A new crop of clothing

Shalini Subramanian revels in the beauty of fabrics’ natural fall. As a 14-year-old, she first discovered the excitement of sewing pleats and tucks, folds and gathers, onto the fabric lying around the house from her mother’s tailoring experiments. Years later, as a fashion design student at NID, Ahmedabad, she found in her classes on costume and design history that generations of seamstresses before her had gloried in this exact pleasure of unstructured fabric. Their language became hers and from 2003, her Bangalore-based label Plantation House has created pieces that exude freedom and flow, where fabric reaches beyond the contours of the body and breathes a life of its own.

A decade and more has passed since, but Shalini still speaks this language. Her colours have evolved; ways of wearing her pieces have changed with time, but her design aesthetic has held its ground. “I know women who are still wearing the clothes I sewed back in 1996. Plantation House isn’t based on fashion. It’s about sustainability, and a design sensibility that is long standing,” says Shalini, ahead of the opening of her fresh line of clothing at Amethyst Room, Chamiers Road, this weekend. Back in college, Shalini says she wasn’t much of an artist, which was unusual for a design student. Thus, while a whole host of designers made their creations through flat-pattern making, as two-dimensional drawings that translated into three-dimensional cloth, Shalini found that constructing garments through draping and structuring them directly on the mannequin was far more interesting. “It is like sculpture. The unpredictability of how fabric falls and drapes around the body still defines design for me.”

Shalini’s creations range from tunics, kurtas, shirts and dresses, to wide-legged bottoms, Turkish pants, stoles and jackets, with asymmetric hemlines, open necks and fly-away sleeve ends, that draw primarily from African, West Asian and Japanese traditional clothing. From loose robes, kimonos, thobes and overcoats, Shalini takes inspiration that’s channelled into a distinctly Indian taste reflected in her handloom silks, organic cottons and other natural-dyed native fabrics. “The collection at Amethyst is a merry mix of the frivolous and the sensible, where you could either pick up three or four pieces and wear them all together or use them as separates to complement your wardrobe staples. For instance, you could pair a long-sleeved tunic with a Turkish pant for a Middle-Eastern feel, or you could add one of the sheer pieces to your tank top and jeans for a completely different look. It’s finally about being comfortable in what you’re wearing.”

This primal sense of comfort clothing, which masks the body into freedom of movement, is what Shalini says brings her clients from 14 to 75 years of age. The women who model her clothes range from sprightly children, to elderly women content with the effect of time on their bodies. “These clothes aren’t for stick figures and perfect people, but bodies of every kind.” While the same piece looks different on different people, Shalini says, she restructures one design idea for different body types. “It’s all about getting the horizontals correct, so that in the way the clothes cut your body, the lines that ensue flatter your shape. This comes back to the basic principles of design. It’s about returning to how we first wore clothes, about bringing back the purity of clothing construction from that time.”

Across cultures world over, Shalini notes that folk costumes work with the basic shapes of squares, rectangles and triangles that are tweaked and folded over their characteristic ways of falling. It is these shapes that she works with still, down to personally cutting over a third of the stock at her design house, now aided by a small team. What changes though, is her colour palette.

At Amethyst, the pieces span from classic basics such as deep navy, dark green and bright whites, to the more unusual mustards, chocolate browns and soft creams, with never an embellishment but for occasional texturing.

“Colour is my strength. I encourage people to colour-block often and I add new colours every six weeks,” she says. At Plantation House’s core, though, is a sense of pace that resists obsessive change that takes joy in practicality and earthiness, much like life itself in a plantation house.

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Printable version | Sep 12, 2021 9:55:11 AM |

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