The P&P Project

Spotlight: Vaya Weaving Heritage

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A love affair with the Maheshwari sari that started in the late 1980s led to a larger love of textiles and then a career in a Maheshwar non-profit for 22 years. Growing up admiring her mother’s elegance who wore a gorgeous organdie every day, meet Mira Sagar, the force behind Vaya Heritage Weaves. Excerpts from a chat:

What prompted you to launch Vaya?
It was always a dream to have a store for handwoven textiles showcasing weaves from all over the country, spanning various techniques and price points, but also contemporary enough that my daughter would also find something in the same store. Bappaditya of Bailou, Gaurang Shah and I shared a common vision about the handwoven sari — that it need not be drab and boring — and that was instrumental for the launch of Vaya. I strongly believe that if we convince the generation in the 30s age bracket to appreciate the culture, tradition and heritage that we often take for granted, we have possibly saved it for the coming 30 to 40 years making the ‘revival’ forward their responsibility.

Having worked with weavers for more than two decades, what are some learnings?
The important thing I’ve learned is to respect a weaver’s work, his or her time spent on the loom and never to bargain. It is only then that weavers are willing to improvise and produce the best quality textile. I also learned that weaving is a form of meditation and when the weaver is at peace with himself /herself, the result is an exquisite, flawless textile.

What are the challenges India faces to protect our heritage weaves?
Our biggest need is businessmen/women who understand the intricacies of handloom and what it takes to run a successful business. Another hurdle is rampant copying. So much goes into bringing out new designs, techniques and concepts which unfortunately, get copied overnight, instantly killing the market.

Which three weaves top your personal list?
Maheshwari for its simplicity of texture and design, Jamdani of Andhra, Bengal and Benares for flexibility of the technique and lightness of the textile, and Patan Patola for the richness and ease of being able to wear it anywhere, anytime.

P.S: Look up Vaya here.
Image credit: Vaya Weaving Heritage

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.