The story goes back to 2016. Designer Gaurang Shah recreated six paintings by Telangana artist Laxman Aelay on saris using the jaamdani weave. One of the customers was Lavina Baldota from the Abheraj Baldota Foundation that works with marginalised and less fortunate communities. Enthused by Shah’s artistry, she introduced him to the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation with the aim of recreating Varma’s works on khadi saris as a combined reverence to the artist and Mahatma Gandhi, who transformed the use of khadi.
The project, Khadi: A Canvas, took over two years and involved a precise replication of Raja Ravi Varma’s unseen paintings. The works were woven on to the pallu of the sari, using the Srikakulam jaamdani technique. The collaboration resulted in recreating 30 such paintings. “Our fundamental approach was to choose those paintings that people have not seen or those that are lesser-known. We shortlisted 54 oleographs. Using these, we wove 33 saris in natural dyes. The paintings were chosen in three categories —women in Raja Ravi Varma paintings, gods and goddesses, and stories,” says Shah.
The challenges were unique. It took over six months of research to create 600 shades of colours in order to do justice to the natural colours that Varma used for his paintings. “We had to recreate the same colours on the portraits and dyed over 200 kg of yarn. Our choice of using the Srikakulam jaamdani technique made it possible to create the entire pattern without repetitions. While a few of the saris took three months, the intricate paintings in others took more than 10 months to create,” says Shah.
Varma used curved brush strokes in his paintings and it was a Herculean task for Shah’s weavers to reconstruct the masterpieces. “For a small painting, we had to blow it up to almost 40 inches to capture the details, shades, texture and patterns,” he says. Also, finding the right pool of weavers to work on the saris was a difficult job. “We needed weavers who were masters of paper jaamdani, where they print six meters of paper (length of a sari) and put it under the warp, look at it and weave it. We were fortunate to identify and engage 20 such families,” Shah adds.
The designer believes that Indian textiles, especially saris, are heirloom pieces and a must in any woman’s wardrobe. The evolution in designs, textures, patterns, fabric fusion has also made it universally appealing across age groups, he says. “Besides, celebs such as Vidya Balan and Sonam K Ahuja have also fuelled the love and admiration for handwoven textiles,” he adds. Shah’s other new collection, Garam Masala, showcases all this and more—the traditional styles of India, combining antiquity with a contemporary outlook.
The monochromatic theme of the collection symbolises daily mundane lives where an experience out of the ordinary adds flavour and makes it interesting—just as garam masala does to food. The collection comprises weaves from the handloom clusters of Kanchi, Varanasi, Patan, kota, Puttapaka, Uppada, paithani, jaamdani and kani.
The designer recently launched his online store that features a range of classic, versatile and statement pieces, all handwoven. “I wanted our online store to amplify the voice of India’s jaamdani craftsmanship plus fortify our efforts to further encourage, promote, and preserve our weaving heritage. Online shopping will also enable an increase in consumer desire for Indian fashion, build its inventive appeal, and the power of wearing heritage clothing as self-expression,” he says.
It took over six months of research to create 600 shades of colours in order to do justice to the natural colours that Varma used for his paintings