Interview with Shalini Jaikaria & Paras Bairoliya of Geisha Designs

Narayan, Sarika has been associated with the crafts sector for the past ten years. She currently works for a retail consultancy.

Recognizing the role traditional handlooms and designs play in contemporary fashion, we have over the past months initiated a series of interviews with fashion designers. In this interview we do away with the question and answer format to allow two designers to answer our concerns by weaving the story of their interaction and collaboration with the traditional crafts.

Shalini & Paras Geisha designs is a team of two designers Shalini Jaikaria & Paras Bairoliya. Shalini, a graduate of NIFT, New Delhi and FIT, New York has won several awards including being the Award winner at NIFT (1998), awarded the best user of traditional techniques for contemporary design at Fashionova'98,-an annual NIFT event and represented India for the visual display of the Indian Ambience Hall and India International Theme Pavilion at HEMTEXTIL Fair, Germany. She has interned with the fashion house of Armani Exchange. Paras, a graduate of fashion from NIFT, New Delhi stood first at NIFT and won the Omega award of excellence at the graduating fashion show. He has also won the Ritu Kumar award for THE BEST DESIGN COLLECTION OF THE YEAR at the Fashionova'98-an annual NIFT event and the Uma Nath award for the Best Academic Performance for the batch of 95-98 at NIFT.

Geisha Designs has a fresh, young and trendy style. The firm specialises in clean basic cuts with surface embellishments Western pattern making principles are used to recreate traditional silhouettes with emphasis on hand detailing and seam finishes. Embroidery forms a very essential part of the designs. The focus is on creative and unconventional use of traditional materials like beads, sequins, and thread. The strength of our firm lies in experimental hand detailing fusing multiple crafts.

Some of their developments are presently on display at the Metropolitan Museum in Manila. They work on projects with the DC Handicrafts along with NIFT to uplift the quality of products and to contemporize crafts in various regions to increase the volume of work for certain regions and also to create new markets for their products. They recently conducted a education project in Jammu and Kashmir to familiarize craftsmen with modern techniques of cutting and stitching and how to fashion silhouettes to add a new-ness to their creations along with giving them an insight in quality standards prevalent in todays' market.

As a designer do you employ craft techniques and processes in your art?
As a designer based in India it is of prime importance for us to flaunt something which is truly us. India is probably the only country where so many cultures and crafts co-exist. The crafts which have been handed down generations are so rich in their appeal that we think we should absolutely use its beauty and colours to enhance our collections. We do not particularly develop our collections from the yarn stage ...we buy fabrics from various parts of India and hence in order to embellish it we do hand work on it. We have approximately 200 hand embroiders based in Delhi who embroider our designs using traditional techniques like ari and zardosi. Besides these we have select collections being developed in Lucknow (for badla and chikaan work), in Kanyakumari (hand crocheted laces), in Kutch with Sewa (cross stich embroidery from the gracia jaat embroiderers) and in Jammu Kashmir (ari and sozni work). These various crafts add uniqueness to our collection and hence it is of prime importance in our collection.

Which crafts have you worked with?

  • khadi fabric in Bhagalpur (Bihar)

  • chikkan kari and mukaish work in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh)

  • cross stich embrodiery from Kutch

  • ari and sozni work from Jammu and Kashmir

  • crochet and needle point work in Kanyakumai.

Do you employ craftspersons or do you work through commissions?
Both. As mentioned we have some 200 hand embroiders and some 50 machine embroiders in Delhi who work on our collections. Besides we have collections being developed in regions where the craft is made at homes of craftsmen and hence impossible to base it in Delhi. These are commissioned through non profit organizations like CDI in Jammu and Kashmir, Sewa in UP and Gujarat and Infant Jesus Technical and Educational Institution in Kanyakumari.

Do you give them the designs or do you work with the existing traditions and then modify them within your creations?
With gracia jaat embrodiers in Kutch and crochet in Kanyakumari it is not possible to give new designs as they have a set pattern of working and are not open to designs coming from our end. Hence we develop from their existing archive and then over work on them in Delhi through other means of embroidery to make them unique to our requirement. On the other hand in Lucknow and Srinagar the craftsmen are open to designs coming from us hence we develop the designs and print the same on fabric from our studio and only use their technique and handwork for embellishment. Even the colour ways are provided by us but even on these designs we over work on them further.

We do not always retain their basic traditional nature. The aim is to make an outfit which is contemporary and can be work by our existing clientele which mostly consists of NRI's and foreigners who travel a lot. Many of them are well read and are aware of the existence of these crafts hence they are always on the look out for something new. We change the motifs, placements, colour ways of the embroidery and add new silhouettes to contemporize them. We also mix crafts from different regions, for example in one collection we have used embroidery from Kutch and fused them with silks from Bhagalpur which have dabu prints done in Sanganer. Similarly right now we are doing flower stems on fabric which have flowers and buds done through chain stitch in Kashmir while the leaves and stems are done through mukaish in Lucknow. We also occasionally bead them with sequins and crystals and bugle beads to add a fun element and also to suit an occasion.

What is your experience with craftpersons? Do they deliver on time? Are they open to ideas and suggestions?
Since each and every product developed in our firm is hand done we understand the time requirements for preparing a product hence the lead time is given accordingly to our buyers and stockists. We have not had delivery date problems. Some craftsmen are open to new fabrics and suggestions but some prefer to embroider only on traditional fabrics and also in a colour way that suits their aesthetics. We work around their sensibilities and try to get our product without affecting any one's sentiments. We find that usually the younger generation are more flexible and open to new designs. Working through organizations like Infant Jesus, butt embroiders in Kasmir and some organizations in Lucknow helps in developing new ideas and to incorporate suggestions as they are able to get through the craftsmen by conversing with them in their language.

What are your thoughts on the future of crafts in India?
With the quota system gone the market is going to be very very competitive. However craft based product will continue to be sold in specialty boutiques and remain unaffected as they cater to a niche market which will always exist as long as craftsmen keep handing down their crafts through generations and are open to experimenting with new fabrics, motifs and colour ways it will be the strength of India and its uniqueness. A number of leading designers world over turn to India for their muse, be it mirror work from Kutch or chikkan or chain stitch from Kashmir, or brocades from Benaras or tie dye from Rajasthan. The options available in our country are innumerable hence as many times a person travels one keeps coming across some thing new and different.

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