HT Brunch Cover Story: How to upcycle your fashion this festive season
When I took out my grandma’s 70-year-old turquoise gharara from her trunk, hoping to be able to wear it to a wedding, the sheen of the brocade was intact but the delicate silk kurta and dupatta were in tatters. A designer friend came to the rescue. She made a new blouse with pink and gold gota-patti work and gave me a gold and pink sequinned stole, and voila! She had upcycled an old classic!
“When you take an old or antique garment or even fabric, and give it a twist by adding new elements to make into something new, it is called upcycling,” explains designer Leena Singh, who for the last three decades has been upcycling garments.
“Our arts and craft were always there and will always be. Our weaves and embroidery are part of our heritage. The idea of upcycling is to find and restore these beautiful treasures and take them in a new direction,” says Leena. “The maharanis of yesteryear had beautiful orhnis, lehengas and shawls. To bring them forward and make them relevant for contemporary times is the journey of upcycling.”
Restyling on the other hand means to change the style of a garment without changing its structure.
And in this day and age when fashion is the second biggest polluter with nearly 50 million tons of clothing being discarded every year, upcycling and restyling are truly steps in the direction of mindful and responsible fashion.
“We are drowning the world with our fashion buys and this pandemic has brought the facts home. It has forced us to look at our own fashion footprint and made us realise the consumers are the changemakers,” says Sujata Assomull, Dubai-based fashion journalist and an advocate of mindful fashion.
How can we upcycle and restyle effectively? “Commit yourself to being a repeat offender. Do your shopping when you are in a good frame of mind, not because you are bored or upset. There are lessons to be learnt from our grandmothers, who bought things made of the best fabrics so they could be remodelled into something else,” says Sujata.
To lead by example, we got six stylish men and women to dig out one celebratory garment from their wardrobe. Some of these are upcycled heirloom pieces, some needed basic restyling. All can now be worn again and again!
A Kurta Becomes A Dress
Vidushi Mehra, 42, Theatre actor
“The original kurta that this dress is made from was designed by Shantanu & Nikhil for me to wear at the sangeet of a super exclusive Delhi wedding where singer Usher was performing,” recalls Vidushi Mehra, theatre actor and mentor. “It was about 15 years ago, and I paired it with see-through tights. With an off-shoulder and bold gold motifs, it was considered quite a forward garment at the time, but I got so many compliments that day that I decided to keep this kurta with me for all these years though I’m an absolute non-hoarder.”
Vidushi never wore it again, though the outfit was borrowed by her family and close friends over the years. However, after it was restyled as a dress by the HT Brunch stylist with a pair of chic peep-toes, she fell in love with it all over again. The combination of velvet, gold and black will never go out of fashion, she says. “I’m definitely going to repeat this as a dress now!” Vidushi adds.
Fashion advice: “When wearing an outfit with bulky motifs, avoid chunky accessories and too many elements. Keep the look as minimal as possible,” cautions designer Jenjum Gadi.
A Sari Draped Differently
Yasmin Kidwai, 45, Documentary filmmaker
“When Sanjay Garg hadn’t yet launched his label 13-14 years ago, I bought this Raw Mango Chanderi sari from him,” says filmmaker and politician Yasmin Kidwai. “I have actually never worn it. My son was just a couple of months old when I bought it and I wasn’t wearing saris then. Then the other baby came and, with two boys, I couldn’t dream of wearing a sari. I take it out lovingly every summer with the intention of wearing it, and then put it back at the end of the season.”
So, when this old keepsake was restyled by the HT Brunch stylist with a short blouse and loose pyjamas with delicate embroidery at the bottom, it made a lot of sense to Yasmin. “It was a win-win. My style is not very traditional and dressy, but the casualness and ease of this outfit works for me,” smiles Yasmin.
Fashion advice: “Wear it with a crisp cotton shirt with folded sleeves or a belted gilet, with the sari coming out of the neckline,” says designer Varun Rana.
A Vintage Jacket Is Young Again
Gautam Sinha, 40, Fashion entrepreneur & founder, Nappa Dori
“I bought this vintage Japanese jacket from a thrift store in Paris on the last day of my trip, 10 years ago,” says Gautam Sinha, the owner of luxury leather brand Nappa Dori.
Gautam had gone to Paris for the Maison & Objet fair and had been walking around, looking for inspiration for his brand. “I love old things, and scour the flea markets and thrift stores in every city I visit. I liked its texture and weave and was surprised that it fit me perfectly considering the Japanese are quite small,” he laughs.
The jacket comes out of his closet every now and then. This time around, he feels that the styling, which pairs the jacket with the good old jeans-tee-sneaker combo, compliments his personality well with a hint of vintage.
Fashion advice: “A turtleneck or polo neck under the jacket can add to its unisex appeal. Accessorise with a chunky silver neckpiece and a thick bangle. Why not be a tad naughty and wear it with a deliberately-loosened tie?” advises veteran designer Madhu Jain.
Upcycled And Madeover
Dr Deepali Bhardwaj, 35, Dermatologist
“When I was studying in Pune, I borrowed this sari from my mother to wear for my freshers party but as the colour code required us to wear black, I bought another one and this was made into a dress,” says Dr Deepali Bhardwaj, a renowned dermatologist and laser surgeon.
But Deepali’s mother was not thrilled to have her sari cut up and restyled by a local Parsi tailor. “It was an expensive silk sari that she had bought from Tokyo, and lent to me so lovingly. I never wore it more than once after that,” says Deepali.
When this upcyled dress was restyled by our stylist with a scarf and paired with heels, Deepali loved it. “Just this basic restyling has made such a huge difference to my dress; it’s far more wearable,” she says.
Fashion advice: “Since this dress is up to the neck, avoid too much bulk there in terms of accessories. It also has a busy print, so either go the maximalist way and play with more prints in outerwear, or go totally minimal and clean,” says celebrity stylist Rishi Raj.
Dad’s Old Bomber Is All New
Abhinav Mathur, 36, Digital content creator & lawyer
When Abhinav Mathur, a digital content creator who is lauded for his fashion sense, borrowed his dad’s heirloom reversible bomber jacket to match with an outfit last year, he didn’t expect to inherit it.
“My dad bought this jacket in Brussels, Belgium, over 10 years ago and has been wearing it extensively since. But a few years ago, he felt he’d outgrown it and just put it away in his cupboard,” says Abhinav. “When I wore it, it fit me perfectly, and he was extremely happy to see that in his late 50s, he was almost as fit as I am in my 30s and happily passed it on to me! I love the colour and the fact that it’s reversible and can be repeated with a whole lot of outfits.”
Although Abhinav had stashed this bomber jacket away for some time now, when our team helped him restyle it with a neutral-hued T-shirt, folded pants and sneakers, it gave him new ideas to dress it up!
Fashion advice: “A jacket like this one is easy to style in different ways. Just choose your vibe for the day and play with your coordinates. Experiment as much as you like!” says celebrity stylist Rishi Raj.
Mom’s Sari Is A Shirt
Krishnendu Choudhury, 30, Marketing professional
“My mother received this Jamdani sari as a gift at a family wedding. She wore it for 10-12 years and then kept it aside. However, I loved the contrasting colours and decided to make a shirt out of it,” says Krishnendu Choudhury, a marketing professional.
His mother didn’t think it would work – as the sari was too old to be upcycled. When Krishnendu gave it to a local tailor five years ago, the shirt turned out quite nicely.
“I had heard stories of Taslima Nasreen framing pieces of her heirloom saris and giving them to her close friends. I feel proud of our traditional textile weaves and being able to wear the shirt to not-so-traditional events!” he says.
With our stylist restyling the sheer shirt with a black ganjee, cool white trousers and brown lace-ups, he’ll start wearing it again.
Fashion advice: “Avoid overdoing the look. If it’s the shirt that’s making the statement, then let it do all the talking. And keep the rest of the look simple and sharp,” says designer Karan Torani.
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From HT Brunch, November 1, 2020
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