Gaurang Shah blends heritage weaves and modern flair. His winter festive collection is a Kanjeevaram-kalamkari tango.

Gaurang Shah is a man in a hurry. The Hyderabad-based designer is preparing for the Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive, which opens in Mumbai today. Known usually for his handwoven Jamdanis, this time he will unveil his collection of Kanjeevarams embellished with kalamkari technique. “This will be our winter festive collection, so we conceptualised bright shades of silk that can be adorned with heavy jewellery and worn for occasions like marriage. Till now we displayed spring-summer collections crafted in white shades of khadis and kotas,” he says.

His distinctive style has been to blend heritage weaves with contemporary sensibilities, so a traditional weave like Jamdani takes on a chic international look at his hands. His label Shah wowed international audiences at last month’s Berlin Fashion Week, a leading eco and sustainable fashion show. As the sole designer from India, he had the task of presenting a desi flavour to an avant-garde audience.

Drawing inspiration from nature and the vibrant colours of India, the designer created a signature line of layered tunics and short tops teamed with dhoti-style pants, off-shoulder flowing dresses with Anarkali cuts, and a floral jumpsuit. “The focus was on eco-friendly fashion, and I felt I could illustrate it through Indo-westerns and intricately designed hand-woven saris. Jamdani weaves on hand-woven khadi, kotas and organzas were accentuated with Parsi and Chikankari embroidery,” he says.

And in this intricate weave of tradition and chic lies a revivalist tale. Around 2001 — when embroidered chiffons and georgettes were the rage — Shah made a bid to revive the traditional Jamdani craftsmanship; in the process he created work opportunities for nearly 400 talented weavers spread across villages in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

They worked with khadi, cotton and silk using the Jamdani technique. “I selected this technique because Jamdani weaves work well with flowers, leaves and bird motifs. It brings a varying tonal quality, with the colours gradually moving from pastels to darker tones through the breadth of the sari. The three-shuttle technique helps in achieving different colours in each border.” It also has an aesthetic appeal, as the reverse appears as neat as the front.

The biggest challenge was to make the khadi fabric wearable — that is, soft and lightweight. With this, the Gandhian fabric sported a youthful look. Its vibrant floral, birds, butterflies and foliage patterns appealed to the international fashion circuit. “I like to play around with weaves and blend them together with techniques that help retain our craftsmanship. Simply put, this could mean a khadi garment is co-ordinated with a tussar border,” explains the 39-year-old designer.

Over time, he has experimented with yarns such as dupion, jute, muga and noil.

Shah describes this kind of handloom work as a flawless collaboration between the designer and weaver. This thinking underlined his work from his early days when he moved out of his family-run store to establish his label. His home turf, Hyderabad, gave him the needed fillip, as he found ready buyers there. “Of course, one burns a hole in the pocket, because it is a labour-intensive, time-consuming process,” he says.

Little wonder then that a Jamdani sari is priced from Rs 22,000 to Rs 1 lakh for kota and organza; and Rs 58,000 to Rs 3 lakh for khadi works.

(This article was published on August 2, 2012)
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