At the Rajasthan Heritage Week, held in Jaipur, Pooja Mujumdar discovers how khadi, once the backcloth of India’s freedom struggle, gets a makeover to finally break out of its humble mould and become the fabric of choice on the ramp.
In his political campaign for Swaraj, Gandhiji launched the Khadi Movement, which involved promoting the practice of weaving yarn on the charkha to produce khadi garments (traditional hand spun and handwoven cotton garments). Under his influence, khadi transcended from being a humble fabric to being a political symbol, and became the unifying thread that brought all Indians together.
Khadi comes of age
While khadi has always had the potential to be a vibrant and stylish fabric, it has hardly been interpreted in that way. But all that was to change with the Rajasthan Khadi and Village Industries Board and the Rajasthan government, in association with Bengaluru-based Prasad Bidapa Associates, organising the first edition of the three-day Rajasthan Heritage Week at Jaipur’s Hotel Clarks Amer, in December last year. The aim was to promote the traditional crafts and handmade textiles unique to the state by inviting 18 top fashion designers and seven national award winning weavers from Rajasthan to showcase their designs and artistry, using heritage fabrics.
Talking about the initiative, Prasad Bidapa, organiser and chief creative director of the event, said, “For too long, khadi had been relegated to the shelves of uninspiring stores and lost in tales of how it helped win us our freedom. It was time to make our youth and the world realise that this is not only the fabric of the future but that it also has the potential to make a statement in the global fashion scene, season after season.”
On the ramp
On Day 1, Bangladesh-based fashion designer Bibi Russell opened the show by reinventing khadi and Kota doria (a fine fabric with self-woven checks) for her winter line of saris, skirts, dresses, shirts, kurtas, jackets, trousers and shawls. “I have paid tribute to Rajasthan, its beautifully-formed sand dunes and desert, particularly Jaisalmer and Barmer that create a perfect portrait of this beautiful desert land,” said Russell. Models floated down the ramp adorned with embellishments such as garlands, lac bangles and earrings, safas, Rajasthani borlas (a round trinket worn on the forehead), and embroidered mojris
Kaaryah, a western non-casual wear brand for women, showcased chic dresses, pants, and jumpsuits embellished with abhala embroidery and bandhani. Sri Lanka’s fashion frontman Ajai Vir Singh conjured up an all-men collection of shirts and slim fit trousers in khadi. “My collection was retro with a contemporary take. The trousers had pleats and were ballooned from waist down with two-inch turn ups from the bottom, side buckles and no place for the belt—just like in the 1920s,” Singh explained. He further talked about how he’d visualised ways in which khadi could be worn in Sri Lanka and also compliment the ethos of his ethically-conscious brand ‘Conscience’. “I have worked with weavers in South India and Sri Lanka before; therefore, the Rajasthan Heritage Week struck a chord with me. I thought if I could commercially engage weavers here, it could be the start of something good.”
The first day wrapped up with Jaipur designer Pallavi Murdia presenting her designs through five stories of Rajasthan: Shwet, Haldi-Gulabi, Moriyo, Sunehri Raat and Sindoor. Variations of khadi such as SF khadi, munga doria and suti doria were perfectly balanced with mirror work and embroideries such as aari tari, zardozi, dabka, resham and gota patti. “As a fashion designer, the challenge is to venture outside and not restrict yourself. I’m glad I participated in the Rajasthan Heritage Week,” said Murdia.
A khadi fan for decades, veteran designer Ritu Kumar kick-started Day 2 with a collection featuring patchwork and mirror work and ajarakh (a double-sided resist printing technique). Talking about it, Kumar said, “If Rajasthan’s artisanal crafts and textiles have to survive, the onus is on us designers to translate them and make them appealing to the younger generation. However, the creations shouldn’t be over the top!”
The finale was a fusion line by Hemant Trivedi—who has returned to the ramp after more than a decade—that incorporated vegetable-dyed, block printed handloom in colours such as black, terracotta, olive and saffron. “Khadi is a fabric that is redolent of freedom, individuality and of the fact that we are Indians,” Trivedi says.
On Day 3, Delhi-based designers rocked the show: while a collection by Abraham & Thakore featured tunics, pants, skirts and jackets with hand-block prints and clean, modern geometric patterns, designer Rita Kapur Chishti unveiled 15 saris and three dhotis crafted with hand-spun cottons and low-twist silks. National award winning weaver Mustaqeem Kachara’s collection comprised Kota doria saris, while weaver Abdul Majeed showcased stunning hand-block printing techniques from his brand, ‘Mughal Garden’. New York designer Lars Andersson’s menswear collection incorporated textured cotton silk khadi. And Jaipur Modern brought down the curtains on the three-day event with men’s and women’s khadi cotton collections.
The road ahead
With beautiful silhouettes and classy collections, the three-day event not only managed to revive and fine-tune khadi into a top-class fabric, but also in Singh’s words, ‘opened the door to celebrate weaving traditions across all states of India—since each state has its own legacy’.