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Thursday, December 7, 2023

New-Age Banarasi: Ekaya Continues to Problem The Standing Quo By Its Collaborations

Textual content by Mallika Chandra. Images by Nishanth Radhakrishnan. Artwork Route by Mallika Chandra and Asad Sheikh. Styling by Asad Sheikh and Sarah Rajkotwala. Fashions: Noreen Parinaaz and Vee at Feat. Artists.

Digitally printed silk skirt, corset shirt in pink satin, printed organza dupatta, all from Ekaya Banaras; silver floral earring from Amrapali; shirt, stylist’s personal.

Palak Shah shouldn’t be your typical CEO of a typical Banarasi model. And the key to her success lies as a lot in asking the proper questions because it does within the solutions. “How would Kim Kardashian put on a sari?” she had as soon as requested her long-time collaborator Nikhil Dudani of Feat. Artists. It was whereas conceptualising Ekaya Banaras’ marketing campaign for his or her newest assortment of saris and lehengas, Ambush, a contemporary interpretation of the Banarasi handloom speciality Shikargah, which is recognized by its searching scenes and wildlife-inspired motifs. Nothing in regards to the marketing campaign is standard. Somewhat than in a jungle or the outside, the scene is ready in modern marble interiors, preserving this influential entrepreneur and her intercourse attraction in thoughts. Flash images highlights ensembles that includes a zebra-striped peekaboo shirt with criss-crossing strappy accents in a single occasion and sizzling pink tights which might be paired with a body-shaping slit sari in the identical color, in one other. Presenting such novel pairings is strictly what exemplifies the type of work Shah and Dudani intend to create every time they work collectively.

Whether or not it’s providing Banarasi brocade in Western silhouettes like pantsuits and thigh-high slit skirts, or anticipating a requirement for promoting luxurious woven cloth by the metre beneath the idea of Thaan, Shah has led the cultural dialogue of how conventional textiles might be featured in up to date wardrobes, for over a decade now, constructing on her household’s 120-year-old legacy of working with Banarasi crafts.

Her Instagram web page serves as, one might argue, one of many model’s finest endorsements. Shah’s love for saris is clear as she posts selfies sporting completely different drapes with equal ease at weddings, holidays and in her dwelling. “It’s a must to current the product in a method that enables shoppers to view the complete breadth of temper, event and styling it will probably cater to,” she tells us. With every situation, she makes the case for sporting Indian textiles wherever, in a mess of how. She isn’t afraid to make daring statements, be it together with her unconventional shirt pairings or private observations. “Thaan Pink > Valentino Pink?” she asks in a single caption.

1. Handwoven blue-grey silk sari, from Ekaya Banaras; silver ear cuff and silver ring, each from Amrapali. 2. Handwoven striped lilac brocade coat, from Ekaya Banaras; silver floral earring, from Amrapali; blue corset, stylist’s personal. 3. Handwoven blue-grey silk sari, from Ekaya Banaras; silver ear cuff, from Amrapali. 4. Handwoven striped lilac brocade coat, from Ekaya Banaras; skirt, corset and leggings, stylist’s personal.

Shah’s revolutionary briefs have attracted lasting partnerships with like-minded creatives like Dudani, who’re challenged by the chance to reimagine Banarasi textiles. For Dudani, creating extensively researched appears to be like and distinctive drapes with Ekaya’s handwoven brocades through the years is akin to “creating sculptures”. Definitely, these experiments have led to memorable campaigns which have offered the sari in shocking websites — just like the cricket pitch, as was the case with Ekaya’s assortment of saris designed in collaboration with Masaba Gupta in 2019 — and kinds, just like the hood drape that he created for Ekaya’s Sakura marketing campaign.

Admittedly, Dudani’s favorite marketing campaign was for the model’s first ready-to-wear line, Kashi within the Clouds. “For that shoot in 2020, my vitality was targeted into making it as completely different and memorable as potential.”

Kashi within the Clouds, Ekaya Banaras’ Spring/Summer season Prepared-to-Put on 2020 assortment, shot by Rid Burman.

On a foggy morning in Varanasi, two short-haired ladies have been seen hanging a relaxed pose in entrance of peeling partitions, rusty bridges and painted brick towers. They have been sporting impeccably tailor-made Banarasi brocade trousers, paired with informal black tank tops. In one other occasion, they wore handwoven snakeskin-inspired jackets that have been styled with dishevelled jeans straight out of the ’80s. That night time, they adorned their faces with pink and inexperienced paint whereas sitting astride a Royal Enfield. One was sporting a vivid pink Banarasi brocade pantsuit whereas the opposite sported a two-piece set, consisting of an outsized blue jacket and shorts. From the casting to the hair and make-up, the end result was a paradigm shift from how Banarasi textiles are normally shot, particularly in Varanasi, the place a mystical presentation of the city’s famend ghats and sacred riverbank usually takes centre stage.

Because of their relentless experimentation, Shah and Dudani have come to be often called a formidable duo through the years. Verve asks them to mirror on the assorted components which have fuelled their journey….

Excerpts from the dialog….

What are the qualities you search for in a collaborator, and what do you assume you carry to a inventive collaboration?
Palak Shah (PS): I’ve all the time believed in collaborating, for my model and as an individual. Each time I’ve collaborated with Nikhil, he has introduced in a contemporary perspective that has opened my thoughts to new methods of seeing issues and taking a look at my model. It’s a method for me to unlearn, be taught and develop. He’s additionally an individual who I drastically belief, which is why we’ve been working collectively for therefore a few years.

1. Pink tussar silk cloth (used as lungi), from Thaan; handwoven orange tissue dupatta (used as tie), from Ekaya Banaras; coat, stylist’s personal. 2. Handwoven blue and golden silk dupatta (used as balloon skirt), from Ekaya Banaras; gold-plated bracelet (used as waist chain), from Amrapali; cardigan and trousers, stylist’s personal.

Nikhil Dudani (ND): We had first mentioned working collectively when she had simply began [out]. Then in 2017, Palak talked about that she was seeking to shoot her first marketing campaign for Thaan and he or she requested me to pitch an concept. The type of freedom that I used to be given to make that temper board come to life drove me to maintain working together with her.

There was development when it comes to my very own work as properly. Sometime, we might create a photograph e book from the work that we now have executed collectively and it could have a definite language. Palak gave me the house to maintain coming again and proceed creating the narrative from the place we had left off.

Valley Of Flowers, Ekaya Banaras’ Fall/Winter 2022 assortment, shot by Adil Hasan.
[Photographed by Asad Sheikh.]

Nikhil, what was the temporary like? Have been you conversant in their work?
ND: I used to be conscious of what the model was doing and that they [Palak’s family] had been working with Banarasi textiles for a very long time. I used to be clued in to how Palak noticed the model rising. She had made it clear that she needed Ekaya’s Banarasi saris to look very completely different from how these saris are portrayed by different manufacturers. That obtained me excited to work with them. I assumed to myself, “I can consider one million issues to do with this temporary.” An opportunity like this doesn’t come by usually.

And, Palak, the place else did you need the main focus to be — other than displaying Banarasi textiles in a brand new method?
PS: I’m an unintended entrepreneur. I’m not from the style discipline. I had studied enterprise administration and had meant to get into accounting and finance. So, for
me, the entire concept was to get somebody who’s an professional at what they do, and Nikhil, for my part, is greater than a stylist. He’s a mentor. I can bounce concepts off him. There’s by no means been a scenario the place I haven’t gotten any enter from him. It’s extra of a dialogue. Through the years, we’ve understood one another’s pulse and found what’s going to work and what received’t. I all the time needed to create one thing that’s out of the field and breaks stereotypes, however not so conceptual and arty that solely we might perceive it.

Nikhil is the proper mix between a businessman and an artist — what my father and I needed, respectively.

ND: We all the time overview every marketing campaign as soon as it’s out. Once I discover {that a} marketing campaign isn’t producing the specified numbers when it comes to gross sales as a result of it’s too far out, we now have a dialogue on how we are able to tweak it the following time. So, we aren’t utilizing the identical formulation each time. We’re continually evolving and taking suggestions from the shopper.

PS: Once I began out I used to be simply 21 and we went with the everyday formulation: fairly fashions in “correctly” draped saris. Through the years, I began breaking away. Nikhil has helped with that.

For our first collaboration, Thaan, I had stated, “Let’s create a buzz and do one thing actually loopy.” And that made headlines like nothing else did. We shot a good looking marketing campaign collectively referred to as Mehfooz, in Lucknow, in 2018. That marketing campaign stood out, however it wasn’t because of oddly draped saris or peculiarly formed blouses. It wasn’t too fashion-forward however proved to be a turning level, a mushy transition into that enviornment. Nikhil and I’ve examined the waters as we’ve gone on. And we now have talked about creating one thing completely different every time.

Pixels, Ekaya Banaras’ Spring/Summer season 2023 assortment, shot by Farhan Hussain.
[Photographed by Asad Sheikh.]

Are you current at each shoot?
PS: Sure. I used to be current on the Feat. Artists shoot for the Pixels marketing campaign in Assam in February though I used to be getting married that month. I’ve learnt a lot from our shoots — be it the Masaba marketing campaign or our Ambush shoot. I’ve particularly learnt rather a lot from Nikhil — by observing the best way he’s styling, how he’s considering. At most, I inform him whether it is working or not.

Nikhil, you may have been very experimental in relation to draping. I keep in mind the Sakura marketing campaign, the place it felt very new.
ND: I’m a eager observer so I do hold tucking away concepts at the back of my thoughts till somebody is able to use them. Palak may be very open to new ideas. Generally, they don’t work out and I spontaneously take a special route. With Ekaya, I usually take a look at what we now have executed prior to now and attempt to replace it. From the start, I’ve type of preferred “messing” with saris in some sense. It’s going to nonetheless appear to be a sari however it isn’t how we’re normally anticipated to put on or pleat it. To be given the leeway to show it in an uncommon method is vital, and it really works more often than not. Very not often will you see two saris draped equally in two completely different Ekaya campaigns. For Sakura, which had a really minimal look, I researched Japanese drapes. We determined that they wouldn’t hug the physique an excessive amount of and this shaped the crux of the marketing campaign.

PS: However with Ambush, we needed a extra fitted look.

Ambush, Ekaya Banaras’ Spring/Summer season 2022 assortment, shot by Tenzing Dakpa.

Let’s talk about that marketing campaign. What I discovered attention-grabbing is that the textiles have motifs of searching and wildlife however none of that’s within the imagery.
PS: I despatched Nikhil an image of Kim Kardashian in her rest room in these thigh-high boots, wanting completely trendy, and I informed him that I needed my saris to be positioned like that — I needed them to look as horny and sensual as she did. Then got here the slit sari, the jacket and the glasses, and the shoot grew to become extra in regards to the imaginative and prescient and aesthetic that we needed to painting than the motifs on the merchandise.

ND: Once I’m given jungle motifs, the very last thing that I might do is place it in opposition to the backdrop of a jungle. Since we have been taking a look at Kim as the place to begin, I used to be keener to visualise an area that she would in all probability inhabit. Marble, stone and gray partitions got here to thoughts — I might see her in a minimal house like that.

We made use of rings to drape the saris and this gave them a extra fitted look and confirmed extra pores and skin. The blouses had deeper necklines with a variety of tie-ups, and so they precisely matched the saris. It is a lady who would put on a head-to-toe print…. Every little thing was impressed by Kim Kardashian, even when it comes to hair and make-up. We forged ladies who’re perceived as horny. The analysis was additionally about understanding the new-age influencer, a lady who’s being photographed wherever she goes, on a regular basis. She doesn’t really feel the necessity to put on a swimsuit at a press convention or a gathering; she will be able to pull off a sari wrapped in a method that doesn’t really feel fussy.

The Masaba x Ekaya Banaras collaboration, shot by Bikramjit Bose, for Ekaya Banaras.

Inform us in regards to the Masaba x Ekaya marketing campaign, which obtained rave evaluations.
ND: Masaba was very concerned within the course of. She had many inventive discussions with photographer Bikramjit Bose. They needed to include motion and depict the sari as practical. They needed motion. At that time, I remembered Masaba’s direct reference to cricket. I used to be fearful it could be too apparent to pitch this, however I did it as a result of I’d by no means seen an Indian sari marketing campaign displaying ladies enjoying cricket. So, we constructed the entire narrative round that.

Taking pictures it was actually enjoyable. The ladies needed to learn to play cricket. We meant to forged ladies who knew the right way to play the sport, however we didn’t discover many fashions who knew the right way to. We did discover one who might bowl so these photographs have been fairly convincing. And, after all, we made them put on sneakers in order that they have been comfy working round.

1. Handwoven striped lilac brocade coat, from Ekaya Banaras. 2. Handwoven blue and golden silk dupatta (used as balloon skirt), from Ekaya Banaras; gold-plated bracelet (used as waist chain), from Amrapali; cardigan, stylist’s personal.

How do the weavers react to the marketing campaign imagery? What sort of suggestions do you get from them?
PS: The weavers could not have a really constructive response to each marketing campaign as a result of the campaigns are so unconventional. Even when it comes to creating completely different merchandise, many are hesitant at first. They are saying,“Yeh chal payega ya nahi chal payega? Yeh kya bana rahe hain?” [Will this work or not? What are we making?] As soon as, Nikhil and I have been attempting to see if we might use the again of a weave. My father was working with the weavers, who have been fairly unconvinced. However, fortunately, my father is open to experimentation. The weavers don’t all the time perceive our imaginative and prescient, however there are particular campaigns that they love.

How would you describe your function?
PS: My function is to inspire the assorted workforce members in any respect factors, and provides them entry. Additionally, to all the time reiterate that we now have to carry one thing new to the desk. The aim of the model is to not cater solely to 1 viewers section.

Has there ever been any destructive response to the campaigns?
PS: I’ve by no means confronted any backlash as such. However part of the viewers discovered the movies for The Crossing — Natives of Nowhere marketing campaign (2019) unnerving. However once more, I believe that it was method forward of its time.

Nikhil, in what path would you prefer to see the model develop?
ND: It’s necessary that I introduce Palak to people whose work is true for her model. I’ve facilitated conferences between Palak and stylists who work at my expertise company, and I like what they’ve conceptualised for her. It suits into the larger story that we now have created and once we make that photograph e book, I might be joyful to see their work in there.

Ekaya is forward of its time and can be remembered for that. While you take a look at Instagram, the imagery may be very comparable in relation to manufacturers which might be dressing ladies in saris. Once we shot for the Kashi within the Clouds assortment in Varanasi, it was photographer Rid Burman’s concept to shoot ladies who wore their hair brief and regarded boyish. That was very new for a Banarasi model. In a way, they appear to be two boys strolling on the ghats, and that, to me, was pushing the envelope for a business model promoting ready-to-wear to ladies; their purchasers weren’t anticipating to see one thing like that. It regarded just like the type of imagery I might need to see if I have been going to a model to buy. It wasn’t simply the pictures that spoke to me but additionally the people within the pictures; they mirror a sure life-style that I affiliate with and relate to. So, these are the type of campaigns that I wish to proceed to be a part of.

1. Handwoven inexperienced organza sari, from Ekaya Banaras; knit tube prime, stylist’s personal 2. Digitally printed silk skirt, corset shirt in pink satin, each from Ekaya Banaras; shirt and tights, stylist’s personal.

PS: We’re going to do extra of those campaigns quickly.

ND: The Crossing — Natives of Nowhere marketing campaign was additionally particular.

PS: I really like that marketing campaign. It’s one in all my favourites.

ND: We did push boundaries rather a lot with that one. The drapes and the headgear have been impressed by tribal ladies. It was a robust marketing campaign, and really that’s when the discuss of the e book began.

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