'Varanasi is huge and diversified'

'Varanasi is huge and diversified'

Back to basics

Designer Rinku Sobti brings in her SS16 collection – ‘Essenza’ - which is inspired by fruits and handlooms of Varanasi. She feels handloom is threatened by the burgeoning prominence of the power loom as the people prefer mechanically stitched clothing. Consequently, more weavers abandon their “forlorn” art. So, to revive this traditional art, Sobti along with the weavers of the Barjardiya cluster of Varanasi have launched the new collection. In a conversation with Metrolife, she tells us more about it.

Excerpts

Tell us about the designer in you.

I am an economics graduate. I began my career with a London-based designer. I loved doing the work so much that it didn’t feel like work at all because of such lovely colours and beautiful silhouettes. It was followed by five years in an export house before I launched my own label.
 
What is the procedure that you follow for designing?

Designing can start from a random idea eventually forming an expression in aesthetics. It then goes through an organised form in terms of other elements like the weather, colour, silhouette, target
audience.

How did you conceptualise the collection?

I have worked with all possible fabrics which as a designer I feel it’s essential to finally know what you really love. When I started travelling to Varanasi and picking fabrics from there, I loved the weavers there, who were strange in many ways. They were real artists and no amount of money could lure them to do things faster as they loved their pace. Also they endlessly discussed the nitty gritties of a simple motif (butti) and the zari they use.

How important do you value experimentation for designers?

Art is constantly reinventing itself, so are the designers. I consider myself to be lucky where my profession is my expression. The experimentation becomes successful where the designs meet the sensibilities of the market and society.

Why did you only choose Varanasi weavers?

My love towards handloom blossomed as I realised it can be used both for traditional and contemporary couture.

Why the name ‘Essenza’?

In this collection we have weaved fruit which were traditionally always woven in ‘banarasi’ fabrics. The woven fruit motifs formed a distinguished attribute of weaves of Varanasi.

Tell us about your experiences while working with the weavers?

While working with them we invited them for a fashion show in Mumbai. I think when they saw the end result of the fabric created by them, they were mesmerised. It was the moment when they witnessed their craft and probably felt their creations were at the right place.

How do you see the handloom industry?

The dynamics of business are changing. I suddenly find we are moving back to basics — be it in our theory of Ayurveda or suddenly realising the importance of Vedas. In the fashion industry too we have woken up to the fact that handloom is a niche market only India has. We can’t compete with the Chinese be it the fabric or their computer manipulation of fabric but we have our weavers whom we have neglected for years. As I work with them I realise it’s important that the master craftsmen who are the inheritors of their precious craft must hand down their skills to the next generation.

What are your efforts in raising awareness about traditional looms?

People are being made aware as the government has already launched a Brand India Handloom campaign. All handloom products are going to be hallmarked with the brand. Also, various fashion shows have been dedicated to handloom and various movie stars and discerning people are wearing handloom making it more inspirational and apparitional.

What has been your favourite piece and why?

My favourite piece has been the ‘Bhutta’ piece. It was overwhelming to see corn sketched and taking form on the loom where each grain of corn is intricately woven. Eventually. we made a contemporary gown which is not to forget the beautiful yellow colour of the corn on black silk. A karigar named Shalim Ahmed from the Bajardiya cluster tirelessly worked on it.

Do you only plan to concentrate on Varanasi handlooms?

Varanasi is huge and diversified. It is divided into nearly nine big clusters, where each cluster has a unique identification. We started with the Barjardiya cluster which specialises in silk net and trained the karigars by introducing new designs rather than the traditional butti and border only. Simultaneously, we have moved to Ramnagar cluster where the weavers do marvellous works in silks.

What is your take on the fashion industry now?

The fashion industry worldwide is talking about eco-fashion and sustainable fashion. Probably that is why we are going back to the simple process of production like weaving and this commitment by an entire fashion fraternity will be the beginning for a new reality. So far a dream till now.

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