EXCLUSIVE: Designers Abu Jani & Sandeep Khosla, Anjul Bhandari & Aishwaryrika Singh on Chikankari's evolution
A versatile and popular choice, a Chikankari is part of every woman's closet today. Not just for daily wear, the handcrafted pieces that originated from Lucknow, have also become an essential part of a woman's bridal trousseau. The traditional and delicate embroidered outfits, also known as shadow work is believed to have been introduced by the Mughals and have been referenced in history as early as the 3rd century BC. We spoke to three ace designers who are known for their Chikankari creations, to learn more about the art, its evolution, the challenges to keep it alive, and more.
Over centuries, it is undeniable that the craft has evolved. "It used to be done only on muslin with white thread. Now, it has evolved into couture and pret as it is being done on different fabrics with different coloured threads, different styles of motifs and different crafts such as zardozi, kaamdani," says designer Anjul Bhandari. She credits the craft for seamlessly taking the form of what a person wants. "From just being a simple kurta to a western top, gharara or a lehenga, it has evolved all through."
Tara Sutaria in a Chikankari saree by Anjul Bhandari
The craft has been preserved for decades and has managed to remain a classic now that it is being paired with different fabrics and crafts. Couture designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have changed the game for Chikan in India. "We fell in love with Chikan in 1992 and it was our mission to make it couture. To put it on the ramp, make it red carpet, occasion and wedding wear. Make it the highest of high fashion," they say about the craft they have been working with for 20 years with. But it wasn't an instant decision for them. "It took two years of intensive training, research and development before our first collection," say Abu and Sandeep who sourced vintage blocks for printing the exquisite patterns and then trained artisans to master these fine stitches. Then, instead of cotton, the duo used luxury fabrics like georgette, chiffon and organza to create pieces.
Deepika Padukone in a Chikankari creation by Abu - Sandeep
For Lucknow-born designer, Aishwaryrika Singh who started her brand Label Aishwaryrika just 2 years ago, is already a hit among celebrities including Janhvi Kapoor, Mouni Roy, and Surbhi Jyoti to name a few decided she wanted to put the embroidery on the global map. "Chikan clothes were something of everyday use," she tells us. The designer wanted to experiment with contemporary silhouettes while ensuring the authenticity of the craft. Out of curiosity, we ask her how long one outfit takes to make. "It solely depends on the intricacy of the outfit. For some, it may take a month or so but for more detailed or elaborate suits, sarees or lehengas, it may take up to 6-9 months," she tells us about the hand-stitched outfits.
One of the biggest challenges this handicraft industry faces today is machines and mills taking over. With machine-made Chikan outfits significantly cheaper, people often consider authentic chikankari 'overpriced'. Singh has been working towards educating clients on the differences as "Machine embroidery is often labelled 'Chikankari' and not always mentioned whether it is hand or machine embroidered."
Sonam Kapoor Ahuja in a Chikankari creation by Abu - Sandeep
Bhandari too, believes that mills and machines are ruining the art. "As designers, it is our duty not to let machines take over this art. We need to be more conscious towards the artisans and craftsmen who are not getting paid for the craft for which they put in a lot of effort," she says sternly.
Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla are heartbroken to see machine work replace hand craftsmanship. "If we do not protect, support and champion our artisans and ensure their futures, we will see a time when the handicraft disappears and becomes a distant memory. There can be no comparison when it comes to the beauty and value of the of the handicraft," they say.
Do you also love Chikankari outfits? Do you prefer to wear them for casual or formal occasions? Comment below and let us know.