National Handloom Day: Celebrity designer Chaitanya Rao gives the humble khadi a luxe couture twist

With National Handloom Day (August 7) around the corner, we celebrate the journey and evolution of the homegrown, handspun khadi from Kuralagam to world class couture with designer Chaitanya Rao.

author_img Sabrina Rajan Published :  05th August 2022 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  05th August 2022 12:00 AM

Ensembles in khadi silk by Chaitanya Rao

As we stood at the curb of a bustling road in Parry’s Corner, we paused a minute to take in the gorgeous skyline that showcased the iconic red brick Madras High Court building in the most flattering light. We soaked up this heritage offering of the city, setting the mood perfectly to foray into the depths of the reticent looking Kuralagam — the nondescript building that houses the Khadi Kraft showroom on the ground floor. We were there in search of the khadi silk. We were chasing an exquisite wedding gown silhouette that had been created by Chennai’s favourite couturier, Chaitanya Rao. A vision in off-white, the gown celebrated khadi silk, minimalism and clean lines, and was offered as a teaser to the exciting design possibilities of khadi silk.

We maneuvered through loud wall murals, a line-up of fascinating counters offering organic honey, palm jaggery, freshly cold pressed oils, natural soaps, palm leaf bags and many other indigenous products before we reached the glass walled, air conditioned section that showcased shelves of exquisite khadi silks and saris. The stunning white aforementioned silhoutte was part of the special capsule collection designed by the celebrity designer in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Khadi and Village Industries Board (TNKVIB) to promote khadi. And there we found the beautiful, uncoloured handloom silk fabric in the Khadi Kraft showroom, sitting inconspicuously and understated next to racks of vibrant festive saris and rich traditional drapes. With National Handloom Day (August 7) around the corner, we were there to celebrate the journey and evolution of the homegrown, handspun khadi from Kuralagam to world class couture.

Designer Chaitanya Rao's interpretation of a khadi bridal silhouette 


Follow the thread

We caught up with Dr P Shankar IAS, CEO of the Tamil Nadu Khadi and Village Industries Board, who soon gave us a bunch of compelling reasons to be even more smitten with the khadi silk. “One thing you have to realise is that everything — the material we procure — everything is government approved and standardised. Right there our quality control is established.” The khadi silk at Khadi Kraft is 120-thread strong when most of the other brands don’t even cross the100 mark. That should explain the perfect fall of the fabric that gave Chaitanya’s creation that added drama. In fact the couturier, who recently designed ensembles for Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu and Miss Supranational Asia Ritika Khatnani, lets on that, “I have a long association with khadi. My first collection that I put together years back was with khadi silk. That time also I had done a Western line.”

His garments have also been worn by the likes of Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and Miss World Runner-up Parvathi Omnakuttan. Closer home he has designed for the likes of Asin, Nayantara, Shreya, Shruti Hassan, Trisha and Tamannah — in the Tamil film industry as well as actors such as Ajith, Dhanush, Madhavan, Suriya and Vikram.

Chennai-based couturier Chaitanya Rao

All about that drape

The designer, who has seven successful LFWs under his belt, has created some unique and edgy looks for men too in this promotional campaign. “For menswear, it was an exciting outcome — the understated khadi cotton once washed and processed worked so well for a zippered bomber jacket,” he says, adding that the ombre dyed classic bandi was a great example of how versatile the material had become. Shankar agrees that the adaptability and versatile nature of the fabric gives them much room for experimenting. The Aathirai Collection last year boasted khadi silk saris with digital prints and this year the Aathirai Collection 2.0 will be showcasing embroidery on the handspun and hand-woven drapes. We are furtherinformed that the saris at Khadi Kraft use only pure silver zari that is gold plated and the purity is validated by the fact that it has resale value. We also found some subtle copper zari and white silver zari adorned saris in the mix. Also, expect saris that celebrate various crafts of the country, like tie-and-dye, pochampali, korvai (traditional sari weave where the border is separately added to the sari) and of course the art of block-printing and kalamkari. Talking about evolving with times, Shankar explains, “Last year was about printed khadi silks — and this year we are going further and adding embroidery to the embellishments in our sari section. Every year we try to add something new, something interesting for our customers. ”

Men's bomber jacket in khadi by Chaitanya Rao

Couture twist

Elaborating further on using digital printing and dyeing to create interesting effects, Chaitanya agrees that the fabric is sturdy and it takes to colour and craft in a dynamic way. “We dyed some yards in a beautiful ochre yellow. And the gown that we used it for had delicate detailing like ruching — and it’s a great resort party wear,” says the designer who also created a short dress with tropical prints for the collection that makes for a perfect holiday trousseau dress and concedes that he was pleasantly surprised with the gorgeous results with their experiments. Chaitanya’s recent movie projects include styling Trisha for the film Road and Andreah Jeremiah in Pisasu 2. Also, currently busy putting the finishing touches on his new collection Renaissance that is going to be launched in a week’s time, the celebrity couturier explains the larger picture and says, “Part of this khadi campaign is about showcasing the versatility and creative possibility of this lovely fabric. It is about giving this material a global spin with contemporary aesthetics. We hoped that this capsule collection would inspire other designers and more customers to pick khadi silk and interpret it in their own unique way.”

Khadi silk saris from INR 6,000 onwards and fabric from INR 900 per metre onwards.

Available online

- Sabrina Rajan