No Indian wedding trousseau is complete without Banarasi silks, Tussar, brocades, zardozi work, etc. A mainstay of Indian weddings since time immemorial, these rich fabrics are routinely used by Indian designers in their wedding couture collections. But now, these wondrous weaves are casting a spell the world over with their versatility. Recently, these fabrics even debuted on the runways of Paris, the heart of the global fashion industry. It all started in 2016 when New Delhi-based Palak Shah, CEO of designer label Ekaya, was approached by Paris-based luxury fashion consultant Veronique Poles for a unique partnership—that of Indian fabrics and the French couture and wedding industry. Poles, who facilitates business for France’s La Fédération Française de la Création Couture Sur Mesure (The French Federation of Custom Couture Creation), was smitten by Indian fabrics—which she came across during her frequent trips to India in the past decade—and wanted these to be part of the Paris Haute Couture Week.
An annual event organised by the French federation (a private trust created for designers who make custom-made wedding-wear), the fashion week celebrates the talent of its fashion designer members in consociation with weavers from across the world. “When I sent a few samples of the zardozi and silk to my (designer duo) friends Pierre Letz (president of the federation) and Daniel Martin, they were immediately taken in by the richness of the cloth and accepted my proposal,” says Poles. What ensued was a first-of-its-kind Indo-French collaboration, with Shah’s Ekaya tying up with the federation to supply them Indian fabrics such as Banarasi silk, brocade, chikankari, zardozi, etc, using which their designers from across the world created exquisite wedding gowns.
The project, titled Cousu d’Or (meaning ‘sewn gold’), explored the use of Indian weaves in the French bespoke wedding industry. “The idea behind this was to try and incorporate Indian textiles into the everyday lives of the international consumer,” says 26-year-old Shah of the ambitious experiment, adding, “We are too hung up on using these fabrics only in salwar-kameezes and saris. But when you hand them over to a person who has no background of how the fabrics have been traditionally used, they have the potential to create something very compelling.” The final collection—comprising eye-catching wedding gowns in multiple shades of white, golden and silver—which made its runway debut at the Paris Haute Couture Week in March, was recently exhibited at Bikaner House in the national capital. For the project, the federation’s 14 designer members, including famous names such as Fanny Liautard, Aurelle Dillon, Ali Thompson, Isabelle Beaumenay Joannet, etc, were each sent samples of different Indian fabrics to choose from for their bespoke pieces.
Pierre Letz, one half of French couture brand Letz-Martin (founded in 1989), says he fell in love with the chikankari work the moment he laid his eyes on it. “We are extremely fascinated by the vast variety of Indian textiles and feel this collaboration is just the beginning of a new story,” says Letz. The designer reveals that as silk exports from China have experienced a price hike, they are now looking towards India as their next go-to market for fabric. The Letz-Martin wedding gown was a sheer, white, full-length dress, made out of a three-piece suit material, with intricate chikankari hand embroidery. The gown, the designers say, was especially cut to deliver a supple windy look. “It pays tribute to French couture and Indian textiles, and might pave the way for the latter’s foray into the European market,” says Daniel Martin.
Designer Isabelle Beaumenay Joannet, another big name from the high streets of Paris, chose handwoven Banarasi metallic silk fabric for her design. “When I saw the fabric, I was instantly reminded of a moonlit night and a romantic date in Paris. I wanted to create the effect of moonlight casting a shadow,” she says. In her work, Joannet gave the fabric precedence, creating a row of fine pleats around the middle with the help of moulds, painstakingly fusing the pleats together. The designer, who is known for her quirky designs, then applied a dark spray dye over the pleats. “I felt this cloth was handcrafted for me, as it gave me the space to experiment,” she says. Another dazzling number was designer Sylvie Kameni’s experiment using chikankari work. Kameni reveals she was surprised at the quality of the fabric, as it was unlike any she had used before. “It felt so delicate in my hands,” she says.
Kameni’s design (which stood out because of its use of a most unusual element in a wedding gown—leather) was a vision in white. “I combined the free-flowing fabric with leather to balance the soft textile with the rigidity of leather, and to add an element of contrast,” she says of her design, which has a plunging neckline and golden embroidery on leather, drawing attention to the neck and waist. Enamoured with the versatility of Indian handlooms was another designer, Ali Thompson. “So many clients have already put in requests seeing the rich cloth,” says Thompson, who chose a metallic weave of Banarasi silk.