Weaves that speak a diverse language

“Look at yourself, the colours you are wearing. Rust paired with dark magenta, and trimmed with
Dancer Shobhna Narayan (in front) with Nidhi Jain
olive green. Can anyone but us Indians, conceive such surprising yet glorious combinations!” Nidhi Jain had remarked at my handwoven Tussar the first time I met her three years back. Nibbling at the tantalising lemon cheese cake sitting before us, I immediately stopped, looked up at her and smiled. “I am glad you think this works because somehow my mother doesn’t. She’s from the old school where saris needed to be matched with blouses. But I love contrasts. It’s how traditional weaves can get that contemporary spin. I’m going back to tell my Ma what you said,” we hit it off instantly over our love for handloom, textiles and a delish cheese cake on a balmy winter afternoon in a quaint café in the south of the capital.

The other day as I readied for a concept shoot with her we just picked up from where we left during out last session. The world of vintage textiles, luxury weaves, the beauty of the fabric and the modern techniques that she’s incorporating into the traditional methods. For the shoot, I zeroed in on an exquisite light pink Bomkai from Odisha that flaunted the complex structure of the Ikat procedure. Contrasted with the signature Chakra design in black for the border and pallu, Nidhi showed me the trimmings that made the sari stand out even more. A broad patch of fabric with Warli prints near the pallu end, a bright yellow back-border made the sari fall so much better.

Jaya Jaitley
“While I grew up watching my mother always in a sari, there is a constant need to make the weaves relatable to the youngsters now. While there are many young women who love donning the sari for special occasions, even today they would prefer the Chinese crepe than a lovely handwoven Upada silk because they are yet to witness the versatility of luxury handwoven saris. But gradually the notion is changing and it is a joyous time for the weaves. For my new collection we have combined weaves and crafts from five regions of India to create an ensemble that is rich, luxuriant and gorgeous,” informs Nidhi, pointing at the wedding lehnga made with a yellow handwoven Banarasi and laced with an emerald velvet patch with intricate zari embroidery. The choli is red tussar silk and the dupatta is a beautiful patan patola finished off with delicate aari work on the edges. “The design palette is ruled by the weaves and crafts that are old. But the way we put it together makes it modern.”

Interestingly, when Nidhi launched her first fashion studio and label, Hues, after passing out from NIFT in 1994, it wasn’t about the traditional six yards that she today is known for designing. It was a studio that housed western wear for the fashionable lady. However, true to her love for handlooms and handwoven textiles, the western wear was crafted out of only handloom material. “Though Hues was a success, it did not take long for me to realize that my true calling was handloom saris and I started working with them,” says the textile designer who is an emissary of handloom and handwoven saris from several parts of India.
Nidhi’s love for saris, a garment she considers to be one with every Indian woman, was inherited from her mother. “She used to wear the sari like how we wear our track suits. Even when she woke up in them, the sari just stayed in its place. Soft, rich and elegant, the aesthetics for the six yards were
Artist Mithu Sen
imbued early. Traditional weaves and handloom fabrics became a part of our lifestyle. I wore phulkari and kalamkari dupattas. Words like ikat and pochampally were regular in our fashion vocabulary. After I got married to Rajnish, I gravitated to handloom saris and decided I wanted to concentrate in working with them as there is nothing special than the heritage weaves of India,” says Nidhi.
For the last 18 years she has been travelling to the interiors of Kutch, Bhuj, central and south India to delve into the art of the weavers, suggesting patterns and motifs to modernise the vocabulary of the weave designers. Nidhi is involved in restoring and recreating real zardozi embroidery in silver. “These restored zardozi embroidery are then dexterously used on handloom fabric. This is the special point of our bridal wear. We also work on how beautifully an ethnic weave can be teamed with an embroidered velvet shawl. For me it’s all about the amalgamation of different traditional weaves and fabrics. You can wear an upada sari with a banarasi blouse embroidered with a Rajasthani gota border,” says the designer.
For Nidhi, her saris become even more beautiful when draped by women of substance. “I’d rather have women who are fond of wearing saris wear my creations rather than those who flaunt the size zero frame. The women should be one with my saris and revel in the rich heritage weave,” says the artist whose works have been donned by Kathak exponent Shobhna
Artist Seema Kohli
Narayan, artists Mithu Sen and Seema Kohli, diplomats Jaya Jaitley and Vaani Tripathi.
Keen on creating quality rather than churning out mediocre quantity, the designer takes two significant weaves every year and works on them. For instance, last year she created stunning saris with the Upada weaves and the Jamnagar Bandhej. This year the focus is on Kota Doria and Banarasis. “I have always been very proud of the cultural heritage of our country and involuntarily gravitate towards it. The weaves denote the rich history of our country and there’s nothing timeless than those pieces of art. Even when I collect art and work with artists for my gallery, I seek out the Indianess in the works.”

Did we hear art? Yes, the textile designer has a passion for that, too. But that again is a different story for a different time altogether…


  1. Wow sharmi.. After reading this article I am in love with you .I love to wear saree often but not discovered words like you did


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