Classical art on couture

Red, black and white form the backbone. From that an entire body of colours evolve—happy, mysterious, brooding and boisterous. When inspiration comes from the otherworldly, the palette cannot be anything but intense. Seamstress, a boutique fashion label based in Thrissur, interprets the Theyyam on its garments.

Folklore and legend, Gods and people tell their stories through a piece of garment.

Adapting an age-old ritualistic tradition to fashion was a tough call, but the idea appealed to the founders- Vimala Viswambharan and her daughter-in-law Rasmi Poduval.

They wanted to replicate the vivid visual palette of the ancient art form on fabric.

As part of the groundwork for Kaithari, the label’s handloom line, Rasmi had to make frequent trips to the Northern belt of Kerala, especially Kannur and Thalassery where she witnessed Theyyam performances. But the idea to use it in fabric came from her photographer friend Pepita Seth, who has been researching the subject and has been working closely with Theyyam artistes.

“The Theyyam costumes are extremely elaborate and there is a certain appliquing technique and a common motif used that are not found anywhere else,” says Rasmi.

“We thought there would be a few specialised tailors doing this work and maybe we could employ them during the Theyyam off season. Better still, we could get them to shift to our design studio temporarily so we could look at experimenting with the original,” says Rasmi.

She met Lakshmanan Peruvannan, a leading Theyyam artiste from Kannur. “He said that everything a Theyyam performer donned was made by the performer himself. This meant that everything from the wooden bust to the elaborate head gear to the ceremonial robes the artiste made from scratch. We were stumped and also slightly ashamed that we knew so little about the lives of these artistes,” says Rasmi.

Lakshmanan, however, was impressed with the idea that Rasmi and team put forward and agreed to help with the design. He also cautioned them about the laborious nature of the work which could take months to be completed.

The work, titled The Theyyam Project, began a year ago with mixing and matching colours, samples and fabric, meeting with the artistes and watching the art form.To Rasmi’s surprise, one of the weavers working for Seamstress had a brother who was a Theyyam artiste. “That was a bonus. We now had two artistes on board,” she says.

Though the concept sounds grand on paper, the translation of it to actual garment was complex. Incorporating the mystical and the fantastical into something every-day was the main challenge. “We did not need the stiffness of the original fabric the artistes use or the canvas back-up in their costume. We wanted to stick to our own fabric and we decided to stick to traditional garments. Western or even Indo-western would not be able to carry off the drama,” Rasmi says.

Moreover, there was so much to draw from. The mukhathezhuthu, the intricate face painting the artistes don, presented a whole world of colour possibilities. “Tempting though it was, it was not practical to use them all,” Rasmi says. The fiery, earthy colours therefore appear as prints and patterns. The label’s sensibilities remain rooted to culture. “It is about knowing where we come from,” says Rasmi.

The Theyyam Project includes long and short kurtas, tunics and a few jackets and is available on the brand’s online store.

It will be launched at a summer bazaar called ‘Under the Parijata Tree’ hosted by Seamstress at Thrissur on April 8 and 9.

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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 6:21:59 AM |

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