For the Péro ‘Labour of Love’ line, designer Aneeth Arora puts aside the sewing machine

Aneeth Arora recalls how, way back in 2007 while showing her label Péro in the ‘Gen Next’ segment of Lakme Fashion Week, she sent out a completely hand-done line — hand stitches on simple clothing dyed in natural dyes. Stores were sceptical. “They felt it was too expensive for something so plain.” There was support from one quarter — designer Sabyasachi. “Stick to your guns. Just do this. If you have to commercialise it, do it partially,” he told her. “So what I did was I mixed machine stitching with hand stitching, so that I reduce the handwork. But side by side I kept doing this for people who’re keen on buying things like this; I would customise this for people.”

Now, through Péro’s new line, ‘Labour of Love’, the designer will be translating what has been her original dream — garments where each seam and hem has been stitched by hand, the sewing machine rendered completely obsolete.

While Indian designer wear still leads in terms of the amount of handwork that goes in, it is mostly in the domain of embroidery and surface embellishment. ‘Labour of Love’ pushes the envelope towards a more organic kind of clothing where handwork isn’t to fill in for what a machine can’t do but where it is a virtue in itself.

At an exhibition on the theme of women empowerment, held earlier this month in London, Aneeth sent a completely hand-made garment, along with an artwork that put together swatches of embroidered hearts made by all the women working at Péro. She called it ‘Labour of Love’. A request from a store there for a hand-made line set things in motion.

“Since then I’ve been thinking that for me it really is a comeback to what I really wanted to do. Even though I have been doing it all along, now I’d like to do it full-fledged,” she says. “It’s completely done by hand. My textiles are anyway hand-woven, my buttons are hand-made, my buttonholes are hand-done, labels are hand-embroidered... Even now, 80 per cent of my clothing is hand-stitched. But then there are machine seams somewhere. But this one is exclusively hand-done, really a labour of love.”

Pieces from ‘Labour of Love’ will be available across all the current lines, including women’s wear and Chota Pero, the children’s line.

The past three to four years, the designer who has been collecting hand-made pieces; finds range from her grandfather’s kurtas to garments collected on trips to villages.

“I’ve been reviving traditional techniques in textiles, but this is an age-old, traditional technique of stitching. So it’s another kind of revival. Women in Kutch still do dowries for their daughters, and they stitch it with their hands. There are different levels. There’s a royal family wearing completely finely stitched hand-done clothing. And then there are people in villages who do crude stitching with thick thread. But it’s completely by hand,” she says pointing to the seams on the toile of a kedia. “When I do it too, I would like to offer really refined hand stitching, where you can’t even see the hand stitches, and something which is really crude.”

Pointing to the tucks on a peasant shirt brought in from London, she illustrates how hand-stitching is a tradition that existed everywhere.

“The first line that I did, in 2007, was by a guy who stitched for the royal family in Jaipur — really fine stitches and hand-rolled seams. In Lucknow people still do it; the chikankari kurtas are completely hand-done, and even the seams are hand-rolled. In villages they began by essentially hand stitching their garments; the concept of machine stitching wasn’t introduced to them. If you go to different villages you will see a difference in the way they stitch the garments, the threads they use, the stitch length they use... The basic thing is it’s hand done. How they interpret it in different regions is different,” Aneeth explains.

“Even in village clothing, they’re really smart. In places that are going to be pulled while wearing, they use bakhiya (a back stitch that simulates the machine stitch, also used in Chikankari). But in something like a collar, which doesn’t get pulled much, they use a simple running stitch to hold it together… So all this vocabulary is what I’m willing to translate into my clothing.”

Prices for ‘Labour of Love’ will, obviously, be higher than the regular Péro line, which is already considered pricey in relation to other contemporary labels. “…because even now there’s a lot of hand work. This is going to be really exclusive. It’s going back to the tradition of a piece passing through the hands of various craftspeople and coming out as a unique piece in the end. This is wearable, but it’s haute couture for me, the most refined level of clothing that someone can offer to a wearer. It will be like how people pay for art, who want to possess it for a reason. Also, this is something that people will pass on to their next generation. They would not want to discard it after they’ve worn it.” With the orders expected to be limited to a small niche, the buyer’s initials will be embroidered on each piece.

Also, ‘Labour of Love’, makes more sense now than five years ago, as Péro now has a firm base and an identifiable aesthetic. “Now I can afford to do something like that, where I don’t have to think how I would pay people I’m responsible for if it doesn’t sell.”