When Kolkata-based designer duo Bappaditya and Rumi Biswas were in Bangalore recently, they displayed their signature brand Bailou-a collection of exquisite saris called “Rajshahi”, from the undivided Bengal. They also showcased the Japanese technique of Shibori dyeing, a Naga collection inspired by the Angami tribe, and telia rumal double ikat saris from Andhra Pradesh. On one hand, when the series dedicated to weaving traditions of the royal looms of Bengal patronised by Zamindars was being admired by the fashion aficionados here, their saree was making headlines up north. Priyanka Gandhi was spotted wearing a Bailou saree on her visit to the Parliament and the designers couldn't have asked for a better visibility than that.
"Of course, it feels good and wonderful. But we honestly design for the love and passion of the textile craft and when we see anybody wearing and coming to our exhibition and also on the streets, till date our heart skips and we feel excited to create more," says Bappaditya. Their sarees are also worn by the likes of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, actors Shabana Azmi, Kirron Kher, Konkona Sen Sharma and many more.
A National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFD) graduate, Bappaditya got along with weavers from Nadia, Hoogli and Shantipur to create his label 'Bailou'. He met his wife Rumi, a textile designer also from the NIFD, at an export firm in Kolkata in 2002 and got married the following year.
"Bailou was started by us in 2002. We felt there was a huge possibility in the handlooms of Bengal and they were very highly skilled but steeped in tradition. We took two handlooms and started our experiments with weaves," he said.
And what does Bailou mean? "It doesn't mean anything. It is just an expression that we created as we wanted to create a new genre and that has happened,"Bappaditya reveals.
In 2005, when both the designers were invited by the Delhi Crafts Council to hold an exhibition of hand-woven saris in Delhi, all the 87 saris they had displayed got sold out much to their surprise. In hindsight, they say that they were very skeptical and initially had refused to go for the show. "We thought our ideas were very radical and it wasn't traditional at all. But later we realised that this is what people were looking for and after that there was no turning back," he adds. With the dream of keeping alive the ancient skills of weaving through rural artisans in Bengal, today they work with 1000 weavers.
Every weave of their saree has a story to tell which sometimes dates back to the pre-independence era.
Abir sari was born when they came across a group of weavers who used to weave the mota kapor (the thick cloth) which was popularised by Gandhiji's Satyagraha movement. After many years the cloth lost its value and there were no takers which Bailou took up and later introduced a wide range of colours and changed the texture a little bit to suit the modern lifestyle, which now happens to be the most popular product of the label. The inspiration behind was to break the typified image of handlooms and khadi and to be associated only to a certain look.
Their Disco Khadi collection with sequins woven into the matka base are also popular.
On the inspiration behind the collection, Bappaditya says, "We wanted to show the versatility of this craft and that they can adapt and create for the various demands of the market and yet keep their traditional essence intact. Since we wanted to only work with handlooms we started pushing the boundaries of the weave and introduced a technique of weaving sequins in the fabric, either by trapping it between 2 layers of fabric (for which we got the UNESCO Seal Of Excellence) or by weaving a sequin yarn in the fabric. This was handlooms' answer to the popular sequined embroidered saris and dresses that the young India was taking up and discarding handlooms for their non glamorous look."
Bappaditya feels that weavers not getting their due credit is a very old fashioned and cliched statement that sometimes is used for advantage. "This is not the scenario everywhere. I agree this is still there, but there are also a lot of good work and upliftment happening all over. And imagine if every weaver comes to the market who would weave? It is not possible to weave and market your own products at the same time," he declares. They would prefer connecting the missing link between the weavers and the market than being called designers.
They also feel that Indian modern women are multi-taskers today and the real interpretation of Durga. "They have shed all inhibitions and come out a long way. So a mix of everything is a must but sarees rule when it come to dressing up for a formal occasion or evening. Nothing looks more dignified and elegant," avers Bappaditya.