Luxe

Traditional fabric, modern silhouette

Elizabeth Mathew | Updated on January 20, 2018

Textile rewrite Chandni Sareen’s The Ikat Story reinterprets the weave in sexier styles, like this tie-up jacket dress AKSHAY TAMBE

Easy breezy The fluid drapes and breathable fabrics are a trademark of the brand 11.11/ eleven.eleven

Closet appeal This sari border gathered dress from Artisaucombines the best of tradition and style

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This year’s summer fashion is a sustainable, breezy path back to your grandmother’s soft fabrics, re-spun into a new avatar.

There’s nothing quite like an Indian summer. Whether you’re dealing with the searing, dry heat in the north, the sweaty, humid climes of the south or just rising temperatures that make it harder to step out of home. There’s something about summer heat that even the mangoes can’t fix. But come rain or shine — or in this case, temperatures above 40°C — you’ve still got to make it to brunch looking your best. There’s always a way — and it doesn’t involve spandex or denim.

Meet the new stars of summer fashion — Ikat bikinis and bomber jackets, Chanderi shirtdresses and Khadi jeans. Traditional textiles are meeting modern silhouettes to create a look that’s perfectly suited to the Indian of today. The one who wants to wear a summer dress, but remembers how her grandmother swore by the soft cotton saris to keep her cool in hot, sweaty summer.

Thanks to brands that are rethinking Indian fashion, your summer wardrobe can be everything you’ve wanted — breathable fabrics and modern cuts, because whoever says you have to choose between comfort and style?

Recipe a la mode

How does a traditional fabric, associated so closely with traditional clothes, find relevance in a modern context? “It’s quite like keeping the same ingredients but beating up a new recipe,” says Simran Chaudhary, founder of Artisau, a brand that works only with natural fabrics. “We drool over block prints, fine muslins and Benarasi silks, like we always have. Unfortunately, when the wardrobe became increasingly modern, our fruit of the loom became redundant only to be revived on occasions. The catch is to bring the textile back to the wardrobe. Exploring silhouettes that are more contemporary and not necessarily Indian,” she elaborates.

The food metaphor resonates with Sreejith Jeevan as well. The designer behind the label Rouka says his brand has been leading by example when it comes to giving traditional weaves a new look. “I always compare fashion to food. Just how the same vegetables make a sambar or ratatouille or a sandwich, the same fabric can be used in traditional and contemporary ways. I think that as designers, that’s the job we have — to constantly reinvent with the same ingredients,” he says.

Clearly designers are on the right track, and the market’s appetite for clothes made with time-tested fabrics has been whetted. Textiles that have been used for certain traditional clothes now find themselves relegated to special occasions — like the Kerala mundu that Jeevan believes can be given contemporary form and brought back in style. One of Jeevan’s success stories is the Coming Home collection last year that used the traditional mundu as inspiration and incorporated the classic coloured border, known as kara, into kimono-style blouses and shift dresses.

“The fabric is well-suited to our weather and if we give it a contemporary form, it works beautifully as a fabric that can be used every day. And we must use it to empower the people making it and the ones wearing it. It should not be a one-sided journey,” he adds, bringing to light another reason why more people are moving towards handloom fabrics — to support a fading weaving tradition and a wavering economy.

Feel-good fashion

Brands like Mogra Designs wear their ethical values on their sleeve, and “the movement” that the brand stands for, involves creating clothes that make the most of India’s handmade crafts and textiles. Sourcing fabrics from weavers and artisans from “India’s famous as well as lesser known craft clusters,” the brand has breathed new life into these age-old weaves. Mogra’s e-store reads like a perfect melange of old and new — such as Fit and Flare dresses made from Madurai saris, Handwoven jackets with Kutchi embroidery and Mangalgiri wrap dresses — and it is no surprise that the brand has found takers across the world.

But considering how visual appeal takes precedence over everything else in today’s Snapchat-happy era, there has to be a fluid connection between fabric and style that looks natural and not like you repurposed an old dupatta to make a crop top (although that might just work, DIY is a whole other story).

This is where the term ‘silhouette’ plays a major role — Aparna Chandra, who designed the clothes for the newly-launched brand Nicobar, believes that silhouettes play an important part in lending a contemporary feel to local Indian fabrics. “What you see today is a lot of clean lines, simple cuts and unencumbered designs that let the fabric be the focal point of the ensemble, says Chandra. “This natural, not over-done style is what makes the use of local fabrics sit well with modern-day Indian consumers. What helps in keeping your look contemporary is fresh styling. In Nicobar designs, you will see that the traditional Chanderi lends itself in a light summer shirt dress, the subtle sheen of the fabric adding just that little bit of glamour to the look. The idea should be to keep the style simple yet innovative to transition the fabrics from traditional to a modern milieu.”

While Chandra believes that Nicobar is reflective of today’s Indian consumer — inspired by traditions of India but with a fresh approach that is free of nostalgia — Chandni Sareen believes that it is nostalgia and the cyclical nature of fashion that has brought traditional fabric back into our fashion consciousness.

“Be it music, art or fashion, the cycle always takes you back in time. Hence the resurgence of traditional fabrics. Now more than ever, fashion has gone back to the '70s-'80s,” says Sareen, a fashion stylist and founder of The Ikat Story. Using her life and experiences to create stories, she later translates them into ikat, her favourite fabric. Sareen has breathed new life into the complex weave, with her Ikat bikinis, kaftan capes and even jumpsuits.

There are several labels that are using the shift towards home-grown textiles and techniques to create a niche in the fashion industry. For instance, 11.11 /eleven eleven’s signature khadi denim, in the brand’s own words, is part of an attempt to create a ‘meaningful fashion garment line’; Nor Black Nor White’s unisex Ikat bomber jackets are ‘part art-part fashion’, as they claim, and the brand Péro’s dressed-down luxury is entirely handmade, with a price tag that belies the laidback vibe of its creation. The movement towards a more sustainable life has hit the fashion world as well, and this summer, traditional fabrics make their way back into favour, in a sexier, more modern silhouette.

Published on May 20, 2016

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