Checks for the beach

It’s been around since the 18th century, has found fans in Britain and America, and has had brands like Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren associated with it. So it’s interesting how, today, Madras checks has devolved to denote lungis in its country of origin, while internationally it epitomises a New England preppy look. Over the years, there have been many attempts to change the tide — with designers like Gaurang Shah and Madrid-based Kavita Parmar creating saris and classic European silhouettes with the fabric. Now, closer home, Ranvir Shah, the city-based businessman and cultural activist, is helping the colourful checks regain the spotlight.

All squared up

At a pop-up at Chamiers a couple of days ago, he launched Original Madras, a collection of casual Madras check shirts and graphic tees to coincide with the ongoing Covelong Point surf festival. With Madrid-based design consultant, Nicholas Benitz, pitching in, the silhouettes are relaxed. “The unstructured short-sleeved shirts, with four pockets (two breast and two hip pockets each), have been designed to wear open, or to stick your hands in,” explains Benitz, who has brands like Hackett on his résumé.

The Canadian shares that the collection came about quite serendipitously — during a conversation when he and Shah swapped stories. He spoke about a recent holiday to Hossegor near Biarritz (where he had clicked a picture of his 16-year-old son in a Madras check shirt), while Shah observed how Chennai is embracing a surf culture. Created in less than a month, the line includes 12 T-shirt designs (with motifs like autorickshaws, yogis on surfboards and Tamil type) and shirts in primary colours. “I love the shirts because of the story and heritage behind the weave, its vibrancy and the inherent randomness of the checks,” he says.

A surfer wears the Original Madras T-shirt at the ongoing Covelong Point Surf Festival.

A surfer wears the Original Madras T-shirt at the ongoing Covelong Point Surf Festival.  


Global reach

As for Shah, despite heading PS Apparels, a garment manufacturing company, he decided to launch his own line only this year. “I had to have clarity on what our USP would be, what it would represent in terms of personality, and what would last in the long run,” he shares. Looking to Madras checks was only natural, as Shah’s father had started the business during the ‘Bleeding Madras’ days. However, as he soon discovered, most of the artisans had given up on weaving it by hand. “So we went to the villages, partnered with a few groups of weavers, gave them our designs (Shah’s archive holds over 100,000 swatches), got the yarns dyed in the colours we wanted, arranged the warp and weft. So we were reviving the whole technique.” Going forward, he plans to mould it into a lifestyle brand, featuring a series of things that come from Madras. “I want to work not just from a point of design, but of provenance.”

In the next few months, we can also expect a line of formal shirts, jackets and waistcoats, under the Original Madras Trading Company umbrella. “The cuts will be more relaxed and, I’m also reworking the construction — using shirt-making techniques on jackets. Imagine putting a shirt shoulder on a jacket, it would become unstructured, giving a certain relaxed formality to the look,” Benitz adds. The collection will be retailed at exclusive stores across the country, and abroad.

Shirts from ₹1,200 onwards, at Chamiers. Details: 24311496

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 2:58:43 PM |

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