectural/industrial vibe, high sheen and structure in his fortified weaves, now to wait and watch when those saris and bodices make an appearance on the red carpet.

Sheer Bomber + Dress
At a time when your fashion maverick-ness is gauged by the art of layering, and a statement dress just isn’t enough, I am totally stealing Falguni & Shane Peacock’s sheer bomber + dress idea. I may have to replace the sequin on the dress with something less sparkly like a stripe but am definitely prioritizing the hunt for a sheer bomber. This is just the perfect antidote to the times I refused to ‘cover’ the dress with a jacket, and a stole just didn’t make the cut. (TBH I did go through a phase when I thought draping a shawl over dress was genius styling. Feel free to judge me, I am too!)

The Big Mix
Every few months I resolve to be that fashion forward person who effortlessly mixes textures and clashes prints. Then, I just go back to wearing blue jeans with anything and everything. I envy the ease with which Gen Next designers Saaksha & Kinni mixed a sequin spangled skirt with stripes and floral.

Tug Of Tassel
Favored by everyone alike, from emerging labels like Monika Nidhii (in picture) and doyens like Manish Malhotra, what’s Winter/Festive without some tassel or fringe-induced drama? PS: Whether or not I get my hands on a fringed skirt or blouse, am definitely not taking off my tassel earrings this entire season!

Three Sarees To Start With If You’ve Never Worn One- Part Two

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Mom, an avid saree wearer and a textile enthusiast, Rushika of ‘Life In A Saree‘ takes a keen interest in handwoven fabrics. Instead of reaching for sarees only on occasions, she’s been wearing them to work nearly all the time now.

And luckily for her many followers on Instagram, she chronicles the sarees and the stories behind them, one image at a time. You can follow her on Instagram here.

In this column, she shares with us her three picks for sari-wearing beginners.

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Three Sarees To Start With If You’ve Never Worn One

It is very difficult for me to pick just three from the vast variety of weaves out there! But if I am to play favorites, I’d say start with one saree that can last a 12 hour workday, one which can transition well from work to after hours, and one which is glamorous enough to be worn to occasions, the common thread between all three being comfort and easy of draping.

1. Kota Doria

Soft, gauzy Kota Doria sarees are a great place to begin with if one is looking to incorporate sarees as work wear. These may be all cotton or cotton silk, though it is best to steer clear of the stiffer and shinier synthetic, factory made mimic called Supernet. With the characteristic square chequered pattern akin to graph paper checks which is technically called Khat, wearing a Kota Doria is as good as wearing woven air! These are a popular base fabric for surface techniques like tie and dye (most leheriya), hand block printing or hand embroidery like Chikankari. The feel and the fall of an unstarched Kota Doria isn’t too different from wearing say, a chiffon, but minus the slipperiness of the latter, which makes them a fantastic starting point to foray into cotton sarees.

In Pochampalli Ikat And Odisha Ikat

2. Ikat

For sarees that can go from day to night, work to play, look no further than Ikats! Ikat is a technique of resist dying of the yarns before they get woven which is practiced in places ranging from Uzbekistan to Indonesia and Japan to South America. India has a rich Ikat weaving tradition concentrated in Gujarat, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and parts of Tamilnadu. An Ikat saree may be all cotton, silk-cotton or all silk. From the intricate figurative patterns of Odisha Ikat, to the striking geometric and color block Ikats from Andhra/Telangana, to the exquisite Paatan Patola double Ikats from Gujarat – there’s something to suit all tastes and budgets.

In Kota Doria And Tanchhoi

3. Benarasi

Nothing like a Benarasi silk for days when you need to dress to impress! Did you know that the term encompasses a variety of silks, right from bling fests like the Kataan silk Benarasis to the stunning Khaddi georgettes, to subtle raw silk Benarasis to intricate Tanchhoi silks without a speck of Zari?! Regardless of the variant, a Benarasi has been a part of the occasion wear lexicon of vast swathes of India since centuries and more often than not, you’re likely to find an old Benarasi lurking in your closet. These are such timeless classics that even a decades old Benarasi is unlikely to look dated if styled with a contemporary blouse.

Start with these three and you are well on your way!

Three Sarees To Start With If You’ve Never Worn One- Part One

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Sumitra Selvaraj has been wearing sarees to work since she was in her twenties. And it frustrates her that weearing a saree regularly is considered somewhat odd. She believes it’s not the saree, rather the society’s perception of it that needs to be examined. And she’s been championing the cause and being part of the discussion, one saree at a time.

When not writing Sarees and Stories, she can usually be found curled up and day-dreaming with a book, some single malt, her two dogs and husband all within easy reach. Find her Instagram here!

In this column, she shares with us her three picks for sari-wearing beginners.

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Three Sarees to Start With If You’ve Never Worn One

1. Raw Silk

If you’re planning on purchasing a saree for the first time, I’ll assume that it’s to wear to an event or a special occasion. Have you considered a Raw Silk saree?

The name of the saree comes from the fact that the gummy coating on the silk filament is not removed prior to spinning, resulting in a silk yarn that is knobbly and uneven textured. This is then woven in a saree with a characteristically coarse feel, (compared to most silk sarees, which are spun from yarn made of ‘cleaned’ silk filaments) but the advantage of this is that the saree is easy to pleat and falls beautifully with little effort.
Also, the uneven texture of the saree means that light reflects off of it differently, giving Raw Silk sarees a depth of colour like no other.

In Chettinad Cotton And Raw Silk (Second From Right) Sarees

2. Chettinad Cotton

When I started working, Chettinad Cotton sarees were my choice of office wear because the price point of these sarees was extremely wallet-friendly!

Traditionally, Chettinad Cotton sarees are starched before draping, and this is what lends to its reputation of a ‘difficult’ saree. The secret of perfecting a Chettinad Cotton drape, lies in its starched countenance. Most Chettinad Cotton sarees come with a running blouse piece, which means that you need to remove a metre of fabric from the inside edge of the saree, to sew the blouse. My suggestion to you is to leave the running blouse material as is, and work with a saree that is almost 7 yards long. Make deep pleats to tuck into the waist; the deeper the pleat, the more likely it is to stay in place.

In Raw Silk And Khesh (Centre) Sarees

3. Khesh

If you’re looking for something that doesn’t require any special treatment, my suggestion would be a Khesh; these are soft cotton sarees that utilise recycled sarees as part of the weave. Old cotton sarees are ripped by hand into rags and are woven alongside new yarn, to form a saree that is the epitome of sustainable fashion.

Khesh sarees are very plain… They are usually in a single colour and with a minimal number of narrow lines on the body and pallu. Besides the one of a kind appeal of a Khesh, the material itself feels like a well-worn t-shirt. The fabric is relatively thick (compared to a Chettinad Cotton) but instead of adding heft, the pleasing thickness of the Khesh means that the saree drapes beautifully, and doesn’t crease easily.

These three weaves are a great way to start you off on a saree discovering journey.

Girl Talk: Making A Home Away From Home

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In this edition of Girl Talk, we talk about being away from ‘home’. Payal came here as a student two decades ago, Priyanka moved 13 years as a young bride and I came more recently as a not-so-young bride. Read our adventures (way too many are food-related) and do share some of your stories :) 

When and why did you move to the US?
Shradha: I left India in the end of August 2014 and moved in with my fiancé. We got married in December that year and the US has been home since. I’m relatively new, but what’s strange is some days it feels like I’ve been here forever and other days I feel I JUST moved!

Priyanka: I moved in August of 2004, right after my wedding. (Yup, been married a while now!) Dallas is home now. As a kid, I moved around a lot when I was in India but funnily enough, Dallas has been the longest I have lived in anyplace. That strange feeling you were talking about, that doesn’t seem to have gone away for me even after all this time. Some days I feel like this isn’t home, it’s temporary, that I just moved and will move again. And some days I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Payal: I came to the US for my undergrad way back in 1998. I stayed in Michigan for four years, got tired of the extreme winters and moved to Texas when I got my first job. Have been in the Lone Star State ever since! Can’t believe it will be 20 years in the US next year!

 

Via Priyanka’s Instagram

What’s the toughest part of being away?
Shradha:
 I hate being so far from friends and family. And eating home cooked meals NOT cooked by me is a pain point too.

Priyanka: Can I just say Ditto? Friends and family are a big part of it. Considering my sister moved back to India and sees my parents more often than I do, I can’t shake off that FOMO. And friends too! I have been incredibly lucky in finding awesome friends this side of the pond. That said, there’s something about pre-adulthood friendships that makes them invaluable. Oh and I have major bai/dhobi/cook envy.

Payal: I grew up in the Middle East so I’ve been away from India since I was 12. I also lived in a hostel for a while. Being away from home was something I was used to. When I moved to the US, I guess I missed food the most. Indian food wasn’t so readily available back then let alone good Indian food. But, it’s different now. Dallas has us spoilt for choices. Now, if only I could find a restaurant catered towards Oriya/Bengali style of cooking, and I would be a happy girl! The only thing I miss now are the festivals. Like the mood around Eid in the Middle East. And Diwali and Dussehra while I was in India.

How long did you take to adjust to life away from your roots and how did you build your new support system?
Shradha:
I think I’m still adjusting. The first year in New Jersey was rough. I tried the whole house wife thing but it wasn’t as glam and I wasn’t really lunching that much with any ladies! My husband had a group of friends who gave me the 411 on life in the US — everything from how to boil dal to what masalas to stock in the kitchen! Some of those friendships clicked and have grown to be real, solid relationships. Two years ago, we moved to San Francisco and I had to start the process of building friendships all over again. I’ve met people through my day job and through the usual friends-of-friends route. It’s probably going to take a long, long time to consolidate my core group but I’m grateful to have found some amazing new friends. So yes, the new support system is underway!

Priyanka: I was lucky enough to walk in to a social situation I could easily adapt to. The women I met nearly a decade and a half ago are today some of my closest friends. I also reconnected with some of my friends who had moved away and had somewhat drifted apart. Getting to know them again was fantastic! I also quickly realized that when you meet someone you hit it off with, make it a point to stay in touch with them or at least see if there’s a friendship to be had there. Making friends as adults is hard and it will serve us all well to remember the other person is no different from us, and it’s just as hard for them. It wasn’t all easy but I let things take their time and it all eventually fell in to place. Big shoutout to a very supportive husband who let me rave, rant and whine when I wanted to and helped me snap out of my funk when I most certainly needed to.

Payal: College wasn’t so hard as I had a class-mate from high-school also attending the same college as mine. That made the first semester a whole lot easier. When I first moved to Dallas after graduation, I decided to get a roommate. Best decision ever! Our social circle pretty much grew from us two meeting new people (including Priyanka) from the day we roomed together and this was almost 15 years ago. Till date, she and I still hang out if not every weekend, every two or so. I don’t even think I can ever think about moving out of Dallas because of the strong social circle here. My inner friend circle is family. We’ve gone through ups and downs together.