Prachi Dharani's Textile Art Merges Nature, Culture, Fantasy, & Storytelling

Prachi creates pieces of art from textile prints to knits and weaves made from a myriad of materials.
Prachi creates pieces of art from textile prints to knits and weaves made from a myriad of materials. Prachi Dharani

Art is how we make sense of the world. The way we perceive the world that we live in, and engage with the things that capture our attention are unique to each of us. People capture emotions and stories, and convey frustrations and realise fantasies through their choice of art. As a writer, I engage with the world through words — I have rambling sentences that run through my mind and a constant barrage of thoughts bouncing around in there. This is what often pours onto the page in the form of prose, poetry or even a social media rant. But for some others, colours, pictures and textures are what they make sense of the world through. They work with intricate embroidery, weave tapestries or even build figurines that pour out their innermost notions to the world. 

Prachi Dharani is a textile and surface designer who grew up surrounded by the world of textiles. Born and raised in Ahmedabad with a family that is deeply rooted in the textile industry, it is not surprising that textiles are her medium of choice with regard to her art. But she has studied, researched and worked with materials of all kinds and has created her own unique approach towards her art. Based out of Paris, Prachi creates pieces of art from textile prints to knits and weaves made from a myriad of materials. She also works as a textile designer and communications professional for a Parisian brand that has a 20-year history of collaborations with renowned French fashion houses such as American Vintage, Sandro, Sézane, Zadig & Voltaire, Isabelle Marant, Maje, and many others. 

We caught up with her to learn more about her journey as a designer, and her experiences as a diasporic South Asian whose identity and artistic practice draws heavily from India’s veritable history and culture. 

Tell us a little bit about your background and how it shaped your identity and your practice as an artist.

I was born and raised in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, within a family deeply rooted in the textile industry. My father's business involved trading organic chemicals used in textile industries, supplying to companies like Arvind or internationally reaching as far as South Africa, Spain, Mauritius and others. He passed on his marketing and communication skills to me, which have proven invaluable in my career. On the creative side, my mother immersed me in the world of textile craftsmanship through various workshops and ateliers when I was a kid. I learned an array of breathtaking art and textile techniques, including hand-knotted chandeliers, Gujarati embroidery, glass painting, Rogan art, and many more. As a child, I spent most of my time with my younger sister, who is currently pursuing Indology and Archaeology in Ahmedabad, India. Our upbringing has influenced my journey greatly.

What prompted you to move to Paris to pursue your art? What aspects of this city continue to inspire you? 

Besides the romantic allure of the city, I wanted to explore a new culture, learn the language, and explore my way into the world of fashion and textiles. My goal is to blend Indian craftsmanship into the European Fashion world, bringing a unique fusion to the table. Personally, I have a soft spot for vintage styles. I find inspiration in history and the intricate details that shaped the present. The late '20s and early '30s, in particular, captivated me as they played a pivotal role in shaping fashion for both women and men. It's amazing how the aspects of nature can influence and transform our fashion choices.

How did you get started with your foray into art?

Art has always been a part of my life ever since I was a kid. I had this insatiable curiosity about it. I used to observe a lot and ask bizarre questions all the time to understand why this, how satisfy my curiosity. I used to spend hours working on all sorts of interesting things, doing research, creating sculptures and crafting around using old textiles I found lying around the house. My little sister was my great companion. She would help me with little things and we would create together. 

What pivoted you to the medium of Textile?

Interestingly, my true passion for art and textiles didn't fully reveal itself until I enrolled in a law program. After just one year, I made the bold decision to drop out and pursue my lifelong passion for textiles. I went on to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Fashion and Textile Design, where my graduation project revolved around the theme of "How kids express their inner art." For this project, I conducted various workshops focused on drawing, inviting children from different age groups and providing them with the freedom to express their thoughts and emotions through art. I collected the results from this and transformed them into a collection of garments, comprising approximately 6 to 7 pieces. The garments were characterised by scribbles, broken shapes, and vibrant colours, reflecting the uninhibited creativity of the children.

During my Master's program in Fashion Design and High Technology, my graduation collection took a different direction. Titled "How spirituality and Indian traditions can be integrated into today's fashion world," this project aimed to explore the fusion of traditional Indian values and contemporary Fashion. My thesis was entirely based on Hindu semiotics and how it can be integrated into Fashion including shapes, colours, values, and materials. My journey from my Bachelor's to now is kind of a story inspired by my own childhood. How I discovered art and how I started shaping my passion according to the values and principles of my life. 

Having delved into the world of art, my current aspiration is to find ways to infuse my Indian heritage into fashion, giving it a deeper meaning and telling a story. I aim to create a product line that possesses not only aesthetic value but also a rich history and a memorable creation process. My vision is to implement spirituality into my products that embody these values, offering owners a connection to something greater through the possession of the product.

How would you describe your style of art? What was the process of developing your distinct style?

I would describe my style of art as a reflection of my storytelling nature. Every piece I create, whether it's a garment I stitch or a print I design, carries a meaningful story. I believe that the items we wear or the art we own should have a narrative behind them. In the process of developing my distinct style, I took the time to truly understand my personal preferences and the artistic path I wanted to pursue. I allowed myself the freedom to explore various methods of expressing my thoughts and embarked on a journey through my creativity and autodidact nature. Initially, I delved into the world of fashion, and as I progressed, I discovered a passion for textile and surface design. My focus is more on creating unique materials that can be integrated into daily life as a piece of art but I also love illustrating and creating textile prints. It was during this exploration that I realised my inclination towards textiles and surface design had been present since my childhood. I found that my style emerged from creating something out of the ordinary and unique. 

What inspires you?

Nature inspires me. I start with inspirations from nature and then narrate stories. Sometimes it is based on real-life experiences or sometimes it’s just an imaginary fantasy that I would like to bring to life through my designs. Right now, I’m immersed in this project that's all about "My first experience underwater." This project is entirely an imagination based on a fantasy that I would like to express through textiles. It is a combination of experience, observation, and analysis of “my first experience underwater” 

What is your creative process when working on each piece? 

My creative process unfolds in three key steps. First, I embark on thorough research and development, exploring various materials and techniques to recreate underwater scenes and immersive imagination. This phase allows me to experiment and innovate, ensuring that my creations align with the essence and vision of my inspiration. Subsequently, I integrate my research and development swatches into the final product, carefully preserving the narrative and artistic storytelling. It's crucial to strike a balance, where every element harmoniously reflects the intended story and evokes a strong aesthetic appeal. I also love incorporating traditional Indian textile craft techniques like embroidery, natural dyeing, Bandhani, and weaving. These techniques have so much depth and cultural value. They bring an extra layer of richness to my projects.

So, that's my creative process in a nutshell. Finding inspiration in nature, turning fantasies into reality, doing a lot of research and development, and embracing the beauty of Indian textile crafts. It's all about creating art that tells a story and connects with people in a meaningful way. 

As a diasporic South Asian artist, I’d love to know about any Indian influences or inspirations that may have contributed to your work.

As a diasporic South Asian artist, I find inspiration from various sources that reflect my ever-changing obsessions in life. While I don't have many static influencers that I consistently follow, I do draw inspiration from Indian designers who have made significant contributions to the field. Designers like Rahul Mishra and Amit Agrawal, who work with Indian craftsmanship and textiles, have greatly influenced my work. 

What particularly motivates me about these designers is their ability to create and innovate while staying true to their cultural values. They seamlessly blend traditional techniques and craftsmanship with contemporary expressions, which I find truly inspiring. Their work showcases the beauty and richness of Indian textiles while also pushing the boundaries of creativity. 

Rahul Mishra's intricate hand-embroidered pieces and his commitment to sustainable practices have left a lasting impression on me. His designs tell stories and evoke emotions through meticulous craftsmanship. Amit Agrawal, on the other hand, experiments with unconventional materials and repurposes them into stunning garments or sculptures, giving a modern twist to traditional Indian aesthetics.

By following their work, I not only appreciate their artistic skills but also learn valuable lessons about embracing heritage and tradition in a contemporary context. Their ability to create meaningful pieces that resonate with a global audience while staying rooted in Indian craftsmanship is something I aspire to achieve in my artistic journey.

What are your plans for your immediate and long-term future?

For the moment, I am starting a freelance full-time job as a textile print designer for fashion and home decor brands. For the near future, my next project will be to focus on starting a small business taking into consideration all my wild crazy ideas and finding a way to design products specifically for home decor or fashion accessories. I am finding collaborators, especially from India, to help me print my ideas digitally on different textiles. The initial idea is to collaborate with a small business from India to support Indian businesses and fading crafts. But I am still brainstorming on this front. 

I have also been taking some time for myself. It's important to pause, reflect, and prioritise self-care. I believe that to achieve success in any endeavour, it's crucial to have a strong foundation of personal well-being. Doing yoga every morning with my father helps me a lot. I've been engaging in activities that bring me joy, exploring new hobbies, and spending quality time with loved ones.

You can stay tuned to Prachi Dharani here.

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