The Heart of Fabrics

A few moons back when we walked into Ekaya, for the unveiling of Thaan, Palak Shah, known for
her sartorial experiments, had pulled off another edgy do. This time with an exquisite piece of Banarasi fabric, woven by one of the 8,000 weavers her family works with, in the textile hub of Varanasi. Usually known to enhance the silhouettes of an ethnic attire, this outfit made Palak, the CEO of Ekaya, look chic as a pin. In the well-tailored pant suit that hugged her lithe frame, the ensemble was a smart and shimmering pointer of how the boundaries of India’s heritage weaves could be fashionably stretched.
“It was a well-thought-out decision to showcase how traditional Banaras fabric can attain an international feel through clever styling and design. We all are aware of the magic of saris, lehengas and anarkalis. Heritage textiles are capable of more. While stunning woven saris and Indian silhouettes are the mainstay of Ekaya’s repertoire, my outfit at the launch of Thaan, our newest baby, was the bell-weather of how these weaves can wow global fashion circles,” says Palak taking us around Thaan, a museum-like space that houses about 1,000 woven fabrics from Banaras. The dark and minimalist interiors are the perfect canvas for the game of colours and design the fabrics play. The space is also a stark juxtaposition to Ekaya downstairs, a pristine ivory and gold set-up reminiscent of the sari sellers of yore, where clients sit on low gaddas when they come to buy the most exquisite of traditional weaves of India.
Palak Shah
While Ekaya has been regaling the city’s women with a yen for hand-woven saris from Banaras, Thaan is a quest to redefine conventional ideas about textiles. “The store highlights the mastery, art and narrative represented within the fine textures of each hand-woven fabric. “That’s why we steered clear of the traditional motifs and patterns. Think snake-skin patterns, designs inspired by handcrafted tiles and more such quirks when you walk into Thaan. There are schemes that have never been woven before; experiments that weavers dithered to take on. We pushed the envelope because the world of beautiful textiles translates to an experience that should not just be restricted to the act of wearing. We want people to live in luxury. Many of these textiles can lend an opulent feel to your homes as upholstery, as cushion covers and as quilts. For a textile lover, this should be like a candy store,” Palak’s excitement is palpable.
It all started about six years back when she returned to India after completing her business management from King’s College, London. Palak took baby steps into a 70-year-old family wholesale business of hand-woven sarees and fabrics. “Even though I grew up in that atmosphere, I had to learn everything from scratch. I was literally shadowing my father, Bharat Shah, who had earned a steadfast reputation in the field. Under his tutelage, I picked up the ropes. But I envisioned something bigger. My father supported my dreams when I shifted to Delhi as he too wanted to create a luxury retail experience here. We launched Ekaya in 2012,” recalls Palak.
Ekaya brought to the fashionista an experience that was all pervasive. While the brand housed saris
steeped in the tradition of Banaras, connoisseurs kept coming back for the innovations. Palak’s modish outlook resulted in collaborations with with fashion bigwigs such as Abraham & Thakore, Archana Rao and peppy labels like Play Clan. “We wanted to explore how luxury could be achieved through minimalism and variations. The collaborations helped in that. While for Play Clan we worked with funky motifs like the dancing dolls and the flight of birds, with Archana Rao, it was more of reverse cuts in the weave and distinctive patterns. If there was zari, it was intertwined uniquely with the warp and the weft. With A&T, who flaunt a sound methodology with the single and double Ikkat weave, the saris stood out for their colour-blocked look. Everything was geometric and contemporary. Every sari was show-stopping,” she says. Their latest collaboration, with Parsi Gara specialist Ashdeen Lilaowala, was a sell-out. Explains Palak, “We tried the intricacy of the Parsi Gara
embroidery in a woven format that rendered an extravagant feel to the six-yard. We created lehngas, jackets and other separates out of the woven fabrics. We have experimented with scalloped edging and Turkish motifs for many of our saris. While we have to keep the popular colours, we play with pastels, pop colours and off-beat tones to make the look more fun.” For instance, there is this kora silk jacket delicately woven with chrysanthemums using the Paithani weave. Donned over a shirt and a pair of Denims, this would complete the look for a classy do.
Palak reiterates that she wanted to exit the environment which getting saturated with similar run-of-the-mill ideas. Even for her campaign shoots for both Ekaya and Thaan she maintained that the sari and the fabrics would gel with the architecture of the picture. Subtlety would be celebrated and fashion would be melded with art. “I want Indian textiles to stand for impeccable craftsmanship, inventiveness and subtle yet noticeable sophistication. If we keep using the same old methods the craft will continue to struggle to sustain itself. Also, why should we
keep harping about the plight of the weavers. The focus needs to shift elsewhere. The world needs to wake up to the versatile and international appeal of heritage weaves. If crafted with ingenuity, they can mould themselves into a sexy dress, a sharp pantsuit, a structured trench-coat, a priceless wall décor item and of course the timeless sari,” rounds off Palak with aplomb.

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