chat Designer A. Chandraprabha vows to uplift Madurai’s style quotient as A. SHRIKUMAR takes a peep into her awesome collections.

‘D ’zigner for women,’ says the board in funky fonts atop a humble house in Gomathipuram. Any passerby is sure to wonder what a designer is doing in Madurai, where art and design is perhaps understood only by a handful. But A. Chandraprabha says, “A sense of style exists in every society—small towns or big cities. Everyone wants to look their best.” Chandraprabha, a diploma holder in fashion designing, is all set to give her hometown’s women a high.

An expert in Ari work, a complex type of embroidery, she comes up with designs that are bold and beautiful, simple and smart and sometimes rich and intricate. “They are all handmade with extra love and care” she says, emphasizing ‘handmade’. Naturally, the extra love and care add extra zeroes on the price tag, but you get impeccable finishing for the money.

Four years back, when she started a small tailoring unit on the terrace of her house, it was a struggle to convince customers of her aesthetics and credibility. She designed trendy handbags, pouches and accessories for women using jute. “But it failed to catch the fancy of Madurai. Not everyone might like such items,” she observes.

Initially, she took up orders from some garment biggies in town and she admits it gave her a good start. But now she feels the town is a mixed bag of fashionistas and purists. “The response is overwhelming as I have around 50 customers of the city’s creamy lot, across various ages,” she says. It was only through word of mouth that her fame spread across the Vaigai.

Inspiration

Chandraprabha believes that academic training in designing is just a ritual, but creativity and exposure are the requirements for a good designer. Nature is where she draws her ideas from. A walk by the garden on a moonlit evening may be the perfect working lab for her brain. It may sound dramatic, but, when her inspiration is laid out as motifs on saris, one can see the dominance of leaf and flower patterns in the flashy-jazzy samples from her portfolio.

 “To get inspired is essential for every artist. But, similarly, one should strike a balance between individuality and the customers’ aesthetics,” she advocates. Whenever a new customer knocks on her door, she discovers his or her taste, incorporates her own elements accordingly, gives it all a twist and puts together a chic concoction.

Glittery stones, pearls, shiny sequins and gleaming zardozi adorn every piece of cloth in her working space. Her hands deftly move with any type of needle. Anything to do with threads and clothes fascinates Chandraprabha. She excels in patchwork, ari-zardozi, kalamkari, stone work and cut work. Though mainly dedicated to women’s ethnic wear, she now wants to cater to men. “People customize their wedding wear these days. Semi-precious stones on sherwanis and silk kurtas are very much in vogue among the city’s North Indians,” she notes.

With increasing patronage, she found it tough to work full time and play mother, so she took on Venkatesh, an experienced craftsman in cot work from Trivandrum, as her assistant.

In cot work a sari or piece of fabric is stitched to a cot and embroidered upon. “I doubt if this work is being done elsewhere in Madurai as it is a difficult form of embroidery and requires skilled labour,” says Chandraprabha.

Painstaking process

Cot work differs from hand embroidery as it involves no solid template designs. The desired motif is drawn on paper and then traced on butter paper. Minute holes are bored along the outline with a bell pin. The paper is placed on the fabric and a solution of kerosene and chalk powder is applied over it. The liquid seeps through and forms an outline on the cloth. Then the design is stitched along the outline. “This causes no damage to the fabric and can also be removed easily,” says Chandraprabha. “Usually, we make one or two buties or units as a sample and get a nod from the customer to go ahead with the design. If not, changes are made accordingly.”

“A sari with complex designs all over its body may take five days to be completed,” explains Venkatesh. “With simple patterns placed sparsely, the sari may be finished in two days. A single buta will take an hour.” Venkatesh works for 11 hours at a stretch on a particular piece. From a simple chain stitch to complicated shapes, everything is done by knotting and then is stitched on to the fabric surface. Kundans, chamkis and zardozis are also stitched and stones or pearls are sometimes pasted too. These items are picked up at wholesale prices from Chennai.

Chandraprabha as a kid used to stitch her mom’s blouses and salwar suits and now specializes in wedding blouses and saris. A blouse with simple designs starts from Rs. 400 and heavy, exquisite work costs around Rs. 4000. The designer, who values customer satisfaction above all, plans to open an exclusive boutique for ethnic wear.

“Even a simple cheap salwar from the roadside can be made stunning with minor darts and alterations. Style is an individual perception and cost is no factor to define fashion,” declares this Ritu Kumar of Madurai.

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