Since time immemorial little girls have been intrigued by the effortlessly draped rectangular piece of cloth. Whether they come in five yards or nine, whether they are worn a few inches above the ankle or left to sweep the floor behind, it is fascinating how a Saree drapes around a woman’s body.
‘Wrapped in a seamless cloth, with a swing in her steps and bounce in her hips, I would watch my mother tuck her pallu around her waist with an impressive resolve and march in to the day with such remarkable ease’, recollects Riddhi Jain, an alumna of the Designer’s Mecca -National Institute of Design.
A childhood enchantment coupled with an early introduction to the craft of tie and dye, by her mother, led Riddhi to create her first collection, a set of ready to wear, lightweight cotton chanderi sarees, clamp-dyed by hand and combined harmoniously with beautiful hand-woven Ikkat coordinates.
‘There is an unsaid freedom in the drape of a saree – the way it swirls around your body, emulating your movements and retaining your smell in a tell-tale manner- much like the stories from my childhood, sarees too are timeless. I’ve built a collection that is rooted in the belief that Sarees are perfect daily wear garments for women who embrace work and tradition with a fearless zeal’, explains Jain, who has created a wonderful studio-space in Delhi, where appliqué work curtains are found flailing to allow natural light to prance around in celebration of her ‘free soul’ series.
Following is an interview with this feisty designer who takes us on a journey through the chaos of Calcutta, the earthen warmth of Rajasthan, the crossroads of crafts in Ahmadabad and finally brings us to Delhi, where all these undercurrents in her life converge to form ‘Medium-a means to express’.
When did your tryst with textile begin?
It is difficult to point to a certain event or epiphany as it was a love that grew with time. It was my mother who introduced me to the world of fashion and textiles. She is an ethnic and bridal wear designer based out of Calcutta. I’ve been working with her since the past decade. More than the de nsign, what intrigued me was the process of making textiles from scratch. A textile and surface design course in the fifth semester at NIFT reaffirmed my love for making fabrics, which I then made the study of my final year project as well as the heart of my current collection .
A childhood spent in Calcutta, an education gained in Gujarat, roots that go back to Rajasthan and a bouquet of your experiences arranged in Delhi – How has the journey shaped and influenced your aesthetics?
I have always felt that a person is made of experiences. Places you travel to, people you meet, cultures you adopt, all come together to build a great sense of individuality and personal style. To have a voice of my own, it was important to constantly leave zones that became too comfortable and familiar.
My design philosophy is very experimental. The fabric, long collars and cuts I’ve chosen for the blouses have a flavor of Rajasthan. As for the sarees themselves, I’ve relied heavily on dyeing, which is a process I connect to the most. There is something magical about immersing a cloth into a vat of color and watch it emerge as something completely different. It retains its originality but also reflects the vat.
The collection begins with the calm shade of Indigo and moves to the warm hues of red and yellow, what was the idea behind the palette of your choice?
I wanted the first range to be vibrant, energetic but not frivolous. It is rooted and has a soul. The Indigo is the soul while warm colours give me the body or the energy of the garment.
While most people identify ‘Indian fashion’ as an embodiment of details and intricate motifs. With a wonderful use of space and depth, one can notice a departure from convention in your work. Was that a conscious decision?
Yes, that was deliberate. Why add to the noise?
One can see a heavy use of Shibori in your collection. Why do you find yourself particularly interested in the Japanese dyeing technique?
I immensely value the unevenness and imperfection of anything that is handmade. The Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi is represented well in the slow art of resist dyeing. I’ve chosen the flow of colours and dye penetration to represent the swiftness of women, while the geometric patterns are symbolic of their strength.
How involved are you with the entire process of manufacturing textiles? Does your journey begin midway or do you interact with artisans at all level?
Very very involved. The only process I’m not a part of is the making of yarn that I buy and dye on. I do buy silk and cotton depending upon what I am developing and then it’s all me from thereon. I love to get my hands dirty and dye on my own. I find the process meditative. For my current collection, I am getting the sarees woven. Weaving is a very specific and time-consuming skill, so I don’t sit on the loom myself, but if need be, I am trained to do that as well.
You upload a lot of work-in-progress pictures and the studio is right called Medium- a means to express, do you believe you’re able to have the educative dialogue you envisaged?
Yes, I do want it to be an educative experience. Each project is planned and documented through pictures and videos, which will soon be a part of the blog I’m creating to serve as a glossary for the techniques.
What is in store next?
Chhaap, a collection of hand dyed shirts for both men and women, developed with a dyeing block-printing cluster in Madhya Pradesh.
A collection of sarees that combines weaves from the East and traditional dyeing techniques from the west.
More information on her studio and work can be found here.