Nikasha Tawadey - Going Back in Time

The old is going to come back, but in a contemporary way. That's how Indian designer Nikasha Tawadey interprets fashion today. We got hooked for sure...

By: Soumya Jain

Posted on: March 18, 2013

The old is going to come back, but in a contemporary way. That’s how Indian designer Nikasha Tawadey interprets fashion today. We got hooked for sure…

“What is prêt? Prêt is something that is in your wardrobe, on the hangar, you take it out, wear it and you feel good about it. What is modernity? Modern is something which is simple. And what is simple? Simple is something that can look great on a person, but it hasn’t taken her any effort to do it. To wear that entire garment it shouldn’t take her more than 3-4 minutes.” And that’s that.

Indian designer Nikasha Tawadey has her philosophy set. We were standing in the middle of her production room, as she calmly stated this fact, which most of us know, but sometimes forget or take for granted. Since I had barged into Ms Tawadey’s two-storey facility in New Delhi’s fashion area, Shahpur Jat, at lunch time, we could blessedly talk without disturbance, as most of the staff had rushed out for their much hard-earned meal.

The idea
She recently showcased her Autumn/Winter 2013-14 collection at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW). But this meeting had happened barely 10 days before the show, hence everything was obviously chaotic. Leading me towards another room, Ms Tawadey’s showed the mood-board of her collection, which was interestingly titled ‘Raat ki Rani’ (night blooming jasmine). Taking inspiration from the celebrated Indian painter, Amrita Shergil, and books by her father Umrao Singh Shergil, the mood-board was sprinkled with sepia images of Amrita Shergil and her sister dressed in a delicate, elegant way. Ms Tawadey’s collection aimed to capture the jazziness of 1920s and disco-theme of 1970s by revisiting hand-woven textiles of yesteryears in a contemporary way.

“Lot of the jazzy influences we got from that time,” Ms Tawadey said as she flipped through coffee table books on Amrita Shergil, “but this was jazzy in 1920s in Simla and Delhi.” I naively commented, “This was modern for them at that point of time.” But Ms Tawadey set the record straight immediately, “And this is modern now! I don’t think you see people dressed like this anymore. You don’t dress personalities today. You have film stars now, but even they are not personalities. These were people with personalities. So that again is a very important part of our collection. Each garment has a personality.”

That intrigued me even further. But before I could designate her as an eccentric artist, she quickly started putting things in perspective. “The challenge was how do we translate this into something a 25 year old girl would want to wear? So we took traditional shapes. In the west, you call it a wide-legged pant, we call it sharara. We took that and made it more contemporary by crafting it like a jumpsuit. And if I add a blouse underneath it, it makes it contemporary, but very Indian also,” explains Ms Tawadey. She took traditional Indian silhouettes, again some of which we take for granted, and tried to interpret them into a contemporary style. Being well-into the topic now, she started rapid firing examples – “The racerback vest that people wear now, the gypsy Rajasthani women have been wearing that for the past 500 years, with a blouse underneath and a lehenga. Or if you look at DVF, she did the famous wrap dress. Dude, we have been doing the wrap dress since Mughals! The Anarkali is the wrap dress! They just took the excess fabric away and made it more streamlined.” Realisation hit me hard.

The execution
The problem, however, lies with the lack of weavers now. Ms Tawadey rues how children, whose forefathers were weavers, now don’t want to be associated with such a profession. “I think to a large extent we are responsible for that. You can’t preach the young and force them to wear weaves. You have to present it in such a way that they have to think ‘Yes, I really want to wear that’. This remains a challenge. And if you keep doing what has already been done, it’s not going to work. So we have tried to make this collection as contemporary as we can, and as sexy as possible, using traditional weaves and silhouettes,” she says.

Finding ourselves in her production room again, she picks up an unfinished piece as she describes the future of it. “This is our take on the anarkali. We have taken the excesses away and given it a slimmer silhouette. We don’t need that much of drama with a full ghera (skirt). Today’s Indian girl doesn’t want to be hidden under so much of fabric. She is working out, feeling more confident, she wants her figure to be seen a little bit,” she explained. Then demonstrating, she folded the inner lining of the anarkali kurta, leaving about two inches of the upper organza fabric without any lining. With the churidar being visible through the organza, it was an innovative way to create a border. “We are not putting a border separately,” she said. Taking four tailors and craftsmen three days to do this piece, the Indian boota, pearl-work and mirror work was all done by hands. “By just putting lot of embroidery doesn’t make it luxury. The dramatism of this anarkali with an organza border is much better than the fully embroidered garment!” Ms Tawadey explained excitedly.
Picking up a pair of red organza dhoti pants, she explained that it will be combined with a fitted full-sleeve kurta with high collar which is backless. While the kurta is made from woven jamdaani, the dhoti is made from silk woven organza. “All you need is a pair of stilettos, a big pair of earrings, and this becomes such a statement making piece! That’s what the whole show is about,” explains a proud Ms Tawadey.

Moving to another room, we saw an unfinished silver tissue sari, stretched and pinned to make working on it easier. “Purely hand woven, we are adding bootas to it, and we are giving a hand-woven brocade petticoat under it. So the brocade shows through the silver tissue. And the embroidery we have done in such a way that it’s almost like the blossoms are from your heart and they are falling on the shoulder drape, and off it almost,” she expressed through her hands. Quickly moving through the room, a delicate champagne coloured sari met our eyes. The craftsmen had been in the process of weaving one sequin at a time with what they call ‘kasab ka dhaaga’. Ms Tawadey looked at lovingly, “This is a very time consuming work, and personally to me, something like art. Not everyone can have it because the production time is so long. This sari takes about 6-8 days with six people sitting on it. And this is not with general working hours - we are working up to 12 at night nowadays.”

The little details
Ms Tawadey doesn’t believe in the concept of showstoppers. “Each garment of ours is a showstopper,” she elaborates as she leads us to another room to see some of the final, finished pieces. As we admire the done dresses, we further discuss some important details of the collection. Taking the colours of the traditional, coloured glass lanterns as the palette, Ms Tawadey concurs that organza is a big part of their collection. “It almost makes you feel like you are gift-wrapped!” she says.

Considering that sometimes girls from traditional Indian families can’t show too much of skin when with family, Ms Tawadey has made sure that doesn’t become a deterrent, when they shop for innovative dresses for weddings especially. A small, but delightful addition of nimbu-mirchi latkans (mini hangings depicting lime and chilies) – inspired from the Indian tradition according to which hanging these anywhere make sure you are not jinxed – complete the collection.

Not surprisingly, this wonderful blend of traditional and western sensibilities, has been in making for long time. The idea has been marinating and stewing in the designer’s mind for two years.

Before wishing her best for the show, we ended up chatting about the Indian and global scene of fashion, old money and new money preferences, time-honoured trends and more. Ms Tawadey turned out to be a staunch supporter of detail, and the beauty of the old and its simplicity. “I think all those excesses [whether undeserved over-spending or clothes fully embroidery unnecessarily] are going to change. It’s going to become about wearability. Luxury wearability is the fact of the market and people are going to seek that out.”

We couldn’t agree more. Simplicity, combined with uniqueness and innovation, has always been a potent formula for luxury…

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