Where has the Russian roulette of travel taken me? India! Dream of all dreams, the Victoria & Albert Museum have granted my wishes and organised a four day whirlwind trip to New Delhi and Jaipur to explore artisans, designers and ultimately to see what it takes to make up the Fabric of India – the title of their forthcoming exhibition in October as part of their wider V&A India Festival. I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal introduction to the country which I have long wanted to visit – for its colours, for its appreciation and understanding of superb craftsmanship that is evident in many high fashion brands, and its cultural contribution to aesthetics in general – oh, and its food (Delhi belly? Bring it on…). Just to give an example, after landing into Delhi in the morning, we headed straight to the British Council for a press briefing on the exhibition and I spotted a girl who had casually mixed up a fuschia kantha quilted top with a full navy skirt over banana yellow jeans. Skirt over trousers. Bright clashing colours. This is my kind of country.
Yesterday was spent easing out of jet laggy state. In the evening though, we managed to do a little walk around Hauz Khas, one of many “urban villages” in Delhi with higglety pigglety lanes of shops, bars and restaurants. In Ogaan, one of India’s most established multi-brand boutiques selling Indian fashion with over 25 years behind it, we were awestruck by the dreamily ornate items that would fill a fantasy Indian trousseau – saris, dupattas and anarkalis – heavily embroidered, vibrant with coloud and draped like standalone feats of craftsmanship. Whilst tempted but not quite brave enough to handle these traditional garments (some given a twist especially with textile choices), I spotted a more “contemporary” section and fell hard for a denim jacket by the label Péro. Bandana Tewari, fashion features director of Vogue India had told me about this label’s charm and its pieces spoke for itself.
‘Péro’ means ‘to wear’ in Marwari, the local language of Rajasthan. Designer Aneeth Arora has created its own pared back, craft-ridden aesthetic by taking local Indian materials, skills and traditions and applying them with love to pieces we’ll recognise. It takes a lot to convince me of a… denim jacket. Cue gratuitous picture taking. Every time I picked it up off the rail as I uumed and aahed over whether to buy it or not, I’d notice a different detail. A patchworks buttonhole – with different fabrics used on each one. Tiny drops of crochet circles clinging on to the hem like sweet little limpets. A glorious lining of patchworked handwoven, natural-dyed fabrics, that resembles an Indian take on Japanese boro fabric – you would almost want to wear it inside out. Embroidery on the collar that you might find on a kantha quilt. And then the denim itself – woven and washed so that it’s incredibly soft and feels like it’s been worn but without the obvious signs, which shout “Look I’m distressed!”. Signed off with the label “Handmade in India” and the alluring “Ltd Edition No. 1” – I couldn’t really leave without it. It’s a denim jacket that has an honest and loving type of craft embedded in every stitch and it’s a garment that has passed through many hands – ones that I’m hoping to discover more about on this trip.
Day two is beginning. Uh-oh… now to check, what is my luggage allowance again…?