Handloom is haute, asserts designer Rahul Mishra who launches his new line “Jaama” in the city today

It's been five years since Rahul Mishra entered fashionbiz. And he's made heads turn for the right reasons. From his line of reversible clothes (a dress in Kerala cotton that doubles as a brocade outfit) and intricate experiments with Chanderi to making the coarse khadi caressing enough for contemporary silhouettes and giving an all-new spin to Ikat, the young Mumbai-based designer believes that homespun is haute. In Chennai, at Evoluzione, Nungambakkam, for the launch of “Jaama”, a new line inspired by the intricate motifs and recurring geometric patterns in Islamic art and architecture, Mishra says he has dedicated his journey in the design world to restoring the lost glamour of our traditional textiles and doing his bit for the uplift of the weaving community. Excerpts:

ART AND PROGRESSION Jaama is a royalty-inspired line that draws heavily from the art and architecture of Islam. When I visited Saudi Arabia in 2010, I was deeply impressed by the geometric patterns on walls, domes, canvases, tapestries and tiles. When you combine, duplicate or interlace circles, squares, rectangles or triangles, they have an anionic quality about them. Geometric forms are about beauty and progression — from the finite to the infinite…

SIMPLICITY IS ALL Slender phones, flat screen TVs, diet drinks and willowy silhouettes… slim is the buzzword. So the biggest challenge for designers is to ‘engineer' traditional textiles to create light, fluttery and feminine garments. But achieving a simple aesthetic is a complicating process. It's a challenge that keeps us alive as designers. Women are multi-tasking all the time, so if they can't wear a handloom sari, why not give them a hand-woven modern ensemble that's light and easy to carry off?

I've worked extensively with the Chanderi weave for this line. Usually, in Chanderi, the motifs are very small. But my weavers were open to experimenting with huge motifs (15 to 20 inches long) for this collection. It was a stupendous task to pull off.

WEAVING A DREAM During the past five years, my biggest concern as a designer has been empowerment of the weaving community. I've adopted a whole village in Chanderi and have tried to provide huge monetary support to the weavers through my work. Now, I see a sea change. People who did not even have bank accounts board flights and flaunt laptops. Since my designs are complex, they find more money and satisfaction in the work. I have constant orientation sessions with them… I've helped them explore technology, understand seasons and become more business-like. After all, it's just a few additional skills that differentiate me from them!

CHENNAI CALLING The city has been an exceptional market for me. People here have an intellectual sense of fashion. They don't get swayed by trends and love the tradition-modern mix — which is my USP.

WEAVE OF TIME I've worked extensively with weavers for an Ikat project initiated by the Taj Group of hotels. Traditional Kerala cotton is another all-time favourite of mine. I've already begun research for an upcoming line using Kancheepuram weaves. I'm now trying to identify a weak, yet skilled group of weavers from the area whom I can support through this line.

FROM PHYSICS TO DESIGN Oh, that explains my scientific approach to design and my philosophy of engineering textiles! With a doctor for a dad, you can imagine the aspirations he had for me. And unfortunately, I was a bright student, so he wished I hit the predictable doctor-engineer-civil servant route. But I ran away from home and stayed with my sister in New Delhi. I enrolled at National Institute of Design and later won a scholarship to the Istituto Marangoni, Milan. From Rs. 7 a month fee at school in my village in U.P. to a scholarship to the tune of Rs. 1.5 crore, my life's filled with many experiences that have enriched me.

FASHION FILE

* Rahul Mishra was described as “The Talent to Watch Out For” by French style guru Didier Grumbach

* He was voted as the Pepsi MTV Youth Icon for year 2009

* He also won the International Designer of the Year award in the most Commercial Design category at the IAF (International Apparel Federation) annual convention held in The Netherlands in 2009

* He was featured in the list of top 20 young Indians who would shape India’s future for Vision-India 2020

* Recently, a documentary film on Handlooms of India, made by National Geographic Channel profiled his work.

* Rahul has been invited to exhibit his work at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum

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