What excited you about this craft of Chikankari?

Beauty in all its forms excites us. It is somewhat of a religion. Exceptional craftsmanship is always an inspiration and India has an unsurpassed legacy of exceptional. A legacy that has cast myriad, magical impressions upon our creative souls and makes India our Eternal Muse.Exceptional is also a standard we hold ourselves to. With zealous, sans compromise, commitment.

Chikankari originated in Lucknow and was invented for Royalty. It is a technique with dizzy delicacy and detail, and takes its motifs from diverse influences from Architecture to flora and fauna. It became our mission to reinvent it and make it haute couture.

By the eighties, Chikan had dumbed down to casual wear. All the finesse and fabulous craftsmanship had been forgotten and its expression was curtailed to crude stitches, essayed on mass-market ensembles.It was heartbreaking to see such a downgrading of aesthetics.

We went to Lucknow in 1993 to begin our journey. We met with artisans, from printers to embroiderers. They had stopped using all the elaborate printing blocks and used only the simple, crude ones. It was repetitive and uninspired.

Naturally the same was true for embroiderers. They had lost their art and were now creating rough, mediocre embroidery. This had dulled both their craftsmanship and their enthusiasm as well as their earnings. It was both sad and frustrating for us to witness.

It took us two years to first motivate, then conduct R & D and train them to create what we wanted. We worked with new fabrics, new stitches, new patterns constantly. It was both financially and creatively exhausting. But there was no going back once we had decided to go for it. There never is.

Which initiatives have you taken to bloom Chikankari as an art in the domestic and international market?

The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. If you create excellence, you set the standard, and people develop a taste for the best. It isn’t a one time thing. Before we knew it we were copied by both the high fashion industry as well as high street players. But an original is always one step ahead. Because one doesn’t sit on one’s laurels, one remains dedicated to raising one’s own bar.

We are delighted to say that from lowbrow kurtis, Chikan is now bridal wear, worn by the most discerning brides. It is also the zenith of our own couture. It is our signature and most exclusive range. That women now covet and crave an Abu SandeepChikankari sari, lehenga or anarkali as the ‘best thing in their wardrobe’ is highly satisfying.

So to have reinvented a historically regal craft and taken it to the catwalk as couture and to have changed perception among the high fashion consumer, those are our most cherished achievements.

What contributes to the appeal of the craft through people and generations.

Taste, or rather good taste is about exposure to quality, to beauty, to originality. If you create Beauty and offer it to the world, the world will learn to appreciate it. Excellence will always Trump everything. It needs no hard sell. It sells itself. We concentrate on making what we want to make. We are compelled by our own sensibilities and nothing else. If you create for a market then you are a fabricator not an artist or designer. We aren’t fabricators. We do it for ourselves and our own satisfaction. And it is highly gratifying that our work finds an audience. It is the most thrilling feeling that we dressed brides twenty five years ago and are now dressing their daughters.

What is the Chikankari industry worth in India and what keeps it going.

As curators of the craft of Cihikankari how do you balance the essence of the art and take care of the weaver’s interest.

Chikankari is an embroidery, not a weaving technique. And our embroiderers are key to our expression. We have more than 250 female artisans. We are committed to women’s empowerment through education and employment. We do not treat them as labour because they are artisans in our eyes. We respect their skills by investing in their training, ensuring their Remuneration is generous and their work environment comfortable and happy. So that they are fully equipped and enthused to create the finest and to find Pride and Joy in their creativity. What do you do to tap international markets and what is the opportunity of this craft in the international Fashion arena

The opportunity and the potential is Infinite. From couture to furnishings to accessories, Chikankari can be incorporated into global luxury products and essayed in limitless forms of creativity. However to break into the global market requires massive outlays on marketing, branding, production. One needs to build infrastructure in order to create this offering, The demand will only come when the supply is in place. Western couture and diffusion requires different skillsets from master cutters, tailors etc. Even in the mass market there is potential if one develops machine embroideries. All of these thingsrequires the backing of Corporate and Public Sector entities.
Contrary to public perception, Design Houses do not possess the kind of infrastructure or big bucks it requires to Go Global. And until the government and the private sector do not put themselves behind Brand India, Design India can never explore or manifest its mindblowing potential.

How do international investors benefit with investing in this craft.

Fashion is Big Money. Full-Stop. Just as you have the PPR’s and the Richemonts investing in International Brands because the return on Investment is fabulous, there is no reason why the same will not hold true for Indian High Fashion Products and Design Houses. We are the only country in the world where we can still create what was made hundreds of years ago. We have a living legacy of luxury and craftsmanship. But the quality has been eroded because of neglect and a lack of funding. We will find that our arts too die out unless we restore, resurrect and reinvent them for the 21st century. All international couture labels get their embroideries done in India. Why shouldn’t India stop being a cog in the wheel and become the vehicle it is? Why shouldn’t Indian investors take India global? Make in India is all very well. Its High Time, “Made in India by Indians’ became the Standard.

How does this craft surviving through generations and still manages to sustain itself, what makes the coming generation accept this craft as a potent means of livelihood.

It is merely surviving and apart from small players like ourselves far from thriving. Because of a lack of attention or respect for this veritable goldmine of wealth and potential we have in our artisans and our design talent.

People work with passion for two reasons. Out of financial need and for creative fulfillment and joy.
If you pay peanuts you get monkeys. We need to change the entire spirit and psychology. Artisans not slave labour. Skill not Sweat.
We need the public and private sector to invest in initiatives, in designers, in craftspeople. We need to take pride in them and in ourselves and pursue excellence until it becomes the only acceptable standard. There is no reason why weavers, embroiderers, artisans cannot become business owners. There is no reason for Arts and Crafts not to thrive unless we allow them to die from neglect and greed.

As shared with IFIN Panorama Editorial Team

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