Timeless Textile Tales

Textile designer Rema Kumar showcased her latest sought after handwoven collections from the weavers of Andhra, Chattisgarh, Varanasi- the Chanderis, Maheshwaris, Benaresis and Tussars in different hues at Ambara, Ulsoor, Bengaluru. As has always been part of her repertoire, Delhi-based Rema’s collections for Bengaluru was a happy fusion and coming together of different weaves and detailing, each creation speaking a narrative that is unique and compelling. Rema who has been working with weavers and master craftsmen of India for the last 20 years, tells us more.

Where did you study design and when did you realise that this is what you want to do professionally?
Right from my school days I was enamoured by the whole world of design. My mother is a doctor, but she used to stitch clothes for us. I think it came from there and even in those days I tried stitching with my mother. After completing my masters in Textile Designing and Clothing from Chennai, I began my career in home-furnishings in 1994 with a leading export house, which also saw my designs being exhibited in various home textile fairs in Frankfurt, Paris and Tokyo. So I shifted base to New Delhi in 1996 as my mother was also moving to Delhi and launched my label “Outlooks” specialising in casual and semi formal Indian wear, holding exhibitions in all major cities of India. After working under a designer in Delhi for a year, in 2001, I launched my store ‘Alter Ego’ (now renamed Add Ons) along with my husband, Puneet Kaushik, who is an artist and product designer. The main objective behind this venture was to work with our talented weavers and craftsmen in an effort to produce exclusive textiles and accessories. In the last few years it has been extremely satisfying to see the results of constantly trying to make them think out of the box, in order to create new and contemporary designs while not yet completely losing out on the traditional touch. From last ten years, my focus has been on sarees.

What is your signature style?
I play around a lot with colours and blocks. I love geometric patterns and bright colours.

Can you share some details on your new collection?
My collection explores the world of India’s diverse and celebrated surface detail techniques on different weaves – Ajrakh, Batik, Handblocks, Kantha and Kalamkari. The handwoven saris in Kota, Cottons, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Benaresis, Tussars come in all hues – creams, pastels, monochromes, indigos, earth and the vibrant multi-coloured joyous shades; something for everyone. The appliqué work of Pipli (Odisha) takes on a contemporary twist in the new collection of Chanderi saris. My love for lines shows in my handblocks and geometry. The fish theme is dominant in the Pipli collection. And there are embroidered butterflies, owls and parrots in the vibrant pallus. A lot of people love my Khadi Kuppadams with geometric highlights in muted hues. The colourful Kotas are playful with Batik, Ariwork and handblocks, and turn ethnic with embroidery and Kalamkari detailing. The light Silk-cottons with generous sprinkling of butis woven in Varanasi in sophisticated, soft shades display formal elegance of the old world style. The woven Chanderi range in vibrant shades and broad zari borders add a style statement to any bride’s trousseau. There’s also woven Maheshwaris with the trademark stripes and checks. The Andhra cottons in bright shades detailed with handprints bring a touch of happiness and sunshine to workwear, and can seamlessly blend into the corporate world, or can be a conversation starter among a giggly group of women simply letting their hair down at a luncheon. The tussar silks handwoven in Chattisgarh shine in jewel tones, textured by twill weave, some of them detailed with delicate doriwork and zardosi while the printed narratives continues in the Jaali collection of Chanderi detailed with Ajrakhs and series of handblocks.

What else do you design besides these gorgeous sarees?
The mix and match trend is on in a big way. I have a limited edition of mix and match blouses with Batik, Kalamkari and embroidery that could liven up any sari and elevate its style quotient. The same goes for tastefully designed Ajrakh and Batik soft tussar silk stoles and vibrant silk dupattas.

You work closely with the weavers. Tell us more.
I’ve been working with weavers from as far south as Balaramapuram, Kancheepuram, Mangalgiri, Ponduru, Pedana, Machilipatnam to Champa, Chhattisgarh, Kota, Maheshwar, Chanderi, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Kutch, Assam to as far north as Ukhimath in Uttarakhand to produce saris, dupattas, stoles, shawls and yardage. This helps me add on the finer details to these fabrics by way of block prints (I design and develop my own blocks and I also press leaves and flowers to create some blocks), Kalamkari from Srikalahasti and Pedana, Soof embroidery from Bikaner, Chikan work from Lucknow, Cutwork and Applique from Bikaner, Pattiwork and Kaamdana from Aligarh, Kantha from Murshidabad, Bandini, Batik, Shibori and Ajrakh printing from Kutch. In Chhattisgarh, I have worked with weavers at my centre for 12 years. In Uttarakhand, I’ve been working closely with the women weavers who have been traditionally weaving woollen and tussar shawls and stoles for the last ten years. Now they have been trained to weave beautifully textured cotton saris in the same twill and herringbone weaves as the shawls, which have received a tremendous response, thus ensuring continuous orders for long summers.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from everything I see and everywhere I go – from Pattachitra to flora, fauna, local culture and so much more. I love travelling so this combines my passion for design and travel and promoting local talent. I’ve been working with some centres for more than 15 years and they have a good idea of my design sensibilities.

How long does it take to make a saree?
It can take from two weeks to two months. I’m never in a rush. There’s an NGO that I work with for kantha work and they have different timings when they’re free and they also have festivals and also when it’s raining, work is affected. I never work on a deadline. Another patti work project that I’m doing in Aligarh has been going on for two years now. A woven range in Assam that I’m working on will get ready only by next summer.

You have also represented India at an international level. Please tell us more.
I was invited to represent India at the Asian Fair at Tokyo and Yokohama in 2007 as part of the Indo-Japanese Friendship Year Celebrations where my range of textiles found more appreciation among the discerning Japanese visitors who also participated in sari draping sessions, where they learnt the art of wearing a sari. I was also awarded Professional Achievement Award by my Alma Mater, J.B.A.S. College for Women, Chennai in March 2010.

You have had many collaborations. Would you like to tell us more?
I also worked as a design consultant for Dastkar, New Delhi for weaving projects at Chandrapur, (Chhattisgarh) and Bhandara, (Maharashtra), popular weaving centres for Tussar Silk. The outcome of these workshops were range of tussar saris, dupattas and stoles for the Nature Bazaars and also served as a community development initiative sponsored by the Accor group. Going back to home-furnishings with which I started my design career, I also completed a successful project for Dastkar with a workshop for Dhurrie weavers in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh in an effort to revive the colourful cotton woven dhurries and introduce a new handblocked range of Kalamkari Dhurries and Floor Cushions in Machilipatnam. I’m also the on board of Varanasi Weavers and Artisans Society set up by AIACA in 2015 to help the weavers under the society to build an inclusive platform for all handloom weavers of Varanasi through an integrated approach of capacity building, direct linkage to market, access to finance and technology and access to social schemes. I’ve also participated in the 2nd edition of a month long “ShopArtArtShop” project in Gunehar, Himachal Pradesh in 2016, where I lived and worked with the local seamstress to create contemporary versions of the traditional Luanchadi and the shawls woven indigenously from the wool sheared by the Gaddi tribes. I’ve created this blouse from a Luanchadi (she states pointing to a blouse). I transformed an old tea shop in the market square into Gunehar Fashions Shop, carefully incorporating traditional village decorations. The Grand Finale culminated with Gunehar Fashion Show which saw the young village girls walking the ramp at the market square in the new collection, well received by the thousands of villagers. I’m also the co-curator of “Excavating Odisha”, a collaborative residency between contemporary artists and folk artists of Raghurajpur which culminated with the Manthan show. I worked with Gamcha weavers, Pipli appliqué craftswomen, Pattachitra and Talapatra artisans during this residency. I’m working in collaboration with an NGO, Mulberry based in Guwahati, Assam to innovate and revive a few intricate and forgotten tribal weaves in saris. The Bagh project is another ongoing home linen designing assignment for a heritage hotel.

Where do you retail from?
I sell under the label “Rema Kumar” through my flagship store in Delhi, and through solo shows in different Indian cities apart from few online portals and my official page.