Luxury at needlepoint: From machine-made clothes, designers have now turned to traditional embroideries with a contemporary twist

Despite the rich history of some oft-spoken heritage Indian embroideries that thrived under royal patronage, there is no denying that most of them suffered neglect, oblivion and near extinction in the age of cheap machine embroideries. Sadly, burgeoning fast fashion labels ate into their market. The dismissive attitude towards the endless hours spent in these crafts, cheap machine-made copies, crass commercialisation and corrupt middle men spelled the nemesis of these age-old Indian embroideries.

But, all is not lost. If you sift through piles of machine-embroidered couture creations churned out season after season, fortunately there are still those beauties created to satiate the connoisseur demanding beautiful handwork. It is for them that some labels have revived traditional embroideries. By incorporating them into couture creations, they have elevated the art to luxury. Playing with old motifs but giving them a contemporary charm, designers have been working with karigars to ensure that heritage crafts such as Chikankari, Parsi Gara, Kaamdaani and Gota Patti are celebrated, loved and worn with pride.

Rajasthani Splendour with Gota Patti

Till date a search into the trunks of old women in Rajasthan’s noble households would throw up saris with the traditional Gota Patti work. When we say traditional, we mean the kind crafted with real silver ribbons that were cut into floral patterns, pasted on the fabric followed by an outline sewn around it. A metallic craft that flourished under the aegis of royal women who flaunted colourful saris with Gota Patti embroidery, suffered with time.

Says Vidhi Singhania, whose Gota Patti saris and blouses are some of the top draws in the circuit, “Real silver isn’t used in the embellishment now. But, we singled out karigars in Rajasthan who were deft in the traditional embroidery. We contemporised some placements to make it more topical. Gota Patti on blouses, on tissue kotas and kota silks just elevated the whole look. That quintessential opulent touch was just Gota Patti away.” While Singhania experiments with Gota Patti on Bhagalpuri silks, Kota silks, tissues and cottons, Anita Dongre has created a stupendous body of work, including reviving the old-style intricate patterns, in the segment. Her couture and wedding apparels play around with Gota Patti highlighting how the craft adds an exquisite and royal splendour to any outfit.

Lucknow’s Charm in Kaamdani

In her quest to work with old-style Kaamdani or Moquaish, Anjul Bhandari realised how karigars in Lucknow were not willing to carry on their craft for the sheer lack of demand. This laborious metal embroidery wasn’t earning enough returns for the man hours being spent on it. Complaints of discolouration and discomfort abound. The couturier devised ways to turn the arclights on Kaamdani, because, she felt, this craft offers subtle bling, is glamorous and when taken care of, they can be passed off as heirloom. “We worked with embroiderers to turn the metal thread upwards so that beneath they would be smooth. We lined the saris to make them stronger. We created only-Kaamdani saris so that the craft gets its due. While our Chikankari creations are on pastels, Kaamdani on bold bright hues of georgettes, crepes and satins, looks spectacular. A strong craft heritage as against the easily done sequin machine embroidery,” says Bhandari.

Not just Anjul Bhandari, there’s Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla and Payal Singhal whose beautiful creations use this art extensively. Hopefully, soon, the community of karigars who toil over a sari doing Kaamdani, which can easily take two years to complete, will not be as miniscule as it is now.

Awadhi Finesse in Chikankari

After completing an embroidery, the karigars look at it endearingly. “They say, ‘We can’t believe we made this.’ We push the envelope with them. The idea is to treat them as artists and not labourers. They should feel proud of their art,” says Vidhi Rastogi, the founder of Meiraas, known for luxury Chikankari creations. They also combine Chikankari with Aari, with zardozi, moquaish and other embroideries from Lucknow. After Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, Anjul Bhandari, Kotwara and couturiers of their ilk showcased the beauty of Lucknowi Chikankari in Indian couture, Meiraas has been popularising the craft amongst millennials by offering the luxury threadwork in their elegant creations.

“We want to revive Nawabi decadence. Where owning a piece of tradition means wrapping yourself in royal luxury,” says Rastogi who launched Meiraas in 2015 after realising that the ancient craft was languishing in the doldrums. Authentic Chikankari struggled against competition from cheap machine-made replicas, lack of awareness and karigars abstained from embroidering old motifs due to nil demand. “Our Chikankari is do-teen taar. The idea is to popularise the Awadhi heritage iconography amongst connoisseurs,” explains Rastogi, adding, “Luxury embroidery is redolent only when the base is of good quality. Handwoven tussar, linen, pure georgette and khadi are chosen fabrics for cotton as well as resham Chikankari (a Meiraas signature).”

Oriental Charm with Parsi Gara

If you desire to adorn yourself with creations embellished with authentic Parsi Gara embroidery, your search should end at Ashdeen Lilaowala and Zenobia Davar.

Lilaowala’s work, ever since he launched his line in 2012, has evoked vintage romance and subtle glamour reminiscent of fashionable Parsi women known for their demure yet classic sartorial choices. Draped in the most exquisite embroidered Parsi Gara saris, teamed with chic blouses, their get-up accentuated with subtle make-up, gleaming pearls and coiffured hair. “The pearls matched the pastel or ivory hued Gara embroidery on their saris,” Davar quips. Lilaowala’s work focuses on old-world charm through the motifs and intricacy but it’s not that they blindly replicate. Enough research is put into creating something to suit the fashion sensibilities of the modern woman. “The outcome is Parsi Gara on jackets, dresses and lehengas. We customise for brides. The ensembles have a bespoke air,” he says.

Crafting luxury with one strand of thread, the designers feel that the double stitch technique would make creations in silk, jacquard crepe, organza, satin and georgettes heavy. “They would also increase the costs exponentially. Couture needs to be fluid and not cumbersome. We are here to create clothes that go down as heirloom. So that we are relevant forever,” says Lilaowala.