A Cultural Renaissance

Noted textile designer Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala talks to Richa Tilokani about his passion for Parsi culture and the unique Gara embroidery.

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Textile designer Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala is also an author and curator, having conducted detailed research projects on Parsi embroidery for the Ministry of Textiles. He has also conducted training workshops in Ahmedabad, Navsari, Mumbai and Delhi wherein more than 120 crafts persons were trained in the Parsi Gara embroidery.

A graduate of the Textile Design from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Ashdeen’s love affair with the scintillating Parsi Gara embroidery started early. Says Ashdeen of his start in the design world, “As a child, I was impressed by my mother’s good taste in saris. At weddings, I would see her, my aunts, sisters and friends wear elegant saris with Parsi embroidery. My elder sister was a designer, so I was also inspired to do something creative. I decided to study design and adopted the Parsi Gara embroidery as my signature.”

Fashion and Culture

A Cultural Renaissance - textile designer Ashdeen Z Lilaowala1Ashdeen’s designs showcase the Parsi culture and lifestyle through his exotic Parsi Gara work. He says, “Parsi Gara is influenced by Chinese and Japanese designs. I love our traditional embroidery, but at the same time I want to make it contemporary so it will appeal to a younger audience as well. I don’t use abstracts, I prefer nature, flora and fauna as motifs which make my pieces modern and beautiful at the same.”

Ashdeen’s designs are not trend driven, rather they are classics which can be handed down from generation to generation. “Parsi embroidery is very expensive, so it’s wise to treat the pieces as heirlooms. They are timeless and look elegant at all occasions. They are made for the discerning fashionista who understands vintage garments and is ready to invest in a good piece. Nowadays, customers understand the difference between machine cut and hand work and are willing to pay a premium for it,” he shares.

The Parsi Gara exhibition was accompanied by an unveiling of the history, tradition, forms and well springs of the cultures which were defined in talks and discussions by leading writers, authorities, practitioners, collections and scholars like Pheroza Godrej, art historian conservationist and founder of Cymroza Art Gallery in Mumbai.

Design Talent of 2013

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In 2012, Ashdeen launched his eponymous label ‘Ashdeen’, specialising in hand embroidered saris, cocktails dresses and gowns. Since then, he has created many exquisite pieces, featuring a unique take on the traditional Parsi Gara embroidery. No wonder then, Ashdeen was hailed as the ‘Hottest design talent of 2013’. Of course, it was not all smooth sailing. Says Ashdeen of the challenges in his line of work, “It is always a challenge to retain good crafts people. I have to also be careful of maintaining the quality of the embroidery and at the same time, ensuring that the costs don’t go too high or the design will become prohibitively expensive for the customer. It’s important to strike a balance to get the perfect piece.”