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The river as a leitmotif

On a breezy evening, as October drew to a close, the central courtyard at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in Delhi had been transformed into a caravanserai from medieval times, complete with tents, drapes and canopies. The heady fragrance of vetiver and incense coloured everything; thick strands of bark and dried roots hung from the ceiling in the main staging area. A detailed screen-printed map, showing the winding route of the mighty Sindhu river, ran like a leitmotif across the venue. Envisaged by scenographer Sumant Jayakrishnan, the set featured scrolls, textiles and pieces of clothing, some displayed on the wall and others suspended from the ceiling.

This was the setting for “an evening of stories”, which marked the 10th anniversary of Good Earth’s clothing label, Sustain. To mark the occasion, a special fashion presentation, titled Sindhu, had been planned.

The collection, which will be retailed through the year through small prêt collections and via bespoke orders, seeks to anchor Sustain’s ethos—of combining contemporary clothing with craft consciousness. “We started 10 years ago with the idea of revisiting traditional silhouettes such as chogas, loose pyjamas (farshis) and shararas in everyday clothing. The vision was to bring together heritage crafts with a modern outlook. And Sindhu perfectly articulates this 10-year-long journey,” says Anita Lal, founder and creative director, Good Earth.

The collection takes a closer look at the techniques—living traditions—practised alongside the Sindhu, from Tibet to Kutch. These include crafts such as bandhinis, mashru, thangka paintings, Rabari mirror-work, bead-work, varq, leheriya and hand-block prints. “During the fashion presentation, we called these the technologies of imagination. Technology is not just about creating an automobile but also about articulating creative ideas through a weave, embroidery and surface ornamentation,” explains Lal.

These age-old techniques have been interpreted in garments such as gypsy skirts, mashru shirts with tassels, farshi pyjamas, kediyo tops with long dresses, dushalas and angarakhas.One can also see structured jackets, kurtas, shirts and jumpsuits from Abeer, Sustain’s first menswear collection. “Sindhu is a way of acknowledging our heritage, and of saying a heartfelt thank you to the people who have created it,” says Lal.

To conceptualize the collection, the design team engaged in research not just about the textile craft practised along the river since the Indus Valley Civilization, but also about the way our ancestors lived. “The first thing our ancestors did was to cultivate cotton and make it into a yarn. That was a massive innovation. Even today, some of those places in India and Pakistan are hubs for the best cotton textiles,” she adds. “We also decided to take a closer look at ajrakh, a technique used in Kutch 5,000 years ago.”

In fact, ajrakh is at the very heart of Sindhu, bringing together the additions that Sustain’s design team has made to the existing ajrakh vocabulary in the past 10 years. Take, for instance, the fostat brocade, a 15th century hand-block printed ajrakh pattern, which has been reinterpreted in silk brocade by the master weavers of Varanasi. Or the Ajrakh Mingora, named after a place in Swat valley, Pakistan. The design team has added to the signature pattern of clouds, lotuses, dots and fish scales. “In fact, for one of Sustain’s earliest designs, our designer stayed with craftspeople in Bhuj, after which she created an entire line based on the gondhana, the little dots tattooed on the faces and arms of women. We called it Siyahi,” says Lal. Instead of indigo, the team used a deep purply-black natural colour made from iron filings, which were then soaked in tamarind water and jaggery. “Most people use the siyahi (colour) only as outlines, but we created an entire line with it. Also, we extended its use beyond cotton to silk and velvet as well,” she adds.

Sindhu is also inspired by the nomadic communities of Banjaras, Rabaris, Kutchis and gyspy tribes like Romani, and presents designs for the nomadic traveller. “They were the intermediaries of culture. They would travel with the caravans and exchange ideas, products, craft, culture and technology. We don’t acknowledge them enough,” says Lal.



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