Kanakavalli’s Latest Editorial Captures The Beauty Of Ageing & The Passage Of Time

Kanakavalli’s Latest Editorial Captures The Beauty Of Ageing & The Passage Of Time

Years ago, when I met the founder of the label Kanakavalli in 2016 for what was one of my first interviews as a lifestyle writer, I was mesmerised by the ease with which she sat in her softened grey kanjivaram saree. In writing this feature 8 years later, I am amazed at how the crux of the conversation we had around her label Kanakavalli then, has endured with time. Someone who had been wearing sarees almost daily since the early 2000s, she mentioned how her relationship with the attire went beyond imparting a look. She delved into the details of how “since the fabric is organic and Kanjivaram is a strong silk, it gets very airy after a few initial wears, and there won’t be any chance of it getting crushed as one goes through their day. While most people wear sarees occasionally or even once for a function, they never get to experience the comfort in wearing a saree,’ back when we spoke for said feature.

Today, it seems befitting that I reconnected with Ahalya S. to discuss the editorial campaign from Kanakavalli for their Reiya collection, which features vintage washed sarees. That’s right, back in 2016, Ahalya talked about the comfort of wearing vintage, aged sarees. A few years after the conversation she launched the Reiya collection which offers ‘vintage washed kanjivaram, softened and tinted to resemble the many sarees that have been handed down over generations.’ Perhaps she was strategizing towards the collection when we had initially talked in 2016, because when I caught up recently with her, she mentioned how they are created through proprietary processes resulting from years of research and development to achieve the desired feel and aesthetic of authentic, vintage Kanjivaram.

The Story Of The Vintage, Aged Kanjivaram

Just like how we’ve all got the oldest pair of t-shirts that have become as comfortable as a second skin, Ahalya talked about the beauty of cherished Kanjivaram saree ageing well with time, like fine wine and wise people. The Reiya collection is an exclusive line of Kanjivaram from Kankavalli that offers the comfort of a light, softened saree that tints and ages the drape in a beautiful way. The proprietary processes to achieve this which include both hand and mechanised methods, transform the fabric to achieve the feel of sarees that have been handed down over generations. Or as Ahalya said, “the Reiya collection draws inspiration from the vintage Kanjivaram that we inherit from our mothers and grandmothers, softened and made more beautiful by time. Marked by age-muted zari, a sumptuously bodied but butter-soft hand feel, and a colour palette that runs the gamut from subtle to bold, the Reiya Kanjivaram celebrates the enhanced tactile and visual beauty that time bestows on this classic weave.”

The collection described as the convergence of past and present encapsulates the essence of memory by going back to the traditions of the Kanjivaram saree itself. According to Ahalya, traditionally, Kanjivaram sarees were washed in river water, gradually changing the look and feel of the silk. They were also considered a family heirloom, handed down through the generations – passed down from mothers to daughters, growing more precious with the years. Thus, the distinctive aesthetic and hand feel of the vintage kanjivaram – with its muted zari and softened silk – is associated with memory, metamorphosis and the passage of time. At Kanakavalli, we have used new and classic technologies to recreate this feeling in the Reiya collection of Kanjivarams.

L:Kavya Sriram
R: Prabha Narasimhan
L:Kavya Sriram R: Prabha NarasimhanKanakavalli

The Reiya: Redux Portrait Series

What truly captured our fancy at Homegrown India was the stunning photo series that has emerged from Kanakavalli’s latest campaign ‘Reiya: Redux’. According to Ahalya, the process for this campaign emerged when the creative team at Kanakavalli conceptualised the idea of revisiting the 2019 launched shoot that featured nine women. Friends, well-wishers and long-time customers of Kanakavalli, who are diverse and exceptional in their own way, these 9 women were exemplary representations of the brand. The first set of portraits was published at a time when we all thought that the extent of COVID-19 would be limited to its first wave. She went on to mention, “Looking back, we recognised that so many of us have changed profoundly over the last few years, and we wanted to invite the same nine women back to the studio for Reiya: Redux to reflect on this idea.”

To better plan for the shoot, they first spoke to the nine subjects regarding the changes and transformations they have undergone in the time since the initial shoot. These were then converted into a series dotted with visual elements that incorporated their stories of transformation. Ahalya S. went on to mention how the entire process was extremely collaborative.

“Pranoy Sarkar, the photographer, visualised the creative portraiture along with the creative team at Kanakavalli, thinking about how we would treat each of the subjects and express the essence of their stories. Long discussions with the stylist, Devanshi Tuli, resulted in unique draping styles for each subject, marrying the story and the character of the subject in a visual way. Ishani Das created the videos that bridge the gap between what you see in front of the camera, and what happened behind the scenes, becoming video portraits.”

Ahalya S., Founder, Kanakavalli

So far, the ongoing has released the portraits of 7 women which include dancer and performance artist Anita Ratnam, costume designer and visual director Kavya Sriram, architect Gowri Adappa, Publisher Shobha Vishwanath, film stylist and costume designer Uthara Menon, designer Prabha Narasimhan, as well as media professional and creator Sahithya Jagannathan. Each wearing a Reiya saree that is styled in a way that is unique to them and their story of transformation, “the subjects’ personal and professional journeys of transformation over the last three years were captured in every element of the portraits – from the artistic rendering and visualisation to the styling, the backdrops and the props,” as Ahalya mentioned. The said backdrops and production for the campaign were handled by Tejaswini Sinha and TS Premanand of Elements Production, while the Hair was done by Akram Salmani and the Makeup by Bishnu Sinha.

While the campaign is still ongoing, it has managed to capture the essence of each diverse subject uniquely, is rich with real-life stories and creates a compelling narrative. The campaign is set to conclude by the last week of May with the release of the new portraits of all the 9 subjects. For Ahalya, it is not easy to pick a favourite from the campaign images and content, as they are all beautiful in their special way to her. But “the particular beauty of this series,” she said, “lies in the fact that the stories of all these nine women are so different and yet so similar in so many ways. And that is why the images and narratives resonate so powerfully with all of us.”

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