Interview with Designer Vidhi Singhania

Recognizing the role traditional handlooms and designs play in contemporary fashion, we are starting a series of interviews with fashion designers. We ask a set of questions to which the designers send their responses. We will intersperse these with interviews with the crafts persons to get both sides of the process being examined.

Vidhi Singhania works closely with weavers in Kotah. She sees herself first as a revivalist of Indian handlooms which form the backbone of her work. She combines the various craft techniques like leheriya, block and bagh printing, batik and zardosi in her work.
Contact: Shop No. 112 (1st Floor)
1091/1 Ambawata Complex
Mehrauli, New Delhi 110030
P: +91 11 26643333    E: vidhi@vidhi.org    W: www.vidhi.org

As a designer do you employ craft techniques and processes in your art?

Which crafts have you worked with?
Handloom weaving with incorporation of traditional motifs like Phulkari, Kutch, Warli, Leheriya, Batik, Block Printing, Zardosi, etc.

Do you employ crafts persons or do you work through commissions?

Do you give them the designs or do you work with the existing traditions and then modify them within your creations?
Both. I use traditional motifs like a buti, flower or parrots but contemporize them For e.g. if I am making a saree I won't use small motif all over the saree which is the traditional pattern but make a paisley on the palla, or bunch the flowers to make a large bouquet, or create a free falling shower of flowers design but using the traditional motif. I also contemporize through color combinations of instance red and black are modern combinations.

While incorporating craft skills in your design, do you seek to retain the traditional character of the crafts? And how much scope is there to incorporate the spontaneity/creative instinct of the artisan, even as(s)he moulds the skill as per your requirements.?
Yes, very much so. - We work in unison. The craftsmen guide me all the time and we then decide things together. For instance, if we are working on a saree together which requires heavy embroidery but we are attempting to keep the cost in check, the craftsperson has suggested to me in the past to replace the zari with silk thread. But this process of creation is unquantifiable in terms of how much a single person gives to the process.

What is your experience with craft persons? Do they deliver on time? Are they open to ideas and suggestions?
Very exhilarating - I learn all the time from them. It's wonderful sitting in the villages with craftsmen in a world of simplicity, creativity and sensitivity.

No they do not deliver in time - that is part of their intrinsic thinking - I am trying to change that. They are very open to ideas and suggestions but it is a gradual change. I have to constantly urge them to deliver on time. But I also understand the time involved to create following the traditional process. I always present a realistic time frame to my customers - for a prêt line which involves weaving I recognize that delivery can take upto 3 months so I work under that basis. This does of course lose me customers.

Is the debate surrounding the ethics of isolating a living cultural tradition and using it as mere embellishment a valid one?
Yes, it is a valid one. The living cultural tradition should be continued both in isolation as works of art and should also be compounded with contemporary fashion statements as embellishments to make it accessible and get appreciated by all.

There is hardly any funding or patronage for museum quality textiles which are exquisite works of art. Of course attempts must be made to keep this alive but alongside a prêt-line should be created which is accessible to a wider audience. Quality does not need to be compromised in the second process. For e.g. in the Lakme India Fashion Week I presented a line made entirely of Kota weaves.

What are your thoughts on the future of crafts in India?
It is the backbone of India's cultural tradition and yet it has to go a long way in establishing its worthiness and usefulness both in terms of quality and quantity in India and to the world at large. We need more people and young designers looking at this seriously.

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