Designer duo Swati and Sunaina bring to Hyderabad ‘Gold’, their unique line of Banarasi saris. Rather than calling them design duo, it might be apt to refer to them as textile connoisseurs and revivalists. Swati Agarwal and Sunaina Jalan came together, driven by their passion for heirloom textiles, and started their label in 2007 with prime focus on weaves from Benaras.
Their ‘Gold’ series will showcase 18 single edition saris in hues of gold, each one being a window into a technique of weave or craft. “Over the years through our interactions, we’ve found that women from Hyderabad are connoisseurs of fine textiles and own a great collection of saris. The line we’re bringing to the city is exclusive,” the designers state.
- The saris in Gold series are inspired by floral motifs found in Mughal arts — motis found in Piettre Durra (stone inlay in marble), Bidri (silver inlay in metal), hand carving on precious stones, Meenakari, and other printed and woven textiles of the Mughal era.
- Swati and Sunaina worked for a few years to make the gyasar suitable to be draped as a sari. They had to reduce the weight and modify the construction of the textile to make it light, while retaining the original character of the Oriental influence.
- A special zari was created in silver of 98.5% purity and electroplated with 24 carat gold to achieve the bright tone.
Recently, Swati and Sunaina exhibited a collection of weaves in New Delhi that traced the evolution of pure zari. ‘Gold’ is an extension of this concept and their unflinching love for heritage Benaras weaves. Each sari will be given to the buyer in a wooden box (remember how we hear stories of ancestral saris found in torn condition in old trunks? Rolling the saris and storing them in a wooden box ensures longevity), a unique identification number, certificate of authenticity, description of the weave and motifs, a zari thread that can be tested, details of the masterweaver or craftsman, silk mark and a handloom mark. In a way, the saris are documented for posterity.
When Swati and Sunaina began their journey, they learnt the hard way that there was no documentation of time-tested techniques. “India is the only country to use pure metal — silver dipped in 24carat gold for the zari,” emphasises Swati. She rues that a few years ago, very few craftsmen in Benaras were willing to do the traditional weaves. “It’s a different scenario today where we’re witnessing handloom revival. Young women are wearing handloom saris and relegating the lehengas to sangeet . The situation wasn’t encouraging when we started. Traditional Banarasi saris were considered fit for older women. The influx of cheaper quality of chiffons and georgettes had made weavers move to these industries to make ends meet,” she recalls.
The designers had an uphill task convincing some of the weavers to get back to their pit looms and revive old techniques. The weavers were hesitant, unsure if there would be a steady flow of work. “We gained their trust gradually,” say the duo.
Researching heritage textiles, Swati and Sunaina hold forth on European, Persian and British influences on Indian weaves and how these reflect in Banarasi saris.
They take pride in having helped the revival of the ‘Rang-Kaat’ (colour cut) Banarasi saris. “The technique is time consuming and hence the saris are expensive. We began with two colours and stepped it up to three, four and five. Each rang-kaat sari is unique,” vouch the designers.
Also part of the Gold series are ‘gyasar’ saris that hark back to Oriental influences, particularly Tibetian monasteries. Traditionally the textiles that used this technique involved thick satin and were heavily gilded.
Design intervention involved using fabric that’s thinner and softer for draping as a sari.
(Gold by Swati and Sunaina will be unveiled at Taj Krishna, Hyderabad, on November 15; 5 pm, and the exhibition continues on November 16 in collaboration with Angasutra)