Creative spaces Society

A room full of designs and music

Sheila James

Sheila James   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Sheila James, proprietor of Czarina boutique, enjoys the comforts of her small space to give wings to her creativity

“I am in here...in my hideout,” says Sheila James as I call her over the phone from the first floor of Capitol Centre, General Hospital Junction, where she has been running her boutique, Czarina. And there she comes out of a small room on the same floor, elegantly dressed in a Bailou sari. “Very few know about this room...,” she says with a laugh, taking me inside, what she calls, her creative space. It is in the comfort of this space that Sheila, who etched a change in the city’s fashion scene, creates her designs on fabric.

Fragrance envelopes visitors who enter the room. “It is the smell of cinnamon from that scented candle. I always go for natural fragrances,” she says. Arranged on the shelf are photos of her parents, her family, a portrait of her father, the late Baby John, that she had painted and framed, and photos of Christ.

A floral arrangement on the left of her table has heliconia, star gazer lilies, carnations.... “I prefer orchids, but since they weren’t available my florist gave this. This floral arrangement is a must for me...,” she adds, taking in her neat work space.

A book with all the designs she has created over the years, fabric swatches, a catalogue with samples of thread, shade cards, a book on the history of Indian embroidery and a copy of Taslima Nasrin’s memoir Exile (the author had visited the boutique recently) are arranged neatly on her table.

Sheila James

Sheila James   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“While I keep a print of our designs, the originals are with my printers. Each design has a specific number and so I only have to tell that number for the printer to find it. The threads also come with a code number and so it is easy for me to convey the colour combination I have in my mind to my printer/dyer. As for the shade cards, earlier we had to make the cards, but now different companies are bringing out shade card catalogues,” she says.

Stacked in cupboards are different kinds of fabric, rolls of brocade borders and patches with works such as Zardosi, brocade, hand-work, Parsi embroidery and so on.

From designing salwar suits for a friend while living in Chennai, Sheila has come a long way. She opened Bodytunes, perhaps the city’s first boutique, in 1988. In 2000, Czarina was opened. Now the complex houses Czarina Designer Sari Boutique, Czarina Designer Wear Boutique, Czarina Royale and Czarina Cotton Studio. And this particular room has been her comfort zone from the beginning.

“Whenever I am working on a design, I just have to walk into Cotton Studio to get new ideas. With fabrics of different kinds right in front of my eyes, I can’t ask for anything more to get inspired,” she says.

Although much of her designing happens in this small room, Sheila says that there are occasions when she hits upon new designs in the middle of the night or when she wakes up.

“I immediately take note of it. The rarest of my designs have been created that way! My travels also give me new ideas. I regularly visit Banaras, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Rajasthan and several other places to purchase fabric or to meet the people who’ve been working for me for so many years now. Then there is Mother Nature with her endless colour combinations - of the flora, fauna, the sky, the ocean...,” says the fashionista.

Technology has changed the way she works, Sheila says. “My kaarigars (artisans) have gone hi-tech. I got the shock of my life when of one my kaarigars in Banaras told me, ‘Facetime pe design dekhayega’ (will show the design on Facetime). I learnt it and is quite an expert now in other applications, such as Whatsapp calls, Skype, Whatsapp messenger, Facetime and what not!” she says. She demonstrates this by connecting with her friend-cum-printer Nirmala Raman in Chennai via Whatsapp Messenger where the latter is supervising printing work on a new batch of saris.

Quietude is a must when she works. “Which means, no calls, no visitors. But even otherwise I can work if I really put my mind into it,” she adds.

Of late, she has found another medium to help her creativity - music. That explains the speaker in the room. And mikes too! “I have my list of favourite songs and singing into the mike makes me happy. The room is soundproof and has a one-way mirror glass, so nobody can see me singing. My staff knows about it, but they have not complained!” she says with her wide smile.

(A series that explores the workspaces of creative people in the city and its suburbs)

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 10:24:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/A-room-full-of-designs-and-music/article16998741.ece

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