Luxury At Needlepoint: Indian Couturiers Preserving Heritage Crafts

A motley of aesthetes is dabbling in hand crafted traditions of Indian heritage embroideries and crafts to create an impeccable fashion legacy. Let’s find out.

April 25, 2024

If history on the evolution of world fashion is referred to, it would be evidently clear how Indian heritage needle work formed the crux of luxury creations crafted by famous couture houses around the world for many, many years. From Dior to Elie Saab to Zuhair Murad to Alexander McQueen, Ralph Lauren and many more. That our luxury embroideries continue being the bedrock of bespoke wear is evident from the important collaborations between Indian and global brands in the near past. This coming together consolidates the fact that the finesse and intricacy of indigenous embroideries from our land continue to floor connoisseurs the world over. Taking the cue, we spotlight Indian couturiers building their repertoire on the strength of the talent, dexterity and passion of karigars, who spell magic at the point of a needle and are dedicated to preserving the heritage crafts and keeping them alive.   

1. Ashdeen Lilaowala   

His creations focusing on the rich craft of Parsi Gara have been draped by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Asha Parekh, Manisha Koirala and Waheeda Rehman but Ashdeen Lilaowala continues to make small talk about it. “We try to concentrate on creating work that will grab the attention of true craft lovers. Thankfully the Parsi Gara that we do has received immense love and appreciation from saree connoisseurs for the heart we put into it,” says Lilaowala, whose creations are some of the most desired ones in the world of luxury handcrafted sarees. While Parsi Gara is available abundantly in the market, the finesse of Lilaowala’s craft stands out for being done with just one strand of thread. That makes the creation light yet scintillating to look at even as they remind one of oriental regalia because of the motifs used. “We customise colours, fabrics and motifs as per the client’s needs, but I have noticed most of them rely on the aesthetics that Ashdeen Lilaowala has made a mark with,” says the designer of this heritage handicraft. His new collection ‘Routes’ features the coming together of Parsi Gara embroidery and handcrafted bandhani. The result is a contemporary line of sarees, jackets, lehengas and dupattas. The second offering ‘Sky Full Of Stars’ has been designed specially for summer celebrations. Connoisseurs can don themselves in high octane all-sequin sarees adorned with the brand’s signature Parsi Gara embroidery. In addition, there’s a capsule of statement pants embroidered in the Parsi Gara tradition that can be styled in a zillion exciting way. A smart investment piece for your summer wardrobe. 

2. Pankaj Chaddha  

An artist at heart, Pankaj Chaddha’s design narrative is governed by reviving ancient heritage embroideries and crafts. Born and brought up in Delhi, he armed himself with a fashion design degree from NIFT. A few years later he channelised his creativity into a realm that would focus more on India’s lush craft traditions. Essentially, he researched and documented embroideries that royals and nobility patronised before incorporating them on handwoven fabric, giving his creations not just the glorious stamp of handcrafted in India, but also making them aspirational, coveted creations cherished as heirloom that could well be showcased in museums.  

The point was to be a custodian of artfully done couture that showcases the wizardry of award-winning artisans, master weavers and miniature painters. “Every piece is lovingly crafted with leisure so that the end product is something to behold. Be it the artisanal Chikankari, the exquisite Gulkari, the beautiful Maal ka kaam, Aari work of Kashmiri or the miniature paintings that get mounted on silver to be shown off on a jacket or blouse,” explains the couturier.   

3. Charu Saigal   

Initiated into the world of handcrafted couture a decade ago, Charu Saigal egged her artisans on to adapt to her unique mood boards while remaining faithful to their traditional karigari in the realm of Awadhi and Kashmiri crafts. Having travelled extensively in India and abroad, she imbibed the local culture and invested attention to understand the unique handicrafts of each region. If you take a good look at hand embroidered sarees and separates you will understand the eye for details as well as the knack to play with design narratives. Some of the heritage embroideries she works with are Soznkari (a heritage craft practiced on Pashmina shawls but Charu gets them done of silk georgettes and chiffons), old world zardozi, the GI-tagged Chikankari and Kashmiri tilla dozi. The intricacy in the embroideries render finesse on six yard wonders so that they celebrate the indigenous crafts of India in their divine splendour even as they become matchless creations to be treasured as heirlooms.  

4. Renu Dadlani 

Renu Dadlani’s unwavering vision has been to preserve the authenticity and splendour of Chikankari, Parsi Gara as well as the crafts of Papier Mache and Tilla of Kashmir. What is unique about her design mood board is that she combines different embroidery techniques and style so that the heirloom product is elevated in look and panache. For instance, zardozi and bead detailing will add subtle shimmer to a Chikankari saree to make it a bespoke creation. Each saree or separate is a celebration of tradition, paying homage to the timeless craftsmanship that defines them and the artisans who work on them putting several manhours. The sheer dedication put in should make one gasp in awe. From exquisite Kashmiri, Lucknawi, Chikankari, Tilla, Mukaish and many others—these handcrafted luxury techniques are given a new lease of life with her expertise, authenticity and eye for details.   

5. Shruti Gupta, Shaza 

One could possibly spend hours taking in the colours and craftsmanship unleashed on a Shaza creation. But that is just the beginning of the story. If you delve deeper into the handstitched shawls and wraps, each piece has a tale to tell. Imagine using a needle to pen a story on fabric! So that when they are worn, these pieces become conversation starters amidst connoisseurs. Shaza’s woven ethereal luxury, handcrafted by fine workmanship and precision highlight the embroidery art of Soznkari of Kashmir as well as Suzani. The artisanal Pashmina label excels at customizing a face, idol figures, sceneries and other motifs on shawls. There is an amalgamation of craftsmanship (karigari) and storytelling (kahaani) by reviving age old techniques that have made pashmina emblematic of fine luxury. 

6. Maayankraj Singh, Atelier Shikaarbagh 

Atelier Shikaarbagh’s luxury creations highlight the glory of Indian heritage and French luxury embroideries even as it transcends traditional moodboards to dazzle a wider audience internationally. For instance, gota patti ka kaam, which is today seen as a simple form of ornamentation on fabric is actually a craft with rich history to back it up. Says Maayankraj Singh, the founder of Indian craft-based luxury label, Atelier Shikaabagh, “Gota patti is a true Indian art of embroidery and not a Mughal invention. The reason I procure gota woven in Ajmer is to ensure continuity and prosperity in my couture work, considering earlier, a person’s wealth was measured by the amount of beaten silver gota their clothes were embellished with.”  

Understanding how the Western market has always been dazzled by the embroideries of the East, Singh has been dabbling with the same on Western silhouettes, too, thereby displaying the crafts on a wider canvas and amplifying their reach. “The Indian crafts of baadla, zardozi, and aari have been deeply embedded in the culture of the West. Hence, the mood board of Shikaarbagh that includes other rich stitches as well, is focused on tasteful embellishment that appeals to the discerning irrespective of geographical boundaries.” 

Images courtesy respective featured brands.