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Dancing to his COSTUMES

For 50 years, Murukesan's tiny shop has been specialising in stitching dance costumes. TANYA ABRAHAM meets the master tailor.


ALMOST FIFTY years ago, when Kochi was turning into a centre for dance and ballet performances there arose a need for artistically tailored garments for the performers. The search for creative tailors who would fulfil this artistic need was found in Stylo Cut tailors at Valanjambalam in the city. And today, after half a century, this tiny tailoring shop exists unhampered, cutting and sewing away multi-coloured dance attires.

"When this shop was started by my father, I was a young boy who used to spend the evenings after school watching him and eventually learning the skill. In those days, the costumes made were mainly for the Kalpana Dance Centre. They used to be designed and eventually brought here at Stylo Cut. In course of time, from making Kathakali outfits and costumes for dramas and plays, we started specialising in dance dresses," says Murukesan, owner of the unit. Murukesan recollects the first sample of the dress being brought by one of his customers from Madras, copies of which soon took shape at his shop. "This was quite some time ago, and from Bharatanatyam we moved on to creating Kuchipudi and Mohiniyattam dresses."

Over the years, Murukesam explicates the changes in design and colours that have occurred slowly and steadily. "Earlier, a single coloured sari was used with pieces of the border running along side the legs. This is now outdated and is used only in costumes made for children. Now, people opt for a contrast of colours like magenta and green or red and orange, even black at times. Anything that is bound to be striking."

Murukesan explains that minute details go into the making of a `dance dress', where it is vital the ornaments worn are not camouflaged by the colour of the sari. "Instead," he says, "there might occur the need to re-arrange the colours of the fan, the blouse and the sari in order to give importance to the jewellery worn."

After the details of the colour and type of attire are decided upon, he says it is popular, "to choose from the pajama (cut and stitched in that form), the skirt or sari costume. Although the pajama is most popular and traditional, performers who need to change a number of dresses in one single performance, prefer to use the `sari costume,' which can be removed with much ease. This is draped and has minimum stitching and no cuts, while the `skirt costume' on the other hand is plainer and its use would be according to the customers' tastes."

For Murukesan, the tremendous popularity of this art has given rise to an unceasing demand for his product that requires a plethora of creative thinking. "Today a Kanchipuram silk sari would cost any where between Rs. 5,000-8,000, where as a Dharmavaram sari is much cheaper. More over, for the Kuchipudi costumes, we now use polyester fabric to which borders are attached, ones that can easily be washed as compared to cottons." He further explains that styles are rarely formulated in Kerala, most of which have been adopted from the cinema world, initially styled in Tamil Nadu.

Yet, he is proud that his creations now traverse the globe as costumes are ordered and sent to dancers abroad. Unfolding a package bearing a deep red and blue Bharatanatyam attire, he explains it's to be parceled to London tomorrow.

Photo by Vipinchandran

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