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Ekaya takes Indian handloom to Paris Couture Week

You can count on the wedding dress to create a stir at every Couture Fashion Week in Paris. Last month’s mighty parade of extravagant creations was no different, with the white gown stepping out as a tuxedo from Chanel or as Parisian fashion house On Aura Tout Vu’s risqué experiment with a see-through skirt (earning it the ‘naked wedding dress’ label on social media). Which is why Palak Shah of Ekaya was smart to say ‘yes’ when Fédération Française de la Création Couture Sur Mesure came calling with a wedding proposition.

15 and counting

This federation of ‘custom made’ in Paris has an annual show that partners its members with the finest weavers from across the world. With India being in focus in 2018, they approached Ekaya. The result? Project Cousu d’Or — Magical Weaving where wedding dresses by 15 designers from Germany, Italy, America and France use 18 different Indian fabrics from Ekaya, in ivory and gold. “I faced the usual advice before I came here: that Indian colours are too bright and the motifs too strong for the West,” begins Palak, speaking from Paris the morning after the launch party. “We have self-imposed limitations and it is only when you step out that you realise anything is possible. So what if the West is used to fabric of 55-inch width as opposed to India’s 45-inch? We can work around this.”

Ekaya takes Indian handloom to Paris Couture Week

Breaking the rules

At 26, this CEO with a business management degree from King’s College in London, and an MBA at Babson, Boston, is not going to let anything, or anyone, hold her back. In 2012, she joined her father Bharat Shah to give their 70-year-old textile family business in Varanasi a Delhi address with Ekaya. Then came unconventional sari collections, courtesy collaborations with designers Abraham & Thakore, Playclan (think Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancers on bright Benarasi silks), Parsi embroidery by Ashdeen Lilaowalia (birds of paradise and peonies in a Parsi-Benarasi narrative), Frou Frou, and last December, with couturier JJ Valaya for his Alika project. In August, she launched Thaan in the capital, a fabric archival destination on the floor above Ekaya. It has opened many doors, locally and internationally.

Ekaya takes Indian handloom to Paris Couture Week
“I call myself the bridge between these designers, for when they go to Benaras, the weavers don’t necessarily understand them. Weavers enjoy a trust factor with my father and have the guarantee that all ‘experiments’ will be sold. This is not possible when designers go to them and ask for 10 metres of customised fabric,” adds Palak, who has since encouraged metallic accents and geometric patterns on silks and cotton, the snakeskin effect, and motifs inspired by ancient tiles. “I’m a quick worker, like my father. I was back from Boston in May and Thaan was ready in August. There is never a dull moment,” she confirms.

Throwback moment
  • At the exhibition, a white chikankari dress by Letz-Martin (known to collaborate with Chanel and Vera Wang) with high detail and clever pattern cutting, has been getting good reviews. It takes you back to Vogue India’s Project Renaissance, when the magazine got luxury fashion brands to experiment with Indian textiles: Alberta Ferretti’s elegant gown in kanjeevaram and Missoni’s chikan dress. That was back in 2012, at around the time Ekaya launched.

No stops, please

Comfortable in saris at most events — “I like the conventional drape” — she made a statement with her Benarasi pantsuit when launching Thaan. She has since talked about transforming Indian fabrics into trench coats and dresses. Over the phone from Paris, she says hobnobbing with fashion editors, bloggers, make-up and jewellery CEOs at the launch party the previous night, has got her thinking. “Why not bags, or even hats with Indian fabrics, I wonder. My time in France this time has been all about minimalism. I now see myself working with texture and not necessarily heavy work. So many people have talked about presenting Indian textiles with a Western sensibility and have not delivered,” she says, speaking rapidly and bluntly. She will return to India next week to begin other campaigns for Ekaya, and there is something for men too. I wonder how her team keeps up. “They are all young. The average age is 29, from manager to sales executive!”

Cousu d’Or is at Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg till February 25.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 6:46:08 PM |

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