Exclusive: Gaurang Shah on his LFW x FDCI collection, Chaand, and fascination with saris

Gaurang Shah has a new love story and this time around it’s with jamdani. We catch up with the textile revivalist to talk about his latest collection, Chaand, and to rediscover his obsession with sari
Gaurang Shah with his showstopper, Taapsee Pannu.
Gaurang Shah with his showstopper, Taapsee Pannu.

AWARD-WINNING DESIGNER Gaurang Shah, who has found his canvas in saris, walks many miles to explore weaving techniques integral to India’s artisan community, reviving them and experimenting with them season after season, as he puts together a collection. For the second phygital edition of FDCI X Lakmé Fashion Week, the textile revivalist went back to one of his favourites weaves — jamdani, a handloom woven textile which he himself describes as: one of the most complex weaves.

Titled Chaand, the collection saw Hyderabad-based designer presenting ensembles from Dhaka, Varanasi, Kota, Srikakulam, Uppada, Venkatagiri, Kashmir and Paithan. And, to transport his audience into a world best suited to preview his collection, the designer brought to the stage, chandeliers, rugs, couches and mood lighting, giving the illusion of a mehfil. When the models, dressed in his saris featuring a mélange of colours and techniques and adorning gajra (mogra garlands) in their hair, took their seat, it looked like a painting. Bringing this painting to life was a live performance by Anup Jalota who recited his ghazal, Chand Angadaaiyan Le Raha Hai, followed by Mohammad Rafi’s Chaudhvin Ka Chand Ho when Taapsee Pannu, the showstopper, gracefully walked the ramp wearing a green kanjivaram ensemble with a wide floral border featuring Parsi gara embroidery.

Minutes after the show, we caught up with the designer to know more about the collection and what is it about saris that hooked him and his dream projects. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. You really transported us to a mehfil. What made you bring Anup Jalota on board?
Everything actually began with his ghazal, Chand Angadaiyan Le Raha Hai. I was travelling in my car when I heard this ghazal on radio, and it was an instant decision that my collection will be called Chaand. I also wanted Anup Jalota to be here, singing it live for the audience. And, when he agreed, I wanted the perfect setting.


<em>Gaurang Shah presented Chaand at recently concluded LFW x FDCI</em>
Gaurang Shah presented Chaand at recently concluded LFW x FDCI

Q. You often go back to jamdani. Do you remember your first introduction to this technique?
It began with uppada jamdani saris. I went to Uppada (a village in Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari district) and spent weeks there understanding the weaving technology and then convincing the weavers to experiment and create something new.

Q. You have covered the length and breadth of our country to put together this collection. Run us through the collection.
My weaves are always a confluence of Indian heritage, culture and textile. The collection, created with the legendary and one of the most complex weaving techniques, jamdani, brings forth an anthology of ethereal jamdani saris from across India — I am presenting the tranquillity of Kashmir; the enchanting level of detailing from Paithan; the exquisite craftsmanship from Varanasi; the confluence of the traditional and contemporary from Kota; dexterous weaves in khadi from Srikakulam; and the distinct and luxurious weaves from Uppada and Venkatagiri. This collection also allowed me to experiment with the interlocking of yarns, without the weft, enabling a vibrant production of colours. The ensembles have tones ranging from pastels to bright colours, and the design reflects the tree of life and various other elements of nature.

Q. How long did it take you to put this collection together?
Each sari in this collection is unique! While some took four months, others took four and a half years.

Q. Tell us about the ensemble your showstopper Taapsee Pannu is wearing. 
Taapsee is wearing a beautiful combination of a kanjivaram and Parsi gara sari. It is a South meets West creation. Both are handcrafted.

Q. Season after season, you present us with a beautiful collection of saris. What hooked you to the six-yard drape?
My love for saris started after seeing my mother wearing one after another exquisite hand-woven handlooms saris, which I found timeless. They were true heirloom pieces, which will stand out even today.


Q. It has been two decades since you begin your journey. What were some of the biggest challenges when you started working? Have things changed for the weavers over the years?
The challenges in the early days were to draw fashionistas to indulge in jamdani hand-woven saris, and ensuring that our designs resonate with the modern consumer’s fashion appeal. When I introduced the big border sari designs there were no takers initially but today they are the best selling pieces from my stores in India and the US. In the initial days, it was also a challenge to congregate weavers and give them a sense of sustainability and economic advantage. It did take some time, but today I am happy that my family of weavers has grown to 800 and counting. Even, the younger generations have found weaving very meaningful and rewarding.

Q. What does a day in your life look like? And, what are the things that interest you beyond designing?
I eat, sleep and drink textiles. I am constantly challenging my creativity to create pieces that become timeless, heirloom pieces. I also spend a lot of time with my master weavers to discuss new creative designs, creating new colour palettes and unique yarn fusions. There is quite a lot to do… But, when I get time, I indulge myself in travel, visit architectural marvels and spend time with nature. They inspire me.

Q. Lastly, what’s your dream project?
I had conceived two dream projects. One was recreating Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings on khadi saris. Another was showcasing Interlace: Discover the soul of Jamdani in many more cities. Interlace features work from my projects such as Khadi — A Canvas (khadi sari with pallus woven with Ravi Varma’s paintings in tapestry and jamdani techniques) and Sangraha — an anthology of jamdani featuring timeless classics from Dhaka, Kasi, Kota, Srikakulam, Uppada and Venkatagiri, created directly on the loom. The concept is like a museum, wherein the display line-up includes Meeth, the exquisite fusion masterpieces, and Gharohar with tapestry and saris from Paithan and Kashmir, which highlight the incredibly time-consuming ancient technique of tapestry.



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