Critical acclaim versus playing dress-up

The long-awaited Fabric of India exhibition at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London opened on the 3rd of October. It is the ‘first major exhibition to explore the rich and fascinating world of handmade textiles from India.’ Some of the finest and most fascinating textiles from the V&A and collections across the world have been used to ‘illustrate the processes, history and politics associated with these incredible objects’.

Following the developments of this thought-provoking exhibition on their blog, I had booked tickets online as soon as they were available. A week after the opening, we were eagerly waiting to enter the V&A, in anticipation of good things to come.

Rewind a few hours earlier and the mood was one of utter disbelief. I’ll explain. The first ever India Fashion Week was to be held in London the same weekend and excitedly we had also booked tickets to watch a catwalk show advertising three designers. Having experienced Lakme Fashion Weeks, we decided this was an event not to be missed. It is sufficed to say that this was the most disorganized event camouflaged as playing dress-up ever imagined.

As seen on the ramp - India Fashion Week, London
Poor styling, as seen on the ramp – India Fashion Week, London

The usual lack of seating arrangements, lack of informed personnel and a lack of certain expectations is not what I want to focus on. The focus should be on the garment; specifically, the sari. The drape, the way it flows, the way it is treated with respect bring out the full flourish of this symbolic 6 yards of joy. One would expect that whoever styles the models on the ramp knows how to drape a sari. Aye, you say, one would expect. Cue exposed shoes and ankles; cue models who look so uncomfortable that you could almost believe that this is the first time they are wearing a sari; cue ill-fitting blouses; cue disaster.

How not to drape a sari
How not to drape a sari

Last I checked, I am 100% sure you cannot pass Fashion School without knowing how to drape a sari. FACT.

Another FACT – you do not need to have attended Fashion School to be a designer. Hence, why the world is full of designers wishing to time pass and those that bury us under their piles of imitated and unoriginal sheets of cloth. A complete and utter waste of resources.

So you can imagine how eager we were to get away and head straight for the anticipated Fabric of India. The day could only get better.

The exhibition is divided into six themes: Nature & Making, How Textiles are Used, Splendid, Global Trade, Textiles in a Changing World and Textiles Cutting Edge. Having a new-found love and respect for the artisans and craftsmanship through my interactions and experiences as Co-Founder of S9 Muses, it was wonderful to discover the techniques not only involved in the dyeing, weaving and embroidering of garments, but also how the textiles are actually made. Cottons, Silks, Chintz…all painstakingly produced to form the finished products that we see and wear to this day.  Using the weft and warp to form the hand-woven textiles, using natural materials such as turmeric to produce dyes, hand-blocking to form exquisite prints, quilting to form textures, using assorted embroidery techniques such as gota work to add embellishments and fine thread work…the many stages and techniques involved in producing finished product can only be credited to the vast experience, skill and knowledge of the artisans. Something that the mass-produced, machine-credited garments threatened to destroy for good. Until that is, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s movement on Kadhi came to force in the 1920s. Gandhi promoted the spinning of Kadhi for rural self-employment and self-reliance. ‘The Khadi movement promoted an ideology, an idea that Indians could be self-reliant on cotton and be free from the high-priced goods and clothes that the British were selling to them. The British would buy cotton from India at cheap prices and export them to Britain where they were woven to make clothes. These clothes were then brought back to India to be sold at hefty prices. The Khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods including cotton and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy.’

Today, even though we are surrounded by cheap, mass-produced quick-fashion, there is a whole new movement emerging with many designers reviving old techniques, using and, more importantly, crediting local craftsmen whereby particular skills have been passed down from generations. The livelihood of these artisans depends on the appreciation of their talent and appreciating the quality of their work. The future of heirlooms depends on us, as consumers, changing the way we perceive fast fashion and quick knock-offs, and willing to pay the right price for these labour-intensive jewels.

Pallavi Datta, an advocate for reviving the age-old sari, specifically writes and highlights the issues surrounding this garment on her blog, Pallavi’s Style Diaries. I love her style of writing and detail; worth a read when you have a chance.

The Fabric of India exhibition runs until the 10th of January 2016. Do go and have a look; it certainly is worth spending several hours over.

*Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed to be taken of the exhibition at the V&A, and being the obedient being that I am, I complied.


Noida (short for the New Okhla Industrial Development Authority), is located in Uttar Pradesh at the fringes of Delhi. Compared with Mumbai, Delhi has a vibe and energy of its own. Everything appears to be more methodical, cleaner, less populated and more urban. Mumbai has an unmatched energy that wraps around you like a hurricane. You get sucked in to it and after a while, it can be exhausting. Delhi’s energy is different. It can be compared to London, whereby even though life is on a constant move and rush, the pace can be altered to suit your needs.

Noida is where the brand ‘Ilk’ resides. Design duo Shikha and Vinita formed Ilk in 2011. Ilk, meaning clan, is rooted to the culture and tradition of its belonging. The label’s forte in handmade textures adds a novel, youthful and detailed aesthetic to the garments.

Vinita & Shikha - Designer duo of Ilk
Vinita & Shikha – Designer duo of Ilk

The Ilk studio was a delight to visit. Known for their unique ability to mix textures and drapes, it was wonderful to explore their latest collection on the racks, fresh off the ramp. Filled with an array of western apparels – as well as saris and kalidars – in pastels, aquas, corals and some pops of colour, the racks provided us with an insight into the labour of work that goes in to each garment.

Texture and fun silhouettes are the label’s forte, making each piece sit firmly on your wish list.
Texture and fun silhouettes are the label’s forte, making each piece sit firmly on your wish list

Their workshop is also located on the same floor as their office and studio. Here, we were lucky to see their new collection ‘Love me not’ in the making. Floral embellishments and appliqués, beads and quirky cuts formed the basis of this collection. Various garments were taking shape before us, with embroidery, stitching and cutting all happening at different stages of the process.

Texture and fun silhouettes are the label’s forte, making each piece sit firmly on your wish list.

IMG_7413 (1)A studio and workshop visit always heightens my excitement of working with that label. It gives you an access into the design world, how garments are actually produced and the different stages each goes through before the finished product that we usually get to see in a shop. It also gives an insight to the incredible talent of the designer as well as the craftsmen executing their designs. It is with gratitude to the designer and the craftsman that we can drape and adorn ourselves with such pieces.

Ka/Sha – aiming to create heirlooms

We made a day trip to Pune. The 3 hour journey flew by quickly. Mostly because our driver drove like a maniac, and having sat at the back of the Innova (a brand by Toyota popular in India), I had this disturbing feeling that some of my internal organs felt slightly displaced.

Anyway, the journey was worth it to meet the über quirky and peppy designer, Karishma Shahani Khan, whose personality completely reflects in her label Ka/Sha. As S9 Muses, we have been curating this label ever since we launched and had our first pop-up shop in January 2014.

To give you an insight into her label, aiming to create heirlooms, Karishma’s ethos matches our own, focusing on giving each garment its own uniqueness, either through storytelling, upcycling, adding a wondrous weave or an atypical stitch, and as multi-coloured and diverse in its material and techniques. There is evidence of love in details; love for choice. With the use of different exquisite Indian crafts, she transforms an unsuspecting everyday textile into a modern, experimental garment that is a delight to wear. Completely out of the box, yet totally accessible. For those who dare to dream.

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Every bit of garment counts. Once scraps, now upcycled.

As soon as we reached Pune, we met with Karishma and her team and devoured a perfect lunch of chaats and pani puris all downed with ‘chaas’ (or buttermilk). We then headed to her studio where we saw her beautiful collection in the making. Known for her layering, each look in her lookbook consists of numerous items of clothing, displaying a seemingly complicated yet purposely compiled collection.

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Karishma caught off-guard 🙂

Being a part of the audience at her Lakmé Spring/Summer 2014 catwalk as well as her recent 2015 catwalk collection (titled ‘Neel’), I can safely say that her catwalks deliver an experience in itself. Layers upon layers of colour, prints, separates and spot-on foot-tapping music accompanying the models down the ramp make for a very excited stare. I was awestruck, almost childlike, with her collection ‘Neel’ and have voiced my opinion already here. I cannot wait to receive my new sari ordered from her latest collection.

(PS – If you wish to come have a look or purchase a sari from Ka/Sha, please get in touch and we can send you details of our next pop-up shop!)

Love in details

Ka/Sha by Karishma Shahani Khan presented its Lakmé Fashion Week Summer Resort 2015 collection titled ‘Neel’ this afternoon as well.

This über quirky and peppy designer’s personality completely reflects in her label, with design in details and design in layering forming the basis of this collection. Beautiful embroidery coupled with ikat prints on whites and blues showcased a myriad of colours and separates.

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Shoes with matching ikat prints

Ka/Sha transforms an unsuspecting everyday textile, the sari, into a modern, experimental garment that is a delight to wear. This particular one invokes some sort of déjà vu, perhaps because is so reminds of the exquisite veil by Versace for Angelina Jolie’s wedding dress.

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My absolute favourite collection from Ka/Sha to date.

Love me not

Hit smack in the face by the Mumbai heat this morning, I, along with two friends and The Man of the House (henceforth known as The Stud of the House), arrived in India to attend the Lakmé Fashion Week Summer Resort 2015. This is the second such fashion week that I have attended as Co-founder of S9 Muses.

The design duo Shikha and Vinita of Ilk presented their collection titled ‘Love me not’ this afternoon. Relaxed silhouettes formed the core look of the collection, with floral embellishments adding to the well-known textural elements associated with Ilk.

Floral detail


Very feminine in nature, yet containing the undertone of grunge that is classically associated with Ilk, the cottons, nets and gauze fabrics simultaneously added to the luxe feel of the aqua, peach, grey, black and white garments.