Bringing the Old Back...

“My mother wore a Banarasi Tanchoi on my marriage, you know… An exquisite six yard embellished with antique Zardozi. Every time I see the album, I forget myself and stare at her.” Aanchal Sagar Jain rues her decision to don a designer lehenga on her big day. “I should have worn a handwoven sari. I would have loved myself in those pictures more that way…” I take a liking to Aanchal instantly. We lighten up over a crostini and fresh orange juice at Good Earth café in Khan market as she narrates her rendezvous into the world of heritage weaves and timeless handcrafted textiles.

Aanchal (left) and Akshita
Aanchal and her sister, Akshita Sagar, launched Ohfab a year back to do something that they passionately felt about… to restore and revive the lost weaves and designs dying a slow death in the serpentine lanes of Varanasi. But unlike most designers their age championing the cause of heritage fabrics and textiles, Aanchal and Akshita are clear about one thing… they want to retain the old-world charm in their works. If you do peek into their look books and Instagram page, it would be like staring into the fragile pages of the past, brittle at a touch but promising vignettes of the vintage… the sepia-washed skin, the sun-kissed air and the redolent life… women in heirloom bijouterie, ensconced in rustling six yards, each telling an intricate story… of love, laughter and looking ethereal.

The coy demeanour of the women draped in rich fabric that showcases the intricate workmanship of the weaver, is only enhanced by the old-world aura that is purposely recreated in every frame. The Ohfab look is a luxurious reminder of the days of yore, which the enterprising sisters have unfurled through their painstaking efforts.

Even while growing up in Ambala, the sisters witnessed this insane love for textiles amongst their elders. “Our mother decked up in the most gorgeous handloom saris. We have grown up hearing that our grandfather developed a superior sense of style even as he travelled to different countries. Our maternal granddad, K K Nayyar, was the Deputy Director General of AIR and his aesthetics thrived in an august company of fashionable celebrities and artists at home.”  

But, fashion was never a career choice when the sisters were transitioning towards adulthood. “I studied Economics from LSR and Akshita did Electrical Engineering. I went to San Francisco to study luxury management and thereafter worked with Louis Vuitton for three years after my marriage. Akshita went on to do her post graduate studies from University College, London and probed into the fashion industry there. But somewhere, both of us rooted for home. We had to come back and do something that took us to the villages, where we wanted to see the process of making beautiful textiles at the grassroots level. A few years ago, we took the plunge and set off to Varanasi,” recalls Aanchal, “What happened changed our lives and perspectives forever.”

A ground study revealed to the siblings that while there were skilled artisans willing to hold on to the old techniques and design graphs, the rampant unscrupulous market mechanism riddled with middlemen curbed their creative instincts. This led to the gradual extinction of the old designs. “When we went through old swatches in their little units we fell in love with the ancient patterns that were so much more ornate and intricate than some of the modern forms. 
But not everyone was eager to experiment backwards. Gradually, we won them over with promises of sales and vanquishing the predominance of middlemen. Weavers often felt surprised that we cajoled them to weave the ancient patterns complaining that the modern taste wouldn’t find favour with the vocabulary of jaals and junglas. But we trudged on,” Akshita explains from Ambala, “It’s sad that the next generation doesn’t want to get into weaving like their fathers. They find it too tedious and not rewarding enough. The irony is that when our clients see our ware, they are pleasantly surprised that we actually have something that looked like the sari their grandmothers wore. We are striving to bring back the glorious past and that is what we tell our weavers, to take pride in their heritage,” avers Aanchal.

Every year the sisters (Aanchal is settled in Bangalore and Akshita in Ambala) take numerous trips to Varanasi, Kota, Gujarat and Paithan to explore what’s hot in the hinterlands of weaves and textiles. They are fascinated by how the social demographics influence weaves and patterns. For instance, just like how Shikargah uses fine minakari to depict flora and fauna, a Baluchori too, uses exquisite weave bindings to depict mythological figures. Unlike weaves of Varanasi, the weaves of the South uses human figures a lot. What the sisters lack in technical education, they try to bolster through in-depth study and research. Armed with knowledge about the country’s history in woven fabrics that has been collated through various visits to museums and information websites (Aanchal sounds excited about her recent trip to Barcelona that turned out to be a revelation in the realm of historical textiles; they want to do something with weaves of Iran) the sisters are convincing dormant weavers from various craft districts of the country to get back in the trade that they left due to non-profitable returns and disbalanced market forces.

“We met Lakshman in one of the villages. He had stopped weaving and had shifted to some job because he did not find any taker for his designs. He showed us two saris and we stood there stupefied at the workmanship. We have commissioned some saris to him that we are sure will be a sell-out in our next show, slated for end of this month in the capital. That is the premise of exploring remote areas of India to revive techniques and crafts and provide the artisans with a platform to reach the right consumer. We have noticed that when it comes to luxury weaves, there are connoisseurs passionate about legacy. And, we give them the old look, the timeless look that invoke nostalgia in them,” trails off Aanchal with satisfied gleam in her eyes


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