Umang Hutheesing draws from his family’s royal costume collection to create a bridal line that, he says, is not ‘fashion’.
Umang Hutheesing isn’t too amused when people look at the embroidery on his designs and say, “Oh, this is zardozi,” or “This is gota.” “This is karchob,” he emphasises, “It was done during Mughal times.” The scion of the grand Hutheesing family of Ahmedabad, who now heads the Hutheesing Design Company founded by ancestor Magganbhai Hutheesing in 1881, happens to be in possession of what’s one of the largest collections of royal/ ancient costumes in India, ranking somewhere beside that at the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad and the TAPI (Textiles and Art of the People of India) in Surat — interestingly, all in Gujarat. Read, around 2000 pieces that include everything from late Mughal cotton costumes to clothes from Rajputana, Central India, Bengal, Kashmir, Mysore, Hyderabad, Kancheepuram and Kutch. This covers royal costumes, nomadic costumes and clothes from tribes like the Todas, Nagas, Rabaris, Banjaras. “It’s a reasonably well-established collection. A lot inherited, a lot collected — consciously collected by my parents, grandparents,” says Umang. Parts of the Hutheesing collection are now housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Tiffany’s (with which the family had a three-decade-long partnership) and the Brooklyn Museum. So, when, in 2010, he decided to bring out a commercial collection, the template was available on hand.
At Evoluzione at the Kila near the Qutub, he’s just unveiled his ‘The Royal Bride’ collection, a rich, hand-intensive range that’s draws as much from Mughal heritage as George V — the aforementioned antique karchob work appearing on velvet European-style capes, Mughal bandees and chogas, to name a few.
Umang had showcased the original collection in Paris in 2010 (to open the year of India in France), the restoration of which was entrusted to the master craftsmen earlier employed in the poshak khanas of Ahmedabad. “It is not like this work can be done in any embroidery workshop. These are craftsmen who worked for the royal families. With the royal patronage gone, most of them remain unemployed because to produce them is necessarily, by definition, expensive. These are palace crafts. They were master craftsmen and they are unique — it’s like palace architecture. I employ only craftspeople to restore my original collection, but that’s not the only way to keep them employed 365 days. And I started producing this new collection, to keep them employed. And they don’t have to work in restaurants and coffee shops...” Umang explains. “Have you seen the movie Like Water for Chocolate? Food cooked with love and that cooked with sorrow will taste different even with the same recipe. These are clothes made with love, clothes made with happy workers.”
“People should remember that even Akbar’s poshak khana was not in Delhi; it was in Ahmedabad. Throughout the Mughal rule, all their clothes were made in Ahmedabad and Lahore. And then the legacy continued. India had 560-odd royal families, of which almost 300 were in Gujarat. So there was so much patronage in Gujarat. And also the temples. Embroidery was also done in Jain temples. It was for the God and the maharaja; it never entered the larger public domain.” Until now, he means to say.
Umang has also started a foundation called India Smiling, under which 500 children of craftspeople have been adopted and their medical expenses and education provided for.
While selling in a multi-label fashion boutique, Umang maintains he’s a revivalist and not a fashion designer. “My collections are not anchored in Fall/ Winter or Spring/ Summer. I’m not fashion, I’m old-fashioned. My clothes don’t come with a tagline. Time will not kill it. It’s like your grandmother’s ghagra; you take it out it’s beautiful, your grandchildren can take it out and it’s still beautiful.”
The collection, he says, is his story and that of his family. “My inspiration doesn’t come from the sun and the moon and the Taj Mahal. My inspiration comes from my own family. I’m not going to create stories. The biggest fashion icon of the 20th Century is Yves Saint Laurent. To have your clothes hung in his salon… that’s something, eh?” he chuckles.