When does fashion cease being seasonal and acquire the status of art? 

When does craft and textile documentation supercede the current market dynamics?

Possibly, when talent meets passion. 

In the recent times of digitization, news such as Sabyasachi launching his collection on Instagram, Paris Fashion Week showcasing Chanel’s AW19 show live on Social Media, United Colour of Benetton’s Art auctions happening live on Instagram are no novelty. One has an easy access to the world of fashion and aesthetics at the click of a button. Demand for fresh new fashion from the millennials has created a new level of pressure on designers to keep creating fresh collection every three months. A recent advertisement by an e-tail giant highlights on how it provides something new every day on India’s fashion capital. 

Hence, it is a rarity when you come across a designer who works to create œuvre d’art regardless of changing trends, seasons and peer pressure. 

A Confluence of Birds

Asif Shaikh, Ahmedabad based master embroider, textile and fashion designer, recently showcased his latest body of work ‘A Confluence of Birds’ at Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum

The collection comprised of haute couture Indian garments exclusively designed and intricately embroidered with indigo yarn as an ode to the coveted pigment in the fashion industry. True to its name, the handcrafted and handwoven apparels stood as master craft pieces narrating the story of birds that took a flight. The collection comprising of intricately crafted saree, lehenga set, kurta and garara, sulwar kameez and men’s kurta set was first launched at IVth WALKING HAND IN HAND ‘Indigo Exchanges’ by CDS Art Foundation.

There is no life without birds, says Asif commenting on the recurring theme of birds in his couture collection. As a child I always loved birds, he adds as he points to the flight of birds symmetrically placed on the flowy lehenga set. The positioning of bird motifs on Asif’s collection is akin to an artist painting a landscape scene on the canvas. Each apparel has an underlying theme of a flock of birds embroidered with indigo dyed yarn and Japanese beads on handwoven textiles. 

“It has been our most difficult collection till date. Indigo is extremely challenging to work with. Every time that you dye, chances are you will get shade variation. We collaborated with AbouBakar Fofana, a multidisciplinary French designer, to dye the sarees in indigo” adds Shaikh as he elaborates on the process of developing this collection. 

Armed with his expertise in natural indigo dyeing projects in Mali, it was a challenge for Aboubakar as well to dye 5 metre plus saree. Indigo behaves as complex as a human, one may point. It reacts differently every time while it is dyed. Thus, one may find shades of indigo ranging from light blue to dark blue and charcoal in the process of textile development. Indigo has recently gained back the popularity as design houses are incorporating the rich pigment in their handcrafted collection; the new benchmark of luxury. 

Working actively on the promotion of crafts and welfare of the artisans through his foundation CDS, Asif lists 50,000 man-hours as being invested in created this magical collection and shares “We worked with ten weavers from West Bengal to create the base fabric for our collection while our in-house team of twenty artisans worked on the designs and embroidery. We have worked with the motifs of small sparrows, lovebirds, hummingbirds, bird of paradise, peacocks, pelicans and cranes to bring life to the apparels. Each motif in varying sizes has been placed in a strategic way to render fluidity in design while maintaining the symmetry.”

Rendered in chain-stitch, zardosi and marodi work, the birds claim their ground and sky with equal panache as Asif depicts their sense of freedom on the handwoven cotton and silk fabrics. Seamless blending of India’s rich craftsmanship and textiles is visible in the entire collection. Be it Benarasi brocade indigo saree with zardosi work or Parsi gara indigo saree or a gossamer soft ivory dress with a flight of birds on each side, the collection is a fashion and art collectors delight. 

“I have never followed fashion or trends” says Asif as he comments on the timelessness of the designs and craftsmanship that he advocates. With an education in interior design from the prestigious CEPT university, Shaikh has been following his passion for embroidery designing through his miniature embroidery paintings since last 27 years. He has been an active proponent of crafts revival and skilling through his foundation – CDS Arts Foundation. 

Displayed as a travelling textile art exhibition, ‘A Confluence of Birds’ will soon be travelling to Uzbekistan and then across the globe. Asif’s past travelling exhibitions include ‘Resurgence’ – Revival of Indian Embroidery and Textiles that he did in UK, USA and China. He has participated in fashion shows internationally including USA, Australia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan. 

In line with the recent announcement of World Handmade Textiles Biennale by the Ministry of Textiles, the textile and crafts revival seem to have heightened in last few years.  World Khadi Biennale is scheduled in October this year in Ahmedabad. This will be followed by brocade biennale in Varanasi, Ikat biennale in Telangana, chintz biennale in Jaipur and embroidery biennale in Srinagar. 

Amidst the various biennales and exhibits, keep your eyes out for Asif Shaikh, the master embroider from Ahmedabad as he leaps into the world of travelling art exhibits and promotes the rich embroidery techniques in modern form.