Guest post by Judy Frater

Last February India’s design school, Somaiya Kala Vidya, made history. Seven traditional artisan graduates of its courses in Design and Business and Management for artisans of Kutch walked the Lakme Fashion Week ramp. For these artisans, this was the first time that they were acknowledged as designers.

This is the ultimate goal of Somaiya Kala Vidya and was cause for celebration. Yet, the group could not help but feel some tiny doubts. The day before the show, they had engaged Pearl Academy of Design to professionally photograph their sari collection. The artisans (a weaver, an Ajrakh block printer, a bandhani artist and four embroiderers) each styled their own saris on the models, making sure that their work was highlighted as they had envisioned it. For the Lakme Fashion show, the stylist draped, bunched and entwined the saris in highly unconventional ways, often eclipsing the focal points created by the artisans.

Juxtaposing the images of the photoshoot and the fashion show conjures the provocative HSBC ad campaign illustrating how there are multiple perspectives on any given subject. Which of these images illustrates fashion in craft, and which illustrates craft in fashion? Then comes a torrent of questions about whether fashion is an appropriate goal for craft at all. Craft is creation by hand, essentially personal, made to satisfy a need and delight the heart. Fashion is about style, a look, an attitude: inherently about the body and creating desire.

Indian fashion designer James Ferreira asserts that craft should not be used in pret lines; it should be couture. Historically, finely crafted work was made to open up a dialogue between maker and wearer – there was not always a need for an intervening designer, and yet now design is what Somaiya Kala Vidya teaches its artisans. We chose saris for the Lakme collection because it is a garment that artisans understand; they each designed them to be beautiful in a conventional style, but fashion styling was a completely new concept.

Aakib, the Ajrakh printer said he liked the wildly cut blouse with his elegant saris. It made the outfit young, he observed. To this, Abdulaziz (the wild bandhani artist) replied, ‘the young can't afford our work!’ so they began to think more deeply about the market, their place in it, and styling. The real connection between fashion and craft became clear soon after the Lakme show. Fashion raises value and recognition; acting as a bridge between craft and market.

Show sponsored by IMG Reliance at Lakmé Fashion Week

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