Intricate chikankari, zardozi, muqaish and tukdi - it is such traditional crafts and embroideries of the Awadh region that Lucknow-based designer Asma Hussain is reviving through her modern motifs and western silhouettes as well as by way of creating job opportunities for skilled artisans.
Hussain, who made her debut at the ongoing autumn-winter edition of India's premier fashion event - the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) - by putting up a stall, has been engaged in Awadh's craft revival for nearly two decades.
"Over the years, the authenticity of the traditional crafts of Awadh and Rajasthan has been diminishing. I have been trying to revive it all by giving it an international look while retaining the essence and elegance of the art form," Hussain told IANS.
What impresses most about the Lucknavi emroideries is their simplicity.
"The beauty of the Lucknavi art comes from the fact that it is so fine and rich, very subtle and sophisticated and not at all shiny. No matter how much work and embroidery a piece of cloth has, it never takes over the garment. It's very elegant," she averred.
People are used to buying Indian salwar-kameezs, saris and kurtis with chikan work or zardozi, but Hussain has used the embroideries on short shift dresses to suit modern and international sensibilities.
"We know that we have certain fixed clients here since sari is the staple clothing of India, but we wanted to cater to the international market as well. So we have experimented with dresses with flowing silhouettes in varied colours to match the Bohemian-Russian style.
"For this, we have used chikan embroidery on the belt to give the Lucknavi feel. We have also done up scarves to go with the dresses to give them an English feel - so that makes the outfits trendy as well," Hussain said.
Though Hussain never got a chance to spend her childhood in Lucknow due to her father's transferable job, she was always enchanted by the crafts of the city thanks to the antique heirloom and jewellery she inherited from her grandmother.
"My grandmother was the direct descendant of Bahu Begum, who was the wife of Shuja-ud-Daula (who in 1757 lost the battle of Plassey to Robert Clive of the British East India Company). So, my grandmother knew a lot about those days of royal heritage and since I had a passion for art, I thought I should carry forward the craftsmanship of her times that was fast diminishing," Hussain explained.
The designer's sheer love for the art form is evident from the way she has preserved her ancestor's 80-year-old wedding dress that she has put up at her stall at WIFW. It is a traditional silk brocade gharara (wide pants that look like a lehenga) with tukdi work on the border below teamed with a short blouse and a transparent longer top with zardozi brocade work.
"Earlier, ghararas used to be very elaborate. One could take the end of the lower on one hand just the way some people carry the trail of an English wedding dress. People used to have special maids to carry that sort of gharara. But keeping in mind the modern mindset and style, I have kept ghararas simple and easy to carry," she said.
Apart from her own creativity, the designer is running two institutes - Asma Hussain Institute of Fashion Technology (AIFT) and Youth Upliftment and Welfare Association (YUWA) - that are aimed at the upliftment and training of artisans in Lucknow.
"We get destitute people from rural areas and train them for work. But, then, they are not bound to work for me. They can start their own work or work with me, whichever they think is more profitable," she said.
Within 15 years of these institutes, the designer claims to have trained 1,000 people in her institute and has nearly 80 regular salaried employees who are in the age group of 20-40.