One of Paromita Banerjee’s enduring memories of her time at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, involves her first lesson in weaving. The class was instructed to set up a dobby loom from scratch. There were hundreds and thousands of threads intertwining one another, looking like a complex piece of puzzle. “It was fascinating to create something from a sketch and see it turn into yardages of textiles,” says the Kolkata-based designer, who specialised in textile design. In 2009, when the 28-year-old launched her label, Banerjee decided to do what very few newcomers opt for: create a collection from scratch. It involved visualising a collection, developing her own yardages with the help of weaver clusters and then working on the fabrics.
In Bengal, during Durga Puja, a lal-paar-shada sari (white sari with red border) is as much a part of pujo rituals as it is of the fashion code on Dashami. One of Banerjee’s early collections, ‘Laal paar and other stories’, gave it a distinct sartorial twist. It rolled out a red-and-white collection: shift dresses, Mughal achkans and the jama with bits of embroidery, some with paisley and chintz motifs. “What we try to do is to contemporise the silhouettes and make them more global so that the handlooms are not just restricted to one age group,” she says. Banerjee has worked with the plebian gingham for her latest collection.
The handloom revolution has been brewing for a while. But while most designers use it as a base material on which to play out variations of Swarovski and gota work, those like Rahul Mishra and Aneeth Arora stand out for their minimalist interpretations of this indigenous heritage. A well-cut white shirt from Pero by Aneeth Arora is different from others simply in the way it codes a cultural continuity. At each stage of its creation, from the yardage to the finished product, the materials pass from one craftsman to another, ensuring that no two pieces are alike. In his seven-year-old career, Mishra has worked largely with Chanderi, spinning a new story every time, yet rarely resorting to surface embellishments and never to bling. Like Mishra and Arora, newer designers like Banerjee are finetuning Indian fashion’s understanding of handloom. They are letting the fabric be the star of their collections, keeping the look unfussy and everyday, adopting weaver clusters for sustained periods of time or even setting up studio looms. “Handlooms