Interview: The gentlemen of Indian fashion, Abraham & Thakore bring back the kurta
In their career spanning over a quarter of a century, fashion designers David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore have created contemporary yet non-conforming designs while drawing extensively from Indian textiles and craft clusters.
Such has been the synergy between the design and the craft that it has resonated with urban consumers across the Europe and India and their Autumn-Winter 2011-12 double ikat silk houndstooth sari and shirt have found space in the permanent archives of Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
The label Abraham and Thakore is known to have revolutionalised Indian clothing. In 2010, the duo presented belted saris at the India Fashion Week.
Last year, they made their Lakmé Fashion Week debut with lungis, shorts, capes and skirts made from rare brocades and this year they have revolutionised the traditional Indian kurta, and have particularly examined the traditional 'kali' style of cutting in their attempt to play with the proportions.
What's interesting is that they have combined this very modern fabric with the centuries-old artform, hand-block printing, to give texture to the garment and have paired their kurta with saris, pants, shorts and skirts.
In a conversation with Indulge, Abraham takes us through their collection, explains how they added texture using hand-block technique and why are they often missing from fashion shows. Excerpts:
Abraham & Thakore represents a very non-stereotypical image of the fashion industry - no loud colours or highly ornate fashion sensibilities. How did you decide to create that identity for the brand when you launched?
David Abraham: I don’t think it was a conscious decision. It is a reflection of our design sensibilities and just a natural expression of who we are and what are our values as designers. In that sense, it is fairly organic.
And, how have you still managed to be relevant even after all these years while keeping the core philosophy intact?
DA: I think if you work in a space in which you really believe in and have the confidence to say what you want to then as designers you will be able to maintain your sensibilities. And, fashion is two-way traffic. You need to have clients who believe in those sensibilities. It is a niche, but I think the space is increasing.
Has your association with Mapu (textile revivalist Martand Singh) affected the way you view handwoven textiles?
DA: Very much so! He was a very close friend. We learnt so much from him while being exposed to his work and the way he functioned. He also introduced us to so many textiles and textile techniques that have enriched our vocabulary.
Run us through the mood board of your LFW collection.
DA: We are working with a fabric called EcoVero. What particularly attracted us is the way that this fibre is produced - it is a viscose fibre derived from wood pulp which is drawn from certified forests so everything is sustainable right from the raw material.
The manufacturing process is highly environmentally sensitive. So, this is the greenest of all the viscose fibre. With this state of the art manufacturer, we decided to use something very traditional - hand block printing.
The hand-block printing is one of the earliest forms of decorating textiles and therefore, we liked the idea of combining this very simple and old technique with a modern fabric.
But, we have not used this technique to print motifs, we are using it to print very fine tone on tone stripes, tone on tone dots and subtle patterns. So, when you look at the cloth from some distance, it looks like it has some structure.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the motifs and the type of surface techniques that have been used in the LFW collection.
DA: When we got the fabric, it was perfectly woven but it was flat. And, because it was very perfect and flat, it looks very industrial.
So, we feel that by printing tone on tone with the dotted lines and patterns, the fabrics look much more interesting and textured when looked at from a distance. It doesn’t look flat anymore.
For block printing, we largely worked with workshops that are near our factory in Noida. The leaf that we are using symbolises the whole theme of sustainability because we see the leaf as a symbol of growth and hope.
You opened your 2010, India Fashion Week showcase with a sari. But since, the runway has seen many showcases of the draped silhouette. How do you think the sari evolved in terms of styling?
DA: There are a lot of trendy young people who wear saris and they pair it up with shirts, blouses, t-shirts and then some of them even add a belt to it… it is something that we started and proposed with our collection. I think sari has now become a part of fashion conversations.
On that note, can we expect to see more draped styles for your showcase?
DA: I hope so! This collection is inspired by kurta, which is essentially an Indian garment and we are examining ‘kali’, a traditional system of cutting which is developed over centuries to avoid fabric wastage while enabling ease of movement.
We have designed these kurtas in different proportions and we are trying it out in different combinations - with sarees, pants, shorts, skirts… we are sort of taking a new take on the kurta.
What's a day in the life of A&T like before fashion week?
DA: It is frantic actually because we are trying to put so many things together. We are coordinating with everyone from traders to show producers, choreographers, models and graphic designers. We are doing trials in the studios and we are also sending out the invites, so we are juggling with all of it.
How does the label Abraham & Thakore go about creating a new collection?
DA: It is a discipline. When you are in a business like this, you are required to produce new collection at regular intervals. And, I think one of the first things that designers learn, when they are in a commercial space, is to be able to do it at a regular pace and at the right time because you should be able to sell them as well.
You draw your inspiration from your expertise, the interacts that you have and for us, it is a very natural process. Sometimes we have new ideas that we want to explore, sometimes we may look at an old idea with a fresh eye… so there are different ways of originating a collection.
And, amongst you (David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore), who plays what role? And, how do you both come on the same page?
DA: We have worked together for many years now and we were together at National Institute of Design where we were taught by the same teachers, so in a sense, we speak the same language.
We work in different areas - I am more like a creative director in terms of fashion and he is very much a textile person and is involved with weavers and production.
And, in between, we switch from side to side whenever it suits us. When you work with a team for a long time, you can take different sides for a fresh perspective, we try to interchange our roles occasionally.
Lenzing has other products as well, what made EcoVero apt for this collection? Did you try their using their other products as well?
DA: No, we didn’t try other products. This is the product that came to us and I liked it because the production company has a very strong ecological push and is very high on their sustainability agenda, which is a very good match with our ideology as a brand.
Even though you have showcased your collection extensively across the world, you are not spotted on the Indian ramps often. Is there any reason?
DA: (Laughs) Now we are! I don’t think we can handle a lot… we are also running a commercial business, there is a factory, there is production work and then there are several other projects. And, I think, when you do a show, it is nice if you have something to say. Otherwise, it is just a rehash.
Any indie brands working on sustainability that has caught your eye?
DA: There are a lot of young Indian brands that are working with environmentally friendly production techniques. 11.11 and Pero are very interesting.
Lastly, what would be the dream project for Abraham and Thakore?
DA: To bring boutique design and our artistic sensibilities into everything - from fashion to home to furniture to interiors to space…if we ever do it, it will be a dream project.
If you could invite three designers (past or present) to a dinner party, who would you invite and what would you serve?
Mies Van Der Rohe (Architect cum Furniture Designer), Tadao Ando (Architect), Martin Margiela (Fashion Designer). I will serve them an Indian meal prepared using few ingredients and presented very elegantly, perhaps a Thali!
Do you prefer bricks or clicks?
Definitely online! That’s the way everything is going now... online retail is really picking up.
The one look I wish I could pull off is…
I have never worn a proper suit and tie in this long life of mine. I have worn all the elements of a suit, including the jacket and the tie but never together… I would like to try that.