Juggling boho sensibilities, a fascination for androgynous fashion and an uncanny eye for detail, model-cum-stylist Chandni Sareen’s love for the traditional ikat fabric came a full circle when she amalgamated all of these into her project ‘The Ikat Story’. Each garment has its own tale to tell, and the fabric has ultimately been instrumental in facilitating Chandni’s transition from stylist to designer, a creatively evolutionary step she says ‘came very naturally’.
“Styling and designing are best friends,” she explains simply.
A kaleidoscope of Chandni’s diverse passions, this motley of juxtapositions has delightfully tugged the city of Bombay into the mix, depicting several locations that retain a distinct traveller’s point of view, even though the designer was born and brought up in the city, succeeding in seamlessly interspersing Chandni’s irrepressible love for travel with the showcase of famous Ikat traditions dating back to the 12th century. Flower markets, street-side clothing stalls and chai tapris form the backdrop with equal nonchalance as Chandni effortlessly prowls in front of the camera, mirroring the textile’s transformative potential and versatility with ease.
She takes us back to the start of her fondness for Ikat and sheds some light on its story, not to mention how she has attempted a retelling in her own rendition.
I. Tell us a little bit about your affair with Ikat, what are some of your earliest memories with the textile?
Ikat has always been my favourite fabric. Its history and detail is absolutely beautiful. I have literally grown up with this fabric. Bedspreads, rugs, mom’s clothes and so on... It’s always been around.
II. Tell us a little bit about the textile’s development in India.
Ikat is a traditional form of yarn preparation for weaving. There are various kinds of this weave. In ikat, the resist is formed by binding bundles of threads with a tight wrapping applied in the desired pattern. The threads are then dyed. The bindings may then be altered, and the thread bundles dyed again with another colour to produce elaborate, multicoloured patterns. When the dyeing is finished, the bindings are removed and the threads are woven into cloth.
In other resist-dyeing techniques, such as tie-dye and batik, the resist is applied to one face of the woven cloth, whereas in ikat the threads are dyed before weaving, and both faces are essentially identical in appearance.
Gujarat is home to one of the most famous ikat traditions called the Patan Patola. These silk fabrics are double ikat, traditionally done with vegetable dyes, but now using chemical dyes. The complexity of having both the warp and weft resist-dyed requires incredible precision in the actual weaving. The intersection of these threads must be precise, or the design is lost. One of my very favourites is the patola saree. A saree takes two men seven months to complete. These are prized pieces and have been so throughout history. Then there’s the Orissan style of ikat that has a long tradition going back at least to the 12th century. Weavers migrated from the Patan bringing the basic techniques which developed over time to a unique style of flowing designs. The resist tying is done finely on two-thread units giving greater detail and fine curves. These units are tied freehand without marking out the threads beforehand. It’s the detail and effort of the craftsmen that give us such beautiful timeless fabrics. I hope to help set up funds supporting the craftsmen, and learn the technique myself in the days to come. There can be no greater tribute than to keep these arts alive for centuries to come.
III. Describe your design creative process to us--how does an outfit in the Ikat Story comes to life from start to finish?
Androgyny has always been a source of interest and intrigue. From ambiguous sexual and physical attributes evolving to a more relaxed stance on gender-blurring fashion, we now look at the changing face of androgyny and how women’s fashion is taking a masculine turn through design. Since I was a baby I would hate wearing a ‘frock’, and always ended up dressed like a boy. I guess, being a stylist, you have to play around and dip your fingers in all kinds of trends etc. Personal style and comfort go hand-in-hand for me. My clothes are a mirror of what I feel. Each garment has a different story. I tend to play a lot with my boho sensibilities while designing. I got the ladies, and the not so lady-like ladies, covered.
IV. How did you go about the creative direction of the shoot, and how much of a say did you have in it?
The lovely Parizad D and I got together and shot all of this in a day.
I had all my garments ready and was leaving for the U.K. for a month the day after the shoot. Parizad and I drove around our beautiful city to identify spots we liked and shot, guerrilla-style. I’ve always pictured my clothes telling a story, like a journey. Nothing inspires me more than travel. I decided to travel the city as a tourist; I picked spots that I thought would describe the city from my traveller point-of-view. The clothes juxtaposed with vibrant flower markets and the rustic, vintage bazaars – it’s all the same. That’s what The Ikat Story is about - each garment is one of a kind, with its own story to tell.
V. How do you feel your passion for travel and music have translated into the design ethos of the line?
Travel and music are pretty much food for the soul. As an artist, you know the things that fuel your fire are irreplaceable. Although, the places that I travel to don’t directly feed my line of creative thought, but they tend to create landscapes in my head, benchmarks so to say. And give me a sense of what contemporary design is like in the times we live in. Music, well, let’s just say music inspires way more than just my style of design. Music inspires me to wake up and go about living my life!
VI. So far, what’s the response been like?
I’ve been very fortunate to have the support of my close friends and family through this.
Aradhna from Dhoop has been instrumental in helping me put this stuff out in the kind of social circles that will truly appreciate the art and the artists. Dhoop, as a store has always been all about the passion and commitment towards Indian handicrafts and culture, and the Ikat Story couldn’t have found a more apt partner to launch this with.
We launched in Goa with Dhoop’s stall at Baxter’s Flea Market, and I had done a special line of bikinis and sarongs for Goa. Goa is definitely my spiritual home, and I couldn’t be happier about taking the Ikat Story to Ashwem beach for the launch.
Here’s hoping I soon get to see my lovely Mumbaikars telling their stories, wearing my creations.
VIII. Do you plan on exploring other traditional Indian fabric in the future?
As much as I’d like to, I think it’ll take a good while for me to explore The Ikat Story in its entirety!
IX. Quick Questions:
(a) Name four of your favourite holiday getaway destinations
Goa, Ibiza, Barcelona, Amsterdam. The beach is a common occurrence amongst my picks, except Amsterdam, ‘cos, well, it’s Amsterdam!
(b) Tell us about three tracks you associate with The Ikat Story.
These tunes, just like my clothes, have an organic, vintage soul with a timeless style of production. I think achieving that right balance is insurmountably satisfying.
(c) If not Ikat, what other Indian textile would you have chosen to work with?
To be honest, that sounds a bit formulaic. For now, I’d concur that Ikat has brought out the designer in me, rather than saying I picked Ikat because of the designer I am.
For more images, visit The Ikat Story’s album here.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari