When as an 18-year-old, Vaishali Shadangule fled her home in Vidisha, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, to escape an impending marriage; she might not have had a destination in mind and jumped onto the first train out. But today, two decades later, the journey through the warps and wefts of life has landed her in the fashion capital of the world. Just a few hours back this young designer added her name to coveted list that includes the likes of Tom Ford, Vera Wang, Micheal Costello, Anna Sui and Alexandra Wang, when she showcased her Spring Summer 2017 collection, And Quiet Flows the Thread, under her eponymous label at the New York Fashion Week. When we caught up with the designer, the excitement of the previous night was still palpable in her voice.
How was yesterday’s experience?
It was a surreal! The reaction is fabulous! Even though the whole concept is unconventional for them, the way they accepted the silhouettes, weaves, drapes was amazing. It was that common connection to woven art that brought all of this together. A lot of people are turning up for queries and showing interest in the collections, which I hope will all turn into bigger things for the brand. I will be displaying my collection with a renowned sustainable artist, Jeff Hong, who has worked extensively with Disney, at a Sustainable Fashion and Art show today. Later between 15 and 22 of this month, my collections will be displayed at the FTL MODA showrooms in Manhattan.
Also, I would like to give a shout out to Reshma Khureshi, who closed our show. She is an acid attack survivor and even though this industry is new to her, she walked the ramp to promote the End Acid Sale initiative with the NGO, Make Love Not Scars, with immense confidence and gusto
Tell us about the collection:
The collection attempts to depict the flow of life through knots and threads where the interwoven floating threads symbolise the free-spiritedness and the knots signify the anchor points. The colour palette comprise off-white, beige, and shades of blue, grey and black which reflect the progression of the flow. I have used fabrics like silk, khadi and Jamdani
How did you land up at the New York Fashion Week?
I had been to a few art shows and exhibitions during my last visit to New York and London and had showed my work to a lot of people. Everyone liked my work and probably since I had expressed my interest in taking my work to an international platform, I think the word had reached the right place at the right time and the FTL MODA NYFW team contacted me. Since they liked my work a lot, they gave me a direct entry to the fashion week.
How different was this from the fashion weeks in India?
It was more or less the same. On a personal level it is mainly the pressures of finding that connect with the audience, buyers and the people who come from different sensibility and rate your work. It is easier to play a good inning at the home ground but you need to be much more prepared before going international because there you are seen and judged as Indian designer and not as an individual label.
So, how did you go about with it?
The main challenge was to create a collection which inherits Indian aesthetics, sensibility and innovative approach and yet appeal to the audience which comes from diversified cultures.
I would say it’s an extension of what I usually do but the overall appeal and look is more western. Maintaining the same signature style, the collection is a display of versatility of Indian textile though unconventional silhouettes, intricate texturing and unique ideas. The Indian weaves have their strong character, which becomes an asset when you innovatively modernise it by crafting it with various designing elements and unusual silhouettes. Of course the traditional colours are something one need to change according to international sensibility but, the fall and the texture of the textile has to suit the western cuts and silhouettes perfectly.
Do you think there is a fatigue for mass produced machine made clothes in the international market and there is a newfound interest for Indian handcrafted textiles?
Of course it’s growing and will grow faster when as a nation we develop a genuine love for our cultures and traditions and proudly share it with the world. India can and will make its strong presence and remarkable change in the global fashion scenario by exposing its centuries old art and cultural heritage to the world. I feel our self-perception is restricting us from the acceptance that we are expecting from the world. The main advantage hand woven textiles have is the adaptability, versatility in terms of colour, motifs and the feel on the body. These are things machine made textiles can never aim for as they lack that human element which brings emotion, warmth and detailing in the fabrics. I think it is just a matter of time that hand woven textiles will rule the major fashion segments. When I experiment a western silhouette with a sari weave most of times it comes out so well that you get amazed by the versatility of the textile.
While most designers are besotted with the Benarasi and Khadi, you have worked extensively with fabrics like Paithani, Khand, Jamdani. What made you pick these?
I have worked with Paithani, Khun (Maharashtra), Jamdani (West Bengal), Chanderi and Maheshwari (Madhya Pradesh) and Mekhla Chador (Assam). I suppose it is because khadi and Banarasi are more popular and well placed in the retail and designer wear market so it becomes easy for production and business. But my idea behind working with different weaves is to introduce weaves, which are beautiful and appealing, but lacks the connect with the market due to poor and unorganised production structure. The effort is to create awareness about these weaves by developing them as per the modern sensibility and aesthetics keeping the traditional value intact. I want to present these in such way that it catches the attention of the other designers and big fashion houses. Once the weavers start getting good business, the whole cycle can be streamlined and we can truly revive these textiles.
How is the experience of working directly with the weavers?
For me the best part of the whole process is to work with weavers. It feels like vacations when you surrender yourself to the simplistic lifestyle of weavers, surrounded by nature and enjoy the warmth they offer to you for few weeks. You get amazed not just by their openness and acceptance for something new and different but also by their appreciation and contribution to the idea This is also one of the reason behind working with different weaves every time – I get exposed to a completely new experience of working with weavers and developing a new textile.
How did your affair with handloom first begin?
Now when I look back I feel it started very early in the childhood as the only fabric one could touch, see or wear was the woven textile. From the frocks I use to wear to the mother’s sari and even upholstery was made of hand woven textile and the beauty of that got imprinted in my mind. So the association with woven fabric is of warmth and comfort. Though the realisation of love happened much later when I observed my intuitive inclination towards weaves and discovered the roots behind the all the inspirations in the childhood. My first collection at LFW in 2011 was based on childhood memories. Rest of the collections produced and showcased after that with traditional weaves after that were pure pleasure of revisiting the experiences.
How has the journey been so far?
I have been in the fashion business for more than 10 years but came into the mainstream industry in 2011 by showcasing my first collection at Lakmé Fashion Week with Chanderi. The collection was very well received by the fraternity as well as the buyers. I was very sure about the philosophy and the style of working of the label and remained committed to that. Initially it was hard to sustain to the path of working with only handwoven textile because of the limited acceptability in the market and difficult production cycles. But slowly I managed to build my own business model based on the originality and unusualness of the collections.
I started with a very small unit where I used to attend to individual clients. I managed to win hearts of most of my customers and the business flourished. But the turning point was when I felt the need for formal education to excel in the technical and conceptual aspect of fashion and it was a tough decision to put a well-established business on risk and join an institute. With great difficulty I managed to strike a balance between both and after completing the course I was ready and prepared to jump into the mainstream fashion industry. Then, I showcased my first collection at Lakmé Fashion Week in 2011 which was received so well by the senior designers and people from the fraternity that I never looked back and have produced 17 collections back-to-back.
Before starting with the SS’17 collection, I was working on two more collections but had to leave it half way to prepare for NYFW. I will resume my work on the same when I head back to India.
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