In the south Indian megacity of Bangalore, in defiance of its twelve million inhabitants, areas of relative calm exist here and there. In one such quiet pocket, in an old Brahmin neighbourhood, an unobtrusive white building stands at the junction of a quiet leafy lane and a busy main road. Climb to the fourth floor, and instead of one of Bangalore’s ubiquitous tech start-ups, you’ll find a terrace teeming with green plants and the light-filled studio and offices belonging to The Summer House. Born from the desire to create slow and sustainable clothing in a high-speed, use-and throw fashion environment, Shivangini Padhiyar and Rekha Datla founded their business on simplicity, quality, and a deep respect for Indian craft makers and processes. Their clothes are touched with the intricate detailing India excels at, but their aesthetic is contained, neat and muted.
The Summer House specialises in thoughtfully distilling and reinventing, whether it’s quoting the stripes of blue on the saris of missionaries in Kolkata, or taking a cue for a hand-blocked print from the old-style geometric window grills of houses in Mumbai. As city-based designers, rural India occupies an important and dream-like place in The Summer House psyche, and they photograph their collections accordingly - a shady garden in Jayanagar, a farm in Goa. There is a wistful preoccupation with nature that could have come straight from the pages of an Anuradha Roy novel. India’s landscape creeps onto their fabrics too; smooth, creamy silk printed with wandering lines echoes the cracked surface of the parched Kutch landscape. The harsh beauty of the Rann of Kutch, a seasonal salt desert in Gujarat, is refined and abstracted by illustrator-turned designer, Himali Patil, becoming a print that speaks about a specific place, but without using the conventional craft forms that typically express the textile identity of that region. Favourite books are also a source of inspiration. A collection based on Alice in Wonderland muses on what it might mean to be Alice today, and where to look for Wonderland.
For The Summer House, Wonderland is Kashmir, that impossible part of India full of violence, beauty and unexplored possibility. Familiar characters and episodes are designed to the edge of abstraction, creating motifs on silk that give a fresh perspective on the much-loved book. ‘Off with her head!’ becomes a spare cascade of white hearts, in the ‘Tea Time’ print, roman numerals and infinity signs are locked in a grid made from clock hands. But where does this combination of modernity and continuity come from? The spare geometry, the reductive patterns hand block printed onto their signature silks call to mind the work of Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi, known for her disciplined mark-making and frequent use of grids and lines. An interest in innovation and experimentation with the forms, colours and lines that make up...To read the full article click on the Selvedge Articles icon below from issue 91.