Saturday, December 30, 2000

traditional styles
By Anita Kaul

TRADITION is back in fashion as designers once again go back to salvaging forgotten craft styles and weaves from history books. The lure of minimalism and the glitter of swarovsky are being fast replaced by well-constructed, tailored outfits with a dash of ostentation — even in western wear.

Nothing is more indicative of this trend than a revival of the good, old zardozi embroidery. Almost every second designer in India is out to replicate ancient motifs and patterns from Mughal costumes with intricate gold and silver thread stitches.

But then, interpretations vary.

Traditionally, zardozi used to be executed in gold and silver wire (salma and sitara respectively) on rich textiles like silk and velvet. The patterns, drawn and carved on wooden blocks, were passed on from one generation of craftsmen to another.


Today, for a salwar-kameez or jacket, plain silk thread (which produces a metallic sheen) is used and instead of pattern from wooden blocks, impressions are made with gum and chalk from paper stencils. The embroidery is done by hand, using needless of different sizes.

Often readymade shapes of the material, with names such as nakshi, sadi, kora and kangani are stitched on to form a variety of zardozi patterns. This material is purchased by weight and is available in lachhis, held together by a fine string.

Zardosi embroidery is back in fashionThe most significant development in all this is that craftsmen have become increasingly adaptable to the demands of the fashion industry. Earlier, they were reluctant to "change their craft" to suit market forces.

Star designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla discovered this recently when they went to Lucknow to get some chikankari embroidery done. Much to their amazement, they found craftsmen not only willing to experiment

with news fabrics like chiffon, but they were also ready to innovate on their technique.

The designer duo recorded their experience in a book thus: "In 1993, when we visited Lucknow first, we asked if chikan work could be done on fabrics other than cotton. The answer was always negative till we told the workers the risk was ours and they better do as we told them. They kept telling us we were crazy.

"The printer used to do thousands of pieces in a day, going chaap chaap with the same wooden block, printing the same design, doing random printing like an automation. Suddenly we traumatised him by telling him to print the design around the neck or sleeve border — defining them with particular motifs.

"The chikankari workers had all followed a particular method for so many generations and here we were making new demands on their skills and making them go back a hundred years to the innovative traditions of their foreigners. Naturally, there had to be some resistance."

The change in attitude and a sense of professionalism among the younger generation of chikankari workers have made them hot property in the Bombay fashion mart. Better still, chikan work has become a "highly evolved" embroidery form.

In her recent collection of temple sarees, Anjana Kapoor applied chikan embroidery on silk for the borders and on white odhnis and stoles. Crinkled lehngas, short cotton kurtas and knee-length skirts also made a celebration of this ancient embroidery tradition.

Another designer making waves with chikankari is Vinita Rastogi of India Vibrations fame. She has combined tiny beaded pearls and shimmering sequins with chikan work in an exquisite collection chiffon sarees, silk cholis and gorgeous lehnga-cholis in reds, greens and blues!

Phulkari and bidri are two other embroidery forms undergoing a revival of sorts. Nimisha Gokhale had her wedding line of body-hugging kurtis and long skirts in jewel tones with satin applique, emphasised with phulkari and sali (or tube work).

On bidri work, the most notable collection came from Renu Jolly with her range of ‘cocktail sarees’, cholis, kurtas and salwar-kameez ensembles. Significantly, they were all in black — which made the embroidery stand out.

Then there are certain embroidery forms involving mirrors, beads, stones, shells...even jute ropes which find expression in casual wear — strapless halters, one-shouldered tops, backless blouses, lachas and skirts with asymmetrical hemlines.

— MF