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DESI CHIC

It's time to give the wonderful Indian weaves a sophisticated image



Indira Broker: blending traditional designs with contemporary fabric — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

THE PRINTS, the colours, and the textures are so alluring that one wants to pick up a dozen saris all at once. "That's what I've done, dearie," said a visitor to Dyes, Prints & Perfection, an exhibition and sale of designer textiles at Time and Space Gallery. "And you can be sure I'll not be going on a holiday for a long, long time," she added. Absolute sin to blow away close to Rs. 50,000 on tussar silks and designer cottons? Actually, absolutely wonderful for the natural textile industry.

"It's time to take traditional textiles away from the cottage industry sector and give it a more sophisticated image," said a suave Prabha Nagarajan, dressed in a chic indigo-dyed salwar suit with matching banana-fibre dupatta. "After 20 years in the corporate world, looking after the legal side of Indian Airlines, I decided to do something totally different," she said. And that is when Prabha started turning her interest into a passionate business venture. Working at the grassroots, she sourced natural dyes, pesticide-free cottons, and natural fibres like banana naaru to bring out the Prana range of saris, dress material, and yardage. She has a concept store in Chennai, called Prana.

At the recently-concluded sale organised by Bangalore-based Tarunyaas, the Prana collection included Prana Naturals, Prana Nature Hues, Prana Organic Fibres, and Prana Safe Hues, textiles dyes with safe chemicals. Showing off a brilliant mustard and blue cotton sari, Prabha said: "This was dyed with marigold flowers and indigo. There is mention of the therapeutic benefits of these plants to humans in ancient texts." The sari, at Rs. 700, rubbed pallus with pure jamdanis and dupattas with Kodali Karuppur block prints. Also on sale was a range of smart khadi ready-to-wears.

"People are ready to wear beautiful clothes, and also ready to drool over them at exhibitions, but not many want to come forward to revive traditional textile crafts," said an elegant Lakshmi Devi Raj. A dyed-in-the-yarn Hyderabadi, this designer sits with weavers in Polavaram near Machilipatnam and takes them through the process of producing kalamkari textiles. "In my 30-year service in the handloom and khadi industry, it always pained me to see the beautiful kalamkari work being done only on thick materials and lungis. After I retired from service, I worked to show that kalamakari could blossom on other materials too." At the Tarunyaas exhibition, the 73-year-old designer showcased a beautiful range of kalamkari on organdi, jute, pure silk, crepe, and fine cotton. "I used to watch my grandmother use parijata flowers to dye her clothes, and the passion for vegetable dyes is still strong in me," said the gracefully-greying designer, who believes in using dyes on textiles, not on her hair.

Not content with just designing textiles, Lakshmi trains young girls in the craft, and works for a voluntary organisation and is harnessing support to start a kalamkari centre in Machilipatnam. "Where ever I go, I carry these samples to educate people on the laborious but beautiful process of producing kalamkari textiles," said Lakshmi, who, like Prabha, has been able to overcome personal tragedies to do path-breaking work in the field of traditional Indian textiles.

Also at the exhibition was a lovely model, showing off fine tussar silk saris. "I keep changing my saris, sometimes once in 10 minutes, so that buyers can see how my saris look when worn," revealed Pune-based Indira Broker, whose clientele includes Shabana Azmi, Kiron Kher, and firebrand politician Renuka Choudhary. Indira blends traditional fabrics with contemporary design. Triangles, stripes, spirals, checks, and whimsical patterns bring out the sheen of tussars in vivid colours. "Every streak of colour that you see on these textiles has been made under my eye," emphasised the designer.

MALA KUMAR

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