He is not shy of colours or bold motifs. Gaurang Shah’s saris, however, stand out for the unanticipated combinations of fabric and design
His love for the Jamdani weave is obvious in all his saris, and Gaurang Shah uses them liberally and creatively, combing it in with a kota, contrasting it with a translucent organza, or bringing out the best in a sombre khadi.
“A Jamdani weave is like Parsi embroidery; no threads are left hanging. It is all ‘sealed’ and so won’t get entangled with your accessories. It doesn’t need a protective net,” explains Gaurang, who’s made himself a household name in Hyderabad, with his non-conformist combination of weaves and fabrics. A Muga sari gets a Paithani silk border, a Kanjeevaram kuyilkan weave finds itself on an ample ghaghra, an Uppada design in Jamdani looks like a whole new language by itself. “I really enjoy texturing,” he says by way of explanation for choosing this weaving technique.
Gaurang was in Bangalore for his first ever exhibition in the city, as part of his tour Paanchali, which takes him to five cities totally. He is heading next in August-September to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai.
Calling his saris bold would be an understatement. It almost seems he has an obsession for huge floral motifs, with audacious sunflowers and roses strewn across most saris. There’s a khaki and Muga sari in his collection where the elaborate weave incorporates huge roses and bold paisleys connected by curvy vines. It almost looks like it’s been peeled off a classic English wallpaper. “Exactly,” beams Gaurang at my suggestion. “It was inspired by wallpaper prints. My weaver took one-and-a-half years to weave this.” Sigh! “And I paid one-and-half lakh just as labour charge. The Jamdani weave is so intricate that a weaver can weave not more than two inches in a day,” he points out.
Gaurang is not shy with colours either. A parrot green Ikkat body cascades into an elaborate Kanjeevaram border in the candy-est of pinks. And this is a border with elaborate animal motifs in its almost ten-inch height. His rainbow palette is dominated by hot pinks, oranges, bold reds, canary yellows, and neon greens. He also straddles the other end of the spectrum with equal ease with beige, cream, and off-white lulling the eyes in the readymade outfit line. Dresses are only available in exhibitions and run the gamut of matka, hand-painted Kalamkari, chikankari embroidery and more. In every kind of sari he makes, both the extremes of colour palettes are offered; sometimes he offsets the two to great effect.
“I believe in a revival in terms of the use of pure zari, weaving techniques, and design,” says Gaurang. He’s also brought back intricately woven ghaghras, complete with heavy gold-embroidered borders. “I do heavy silks, which makes them softer. And the softer it becomes, you can drape them better.”
Starting off in 1999 as a designer with no formal training in design, Gaurang says it was only passion that drove him to handloom when the chiffons and georgettes were reigning.
He recalls how his love for the sari began in his father’s fabric store for blouse pieces. “After school, my brother and I would go help in the shop and I got to see such an amazing variety of saris day after day.”
“At the time when I started off, traditional weavers were not getting much work. The younger generation was moving away from this profession. I brought about colour changes in traditional designs. Revived some of the old designs they knew. Today I have about 450 weavers all over the country working for me. In fact, there’s a khadi village near Vizag where nearly all the 100 families in the village get work from me. I draw a design and give it to them. I don’t set any limits on time and money. I have set up all my master weavers with a computer and explain things over video-calling. Now the younger generation of weavers is coming back into the fold because they feel they are getting their share of money for their effort.”
There’s been a demand for his saris outside the boundaries of Hyderabad and Mumbai, where he has two exclusive stores. “People in south India still use the sari as everyday wear, while in the north it’s almost gone; it’s only jeans and dresses. Now the sari has become occasional wear.” His saris range from around Rs. 9,500 to Rs. four lakh. He brought a film to show his buyers at the Bangalore exhibition. “My saris are expensive. And buyers should know why. They need to see what kind of work my weavers put in to make that sari.”