Fashion

Taking the silk route

It was a cold and wet Sunday. A grey blanket hung in the sky as a turbulent welter of dark clouds swamped the city. Roads turned into rivulets, as rain beat down furiously and stormy winds thrashed treetops. But for those who walked unflustered into Kanakavalli in Adyar to be photographed in their finest kanjivarams, the weather seemed to be more about moods and memories.

“This is my favourite sari. I wore it when I first met my husband,” exclaimed one of them, who was accompanied by a friend draped in one of her grandmother’s hand-me-downs with the classic annapakshi design, while her teenage daughter, in a kanjivaram of course, posed excitedly for the lensman. Standing by the tastefully decorated entrance, Ahalya, the founder and creative director of the bespoke sari store, watched this showcase of emotion with a quiet smile. Clad like she always is in a silk sari with a long-sleeve, high-neck blouse, she personifies understated elegance with her minimal make-up-and-accessories look.

“The pictures taken at the day-long photo soiree are part of a pre-Deepavali celebration and will go into Kanakavalli’s ideas diary,” says Ahalya, who wants her creativity to be inclusive.

During Navaratri this year, she had organised Carnatic kutcheris at the stately Kingsley, her flagship store on Spurtank Road that was launched in July this year. Besides harmonious notes, sari-lovers were treated to Kancheepuram idlis and beautifully strung mallipoo. “I think our festivals and purchases are not just occasions, they are significant markers in our life. That is what tradition means to me — recollections, sweet memories,” she says.

“Curating saris for me is a cultural exercise. Experiencing our classical arts feels special when you are attired in a traditional outfit as an artiste or a rasika. Everything is about the aesthetic,” explains Ahalya, who comes from a family of doctors and educationists. “Mine was a wild card entry,” she laughs. “But my parents were supportive when I expressed my desire to pursue my love for fabrics and jewellery. My fitness-expert husband Ajit too enjoys my passionate tryst with the six yards. He loves seeing me draped in a kanjivaram. The other day, I was amazed to see my 14-year-old daughter carrying herself gracefully in a sari. I guess kanjivaram has knit the family together,” she laughs again.

Ahalya ensures every sari at Kanakavalli bears old-world motifs to be able to connect the wearer with an era gone by. “We only experiment with colours in our desire to make kanjivarams contemporary and adapt to changing times,” points out Ahalya, who wears saris all the time since she finds anything else uncomfortable. “So when I say the sari is a beautiful garment, you know it comes from my own strong belief. And not just the old generation, even youngsters who walk into my store prefer the classic appeal. We recognise forms and colours that we have grown up with. It is a natural process.”

Talking about how luxury is easily portrayed as something that is only about price, Ahalya feels it should be viewed in dimensions of time and space. True luxury is about all your senses… feeling good. And Kingsley, a re-appointed family home from the imperial era — a high-ceilinged pristine white structure with its teaks doors, stained glass windows, ornate pillars and spacious rooms, she thought was an ideal space to showcase a rich craft and to engage in the nuances of the weaves. It also houses her exquisite jewellery line. “Like kanjivarams, these spaces have a great recall value. It’s like a painting hanging in a gallery. You focus as much on the showcase as the painting,” she smiles, lounging on one of the antique chairs with her elaborate pallu flowing down to the smooth mosaic floor.

As for the name Kanakavalli, Ahalya says, “My first impression of beauty is prominent Bharatanatyam dancer Alarmel Valli. So the ‘Valli’ is from her name, I just added ‘Kanaka’ to it. Didn’t I tell you my saris are woven with magnificent silk threads, swaras and spaces?”


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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 3:16:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/fashion/silk-route/article7861598.ece

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