At the Lakme Fashion Week in March this year, the diaphanous Chanderi was a familiar sight. With the impending hot weather and a massive demand for light, breathable clothes, it was only natural that designers would turn to this elegant, homegrown silk. Lighter than ordinary silk and dressier than cotton, the Chanderi has slowly made its way into the fashionable Indian’s summer essentials. Designer Vijay Balhara, who used the fabric to create his resort-line collection, says, “The subtle sheen and transparency make it feminine and the fabric is so light that even if 20 meters is used in a dress, you won’t feel the weight. It’s the perfect year-round fabric for India.”
This fascination with Chanderi also has a lot to do with the urge to adapt the fabric to more contemporary needs. Delhi-based designer, Sanjay Garg, has given the Chanderi sari a new lease of life with an array of saris created under his label Raw Mango. The bright colour palette and the use of new motifs like the cypress trees and lilies in his collection ‘Mughal returns to Chanderi’, has given it a modern turnaround.
Designer Rahul Mishra goes even further in his quest to modernise the use of Chanderi. “So few Indian women buy saris, that the best way to introduce them to handloom traditions like Chanderi is to use it to make more contemporary garments,” he says.
It may have the “sheen of moonlight”, but it’s nevertheless a difficult fabric to work with. In fact, that’s what makes it so exciting, according to Mishra. The designer’s tryst with the fabric began when he went to the village of Chanderi, where the textile originates from. He was accompanied by a National Geographic documentary team, which was shooting the designer for a show called Handlooms of India. “Indian handloom fabrics are usually not conducive to being stitched and same is the case with Chanderi,” says Mishra, “But I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to work with this fabric and I was inspired to create a whole collection out of it. It is made to be draped, so that’s the premise that I worked with.” The result was a collection of dresses, jackets and tunics — even a trenchcoat — in vibrant shades, with bolder versions of the traditional lotus motif.
The incompatibility with stitching is not the only problem with adapting Chanderi. Designer Vaishali Shandangule warns that it’s best to let the fabric speak for itself, rather than smother it with embellishments and embroidery. “It has a very delicate beauty, that is quite unique. Keeping it simple is best,” says the designer, who is from Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, which is very close to Chanderi. Her gentle treatment of Chanderi reflects in her halter tops, tube dresses and flowing gowns.
The biggest turnaround for this fabric is perhaps yet to come. If, as Mishra and other designers say, the demand for Chanderi will grow as people’s awareness about this handloom textile increases, then there’s very real chance that garments made out of it could find a place on the global stage. Shandangule, for instance, says that her eye is very much on the international and domestic markets. “So far, although my collection has done well in India, internationally it hasn’t picked up. However, it’s only a matter of time before the world too begins to take notice of it.”