Vanashree Rao retails exclusive designer Kalamkari apparel through her label Angikam

Life is a dance. Dancers can’t help seeing that. So while Vanashree Rao’s dance on stage is called Kuchipudi, she has to face life’s share of challenges like everyone else, and find her own choreographic patterns to maintain her equilibrium. But if life is a dance, it has to be 24/7. So it is that Vanashree brought her dance into first her wardrobe and then into others’, before transforming it into her own designer label – Angikam. Now Angikam that specialises in Kalamkari-based designs embellished from Vanashree’s vast imagination and widespread exposure to the craft traditions of India, has gone from her little known hobby to a business with the approbation of the Crafts Council of India.

Working with traditional Kalamkari painters of Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh and a tailoring unit led by master tailor Akram Ansari in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh, Vanashree is delighted at not only the response her designs get but also the very fact that ideas keep coming in an avalanche.

Over the years she has convinced the Kalamkari artists to work with non-traditional colours like peacock blue and combines Kalamkari saris with zari, prints and threadwork from other regions of India. In the process she brings together the country as it were, like when she takes a Kalamkari sari sketched by her, painted by a team under National Award winner Viswanath Reddy, and embellished with gold booti and borders by the Farrukhabad tailors. She has even started the delightful concept of “reconstructing” saris. Here she combines two or more old saris a client may give her, and, giving free play to her imagination — her admitted lack of design training gives her an experimental streak unfettered by rules or trends — creates a completely new piece after cutting, rejoining, appliqué work and embroidery.

It all started when she began designing her own blouses, says Vanashree. People everywhere would exclaim at their beauty and uniqueness. One of the reasons for the expansion was the urging of her husband, Guru Jayarama Rao, who quips, “I told her, just give everybody four each, they keep on complimenting you...here, take 20,000 rupees and make everyone happy!”

Another was her need to hunt for saris to match the exquisite blouses! “I thought why should I be looking for saris, I can design better ones,” says Vanashree, who is known by the original spelling of Banasri Rao in her business avatar.

The final professional pat came when by chance she was noticed by Kasturi Menon of the Crafts Council of India and offered an exhibition in Kolkata where she was sold out.

At present Vanashree makes jackets and shawls too and has an office not far from her Asiad Village home, since eager customers were walking into the middle of dance classes! Here she can meet clients and sketch her designs (traditional motifs from a range of Indian designs that don’t customarily form part of Kalamkari, or re-interpretations, like a sari whose pallu is the entire peacock tail, whose graceful neck adorns the torso of the wearer). She however, gives all credit to her Masterji in Farrukhabad who loves his work and takes amazing pains in the detailing.