Pankaj S Chadha doesn't ask an artisan how much he should pay for a hand-embroidered creation once it is completed. Holding the exquisite piece reverently, he inquires how much he should nyochhawar (sacrifice) on it?
"Their beauty, details and finesse render these embroideries priceless. Money cannot quantify the man-hours that go into them. To ask the karigar 'how much do I pay?' would trivialise his artistry. As a mark of respect for his artisanship we use that word," he explains.
Chadha’s reverence for these ancient Indian embroidery and handicrafts revealing his sensitivity towards them. A trait evident in the heirloom pieces crafted under his label, Pankaj S Heritage, that he launched in 2018.
An artist at heart, Chadha’s design narrative is all about ancient heritage embroideries and crafts. Born and brought up in Delhi, Chadha armed himself with a degree from NIFT before launching a label for populist fashion.
A few years later though, he decided to channelise his creativity into reviving India’s rich craft traditions. Essentially, he researched and documented embroideries that the royals and nobility patronised before incorporating them on handwoven fabric.
Adopting about 24 clusters of artisans and weavers from Kashmir to Pochampally, Chadha invested in single pieces that would stand out amidst the crowd of random blingy fashion. The point was to be a custodian of artfully done couture that showcases the wizardry of award-winning artisans, master weavers and miniature painters.
"You can't rush them to create in bulk. In fact, my weavers and karigars create only a few good works in a year. Every piece is lovingly crafted with leisure so that the end product is something to behold. Be it the artisanal chikankari, the exquisite gulkari, the beautiful maalka kaam, aari work of Kashmiri or the miniature paintings that get mounted on silver to be shown off on a jacket or blouse," explains the couturier.
For instance, for his 'Dashavatara blouse', he had his miniature artists (he works with clusters from Chamba to Deccan) paint the Ashtalakshmi, which were then framed in antique silver and mounted on handwoven Banarasi silk.
They were ensconced with exquisite Rajasthani gota patti embroidery, navratan zardozi of Rampur and other intricate details. While the bodice used real silver gota patti (with a burnished finish), the sleeves took on plastic zari gota with a pronounced shine. "This was done to highlight the difference between traditional gota patronised by royalty and the new-age one. Connoisseurs must understand why they are paying what they are paying," Chadha says.
The influx of cheap machine embroidery has ruined the market, he rues. "Not many understand that haath ka kaam demands a certain price because of the finesse involved. At Pankaj S Heritage, we are trying to promote the appreciation of old styles. People have to realise that royalty loved these crafts not for nothing. Look at our chikankari and you will know. Apart from all the signature stitches, we include the kori motif as emperors were particular about them. Our Pashmina shawls have to have that detail," he adds.
Apart from the handwoven silks and jamdanis that he uses, the designer also finishes the linings with hand-dyed mashru. Then, there are agates, emeralds, rubies and uncut polkis on his shaluquas, blouses and other separates. It's all about adding an heirloom quality to every piece, he signs off.