History is not a thing of the past. It follows us through all times to reinforce its invaluable presence. While some reminisce the past, others actively embrace it. Designer Sailesh Singhania, with his eponymous Hyderabad-based label, confers faith on both. His latest collection of Banarasi jackets, tissue blouses, Kanchipuram lehengas, khadi jamdani outfits and more, called Shaahana, is telling of this belief in the way it promotes the enchanting splendour of the whimsical Queen Gulnaar, who germinated out of freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu’s celebrated poem called ‘The Queen’s Rival’.
The Persian queen was the most beautiful. She was bestowed with an elegance and grandeur of the kind rarely seen. Using this subtext created by Naidu’s untethered imagination, Singhania has created clothing that would befit her stature, had she been a thing of reality.
Accordingly, the collection features a unification of the age-old technique of jamdani and khadi, the fabric of the nation. “The khadi jamdani saris have motifs inspired by the Japanese Hinamatsuri doll festival, whereas the Banarasi saris have Victorian design imprints. The Kanchipuram have the Shikhargarh motifs from the Mughal times. Comprising whites and gold threads, each sari has been woven over a laborious period of eight to 12 months to match the unparalleled beauty of our muse Queen Gulnaar,” he says.
A meticulous understanding of history was needed for this undertaking, after all, and he wanted to revisit heritage weaves and ancestral crafts that were once patronised by royalty. To understand that better, Singhania drew from his family’s illustrious textile background spanning over 125 years. “Back in the day, textiles were sourced and distributed by my great-grandfather, Seth Nandlal, the Nizam of Hyderabad’s textile minister. He travelled to Japan and got fabrics and distributed it among people of the State. All this was made possible by the then Nizam, Mir Osman Ali, who was looking for a trusted person to serve as minister and found one in my great-grandfather,” says the 35-year-old designer.
Some 15 years ago, Singhania joined the family business alongside his father, Yogender Kumar, who had been taking care of it for several years. Carrying the baton of responsibility further, he presents Shaahana as a new chapter in the family’s design virtuosity.
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, the designer pulled good grades while pursuing textile engineering. Designing has taught him abundant patience. It keeps him grounded. “I am aware of where I come from and where I need to go. My roots guide me in every step,” he says, adding, “And every moment of this journey is enriched with the presence of love. My khadi jamdani saris take over a year to get off the loom and a weaving couple works on them at Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh. Seeing the harmony between them fills me up with love and this love exhibits through every thread in my garments.”
Coming back to his muse for Shahana, Singhania recalls that when he first read ‘The Queen’s Rival’ in school, he was absorbed by its eloquent language. Then he read it another time to understand what was being said. He comprehended whatever he could at that age but once he grew up, his mind kept taking him back to his little desk where he would drown himself into the poem. The impetus to re-imagine it also came partly from a deep admiration for Naidu. “Her indomitable spirit during India’s freedom struggle drove me to preserve the languishing art of handloom, just like she fought to preserve India’s autonomy,” he says.