Hyderabad-based designer Archana Jaju’s new collection is called Revival, the name ringing apt as we step out of the second wave of COVID-19. Archana, however, began working on this formal and ready-to-wear line before the pandemic set in. The inspiration: the red-crowned crane.
She spotted these birds, often referred to as Japanese cranes, in India and learnt that they were nearly endangered in the early 20th century in Japan. Subsequently, an increase in numbers were witnessed as legal protection came into place with the bird being designated as a Special Natural Monument in 1952. Reportedly, there are around 1300 red-crowned cranes in Japan.
The crane is a recurring motif in kalamkari. Revival also alludes to the perseverance and resilience of the young, independent Indian woman, according to Archana. Saris, kurtas, midi dresses and tops in relaxed silhouettes in Chanderi and organza, dipped in natural dyes of earthy pastel hues get embellished with thread, sequins and mirror work and portray these cranes as ballerinas.
“We visited a few national parks in India on a family vacation and the beautiful red-crowned cranes drew my attention. The cranes inspired me to create a collection; I wanted to represent them through the kalamkari art form. Spotting the cranes near the water body in one of the national parks was truly memorable. We tried to replicate this scene through a similar framing for the collection,” she says. It took her three years to translate the idea into a wearable collection.
Archana says a striking feature was spotting the birds in pairs: “Their appearance is also unique, enabling them to blend in the shades of black, white and red. These colours have inspired the pieces of this collection. The grace and distinctiveness of the birds inspired the designs.”
While it isn’t new to represent birds and animals as design elements in textiles, Archana says she wanted to look at the crane’s graceful characteristics of the cranes that resemble ballerinas. When she presented the idea to kalamkari artisans, they were game to do something out of the norm. “We provided them with sketches. They found this to be different from their monotonous routine and were enthusiastic,” she adds.
Archana has been liaising with 200 artisan families in 17 clusters across India over the last two decades. Revival ensured that some of them had a steady workflow during the pandemic. Kalamkari artisans and a few weavers worked from Archana’s workshop at Srikalahasti near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. The embroidery was done by craftspeople at her Hyderabad workshop.
Kalamkari is known for its traditional designs that borrow from the epics as well as the time-tested Tree of Life. Archana’s collection reimagines traditional kalamkari patterns with a contemporary touch: “The motifs are new and the silhouettes make the designs further appealing to the younger generations. Think short kurtas and midi dresses with these modern versions of the art form.”
The designer remembers a time when anarkalis and short kurtas dominated ready-to-wear collections, but that has changed with time, “We are now creating pieces with designs and colours that appeal to the younger generation as well.”