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New-Age Banarasi: Ekaya Continues to Problem The Standing Quo By way of Its Collaborations

Textual content by Mallika Chandra. Pictures by Nishanth Radhakrishnan. Artwork Path by Mallika Chandra and Asad Sheikh. Styling by Asad Sheikh and Sarah Rajkotwala. Fashions: Noreen Parinaaz and Vee at Feat. Artists.

Digitally printed silk skirt, corset shirt in pink satin, printed organza dupatta, all from Ekaya Banaras; silver floral earring from Amrapali; shirt, stylist’s personal.

Palak Shah isn’t your typical CEO of a typical Banarasi model. And the key to her success lies as a lot in asking the precise questions because it does within the solutions. “How would Kim Kardashian put on a sari?” she had as soon as requested her long-time collaborator Nikhil Dudani of Feat. Artists. It was whereas conceptualising Ekaya Banaras’ marketing campaign for his or her newest assortment of saris and lehengas, Ambush, a contemporary interpretation of the Banarasi handloom speciality Shikargah, which is recognized by its looking scenes and wildlife-inspired motifs. Nothing concerning the marketing campaign is standard. Fairly than in a jungle or the outside, the scene is ready in modern marble interiors, preserving this influential entrepreneur and her intercourse attraction in thoughts. Flash images highlights ensembles that includes a zebra-striped peekaboo shirt with criss-crossing strappy accents in a single occasion and scorching pink tights which might be paired with a body-shaping slit sari in the identical color, in one other. Presenting such novel pairings is precisely what exemplifies the type of work Shah and Dudani intend to create every time they work collectively.

Whether or not it’s providing Banarasi brocade in Western silhouettes like pantsuits and thigh-high slit skirts, or anticipating a requirement for promoting luxurious woven cloth by the metre beneath the idea of Thaan, Shah has led the cultural dialogue of how conventional textiles might be featured in modern wardrobes, for over a decade now, constructing on her household’s 120-year-old legacy of working with Banarasi crafts.

Her Instagram web page serves as, one might argue, one of many model’s finest endorsements. Shah’s love for saris is clear as she posts selfies carrying totally different drapes with equal ease at weddings, holidays and in her residence. “You need to current the product in a manner that permits shoppers to view the complete breadth of temper, event and styling it could actually cater to,” she tells us. With every state of affairs, she makes the case for carrying Indian textiles anyplace, in a large number of the way. She isn’t afraid to make daring statements, be it together with her unconventional shirt pairings or private observations. “Thaan Pink > Valentino Pink?” she asks in a single caption.

1. Handwoven blue-grey silk sari, from Ekaya Banaras; silver ear cuff and silver ring, each from Amrapali. 2. Handwoven striped lilac brocade coat, from Ekaya Banaras; silver floral earring, from Amrapali; blue corset, stylist’s personal. 3. Handwoven blue-grey silk sari, from Ekaya Banaras; silver ear cuff, from Amrapali. 4. Handwoven striped lilac brocade coat, from Ekaya Banaras; skirt, corset and leggings, stylist’s personal.

Shah’s revolutionary briefs have attracted lasting partnerships with like-minded creatives like Dudani, who’re challenged by the chance to reimagine Banarasi textiles. For Dudani, creating extensively researched seems to be and distinctive drapes with Ekaya’s handwoven brocades through the years is akin to “creating sculptures”. Actually, these experiments have led to memorable campaigns which have introduced the sari in shocking websites — just like the cricket pitch, as was the case with Ekaya’s assortment of saris designed in collaboration with Masaba Gupta in 2019 — and kinds, just like the hood drape that he created for Ekaya’s Sakura marketing campaign.

Admittedly, Dudani’s favorite marketing campaign was for the model’s first ready-to-wear line, Kashi within the Clouds. “For that shoot in 2020, my vitality was centered into making it as totally different and memorable as potential.”

Kashi within the Clouds, Ekaya Banaras’ Spring/Summer time Prepared-to-Put on 2020 assortment, shot by Rid Burman.

On a foggy morning in Varanasi, two short-haired ladies have been seen placing a relaxed pose in entrance of peeling partitions, rusty bridges and painted brick towers. They have been carrying impeccably tailor-made Banarasi brocade trousers, paired with informal black tank tops. In one other occasion, they wore handwoven snakeskin-inspired jackets that have been styled with saggy jeans straight out of the ’80s. That night time, they adorned their faces with pink and inexperienced paint whereas sitting astride a Royal Enfield. One was carrying a vivid pink Banarasi brocade pantsuit whereas the opposite sported a two-piece set, consisting of an outsized blue jacket and shorts. From the casting to the hair and make-up, the outcome was a paradigm shift from how Banarasi textiles are often shot, particularly in Varanasi, the place a mystical presentation of the city’s famend ghats and sacred riverbank typically takes centre stage.

Because of their relentless experimentation, Shah and Dudani have come to be often called a formidable duo through the years. Verve asks them to mirror on the assorted elements which have fuelled their journey….

Excerpts from the dialog….

What are the qualities you search for in a collaborator, and what do you suppose you deliver to a inventive collaboration?
Palak Shah (PS): I’ve all the time believed in collaborating, for my model and as an individual. Every time I’ve collaborated with Nikhil, he has introduced in a recent perspective that has opened my thoughts to new methods of seeing issues and my model. It’s a manner for me to unlearn, study and develop. He’s additionally an individual who I vastly belief, which is why we’ve been working collectively for thus a few years.

1. Crimson tussar silk cloth (used as lungi), from Thaan; handwoven orange tissue dupatta (used as tie), from Ekaya Banaras; coat, stylist’s personal. 2. Handwoven blue and golden silk dupatta (used as balloon skirt), from Ekaya Banaras; gold-plated bracelet (used as waist chain), from Amrapali; cardigan and trousers, stylist’s personal.

Nikhil Dudani (ND): We had first mentioned working collectively when she had simply began [out]. Then in 2017, Palak talked about that she was trying to shoot her first marketing campaign for Thaan and she or he requested me to pitch an concept. The type of freedom that I used to be given to make that temper board come to life drove me to maintain working together with her.

There was progress by way of my very own work as effectively. Sometime, we might create a photograph e-book from the work that we’ve got finished collectively and it could have a definite language. Palak gave me the area to maintain coming again and proceed creating the narrative from the place we had left off.

Valley Of Flowers, Ekaya Banaras’ Fall/Winter 2022 assortment, shot by Adil Hasan.
[Photographed by Asad Sheikh.]

Nikhil, what was the transient like? Have been you aware of their work?
ND: I used to be conscious of what the model was doing and that they [Palak’s family] had been working with Banarasi textiles for a very long time. I used to be clued in to how Palak noticed the model rising. She had made it clear that she wished Ekaya’s Banarasi saris to look very totally different from how these saris are portrayed by different manufacturers. That acquired me excited to work with them. I assumed to myself, “I can consider 1,000,000 issues to do with this transient.” An opportunity like this doesn’t come by typically.

And, Palak, the place else did you need the main focus to be — other than exhibiting Banarasi textiles in a brand new manner?
PS: I’m an unintended entrepreneur. I’m not from the style area. I had studied enterprise administration and had meant to get into accounting and finance. So, for
me, the entire concept was to get somebody who’s an knowledgeable at what they do, and Nikhil, for my part, is greater than a stylist. He’s a mentor. I can bounce concepts off him. There’s by no means been a state of affairs the place I haven’t gotten any enter from him. It’s extra of a dialogue. Through the years, we’ve understood one another’s pulse and found what is going to work and what received’t. I all the time wished to create one thing that’s out of the field and breaks stereotypes, however not so conceptual and arty that solely we’d perceive it.

Nikhil is the right mix between a businessman and an artist — what my father and I wished, respectively.

ND: We all the time evaluate every marketing campaign as soon as it’s out. Once I discover {that a} marketing campaign isn’t producing the specified numbers by way of gross sales as a result of it’s too far out, we’ve got a dialogue on how we will tweak it the subsequent time. So, we aren’t utilizing the identical system each time. We’re continually evolving and taking suggestions from the shopper.

PS: Once I began out I used to be simply 21 and we went with the everyday formulation: fairly fashions in “correctly” draped saris. Through the years, I began breaking away. Nikhil has helped with that.

For our first collaboration, Thaan, I had stated, “Let’s create a buzz and do one thing actually loopy.” And that made headlines like nothing else did. We shot a lovely marketing campaign collectively referred to as Mehfooz, in Lucknow, in 2018. That marketing campaign stood out, however it wasn’t resulting from oddly draped saris or peculiarly formed blouses. It wasn’t too fashion-forward however proved to be a turning level, a mushy transition into that area. Nikhil and I’ve examined the waters as we’ve gone on. And we’ve got talked about creating one thing totally different every time.

Pixels, Ekaya Banaras’ Spring/Summer time 2023 assortment, shot by Farhan Hussain.
[Photographed by Asad Sheikh.]

Are you current at each shoot?
PS: Sure. I used to be current on the Feat. Artists shoot for the Pixels marketing campaign in Assam in February though I used to be getting married that month. I’ve learnt a lot from our shoots — be it the Masaba marketing campaign or our Ambush shoot. I’ve particularly learnt so much from Nikhil — by observing the best way he’s styling, how he’s considering. At most, I inform him whether it is working or not.

Nikhil, you may have been very experimental in the case of draping. I keep in mind the Sakura marketing campaign, the place it felt very new.
ND: I’m a eager observer so I do hold tucking away concepts at the back of my thoughts till somebody is able to use them. Palak may be very open to new ideas. Generally, they don’t work out and I spontaneously take a unique route. With Ekaya, I typically have a look at what we’ve got finished previously and attempt to replace it. From the start, I’ve type of appreciated “messing” with saris in some sense. It’ll nonetheless appear to be a sari however it isn’t how we’re often anticipated to put on or pleat it. To be given the leeway to show it in an uncommon manner is vital, and it really works more often than not. Very hardly ever will you see two saris draped equally in two totally different Ekaya campaigns. For Sakura, which had a really minimal look, I researched Japanese drapes. We determined that they wouldn’t hug the physique an excessive amount of and this shaped the crux of the marketing campaign.

PS: However with Ambush, we wished a extra fitted look.

Ambush, Ekaya Banaras’ Spring/Summer time 2022 assortment, shot by Tenzing Dakpa.

Let’s talk about that marketing campaign. What I discovered fascinating is that the textiles have motifs of looking and wildlife however none of that’s within the imagery.
PS: I despatched Nikhil an image of Kim Kardashian in her toilet in these thigh-high boots, wanting completely trendy, and I advised him that I wished my saris to be positioned like that — I wished them to look as horny and sensual as she did. Then got here the slit sari, the jacket and the glasses, and the shoot grew to become extra concerning the imaginative and prescient and aesthetic that we wished to painting than the motifs on the merchandise.

ND: Once I’m given jungle motifs, the very last thing that I might do is place it towards the backdrop of a jungle. Since we have been Kim as the start line, I used to be keener to visualise an area that she would in all probability inhabit. Marble, stone and gray partitions got here to thoughts — I might see her in a minimal area like that.

We made use of rings to drape the saris and this gave them a extra fitted look and confirmed extra pores and skin. The blouses had deeper necklines with lots of tie-ups, they usually precisely matched the saris. It is a girl who would put on a head-to-toe print…. Every part was impressed by Kim Kardashian, even by way of hair and make-up. We forged ladies who’re perceived as horny. The analysis was additionally about understanding the new-age influencer, a lady who’s being photographed wherever she goes, on a regular basis. She doesn’t really feel the necessity to put on a go well with at a press convention or a gathering; she will be able to pull off a sari wrapped in a manner that doesn’t really feel fussy.

The Masaba x Ekaya Banaras collaboration, shot by Bikramjit Bose, for Ekaya Banaras.

Inform us concerning the Masaba x Ekaya marketing campaign, which acquired rave opinions.
ND: Masaba was very concerned within the course of. She had many inventive discussions with photographer Bikramjit Bose. They wished to include motion and depict the sari as useful. They wished motion. At that time, I remembered Masaba’s direct reference to cricket. I used to be nervous it could be too apparent to pitch this, however I did it as a result of I’d by no means seen an Indian sari marketing campaign exhibiting ladies taking part in cricket. So, we constructed the entire narrative round that.

Capturing it was actually enjoyable. The ladies needed to learn to play cricket. We meant to forged ladies who knew the best way to play the sport, however we didn’t discover many fashions who knew the best way to. We did discover one who might bowl so these photographs have been fairly convincing. And, after all, we made them put on sneakers in order that they have been snug working round.

1. Handwoven striped lilac brocade coat, from Ekaya Banaras. 2. Handwoven blue and golden silk dupatta (used as balloon skirt), from Ekaya Banaras; gold-plated bracelet (used as waist chain), from Amrapali; cardigan, stylist’s personal.

How do the weavers react to the marketing campaign imagery? What sort of suggestions do you get from them?
PS: The weavers might not have a really constructive response to each marketing campaign as a result of the campaigns are so unconventional. Even by way of creating totally different merchandise, many are hesitant at first. They are saying,“Yeh chal payega ya nahi chal payega? Yeh kya bana rahe hain?” [Will this work or not? What are we making?] As soon as, Nikhil and I have been making an attempt to see if we might use the again of a weave. My father was working with the weavers, who have been fairly unconvinced. However, fortunately, my father is open to experimentation. The weavers don’t all the time perceive our imaginative and prescient, however there are particular campaigns that they love.

How would you describe your function?
PS: My function is to encourage the assorted group members in any respect factors, and provides them entry. Additionally, to all the time reiterate that we’ve got to deliver one thing new to the desk. The purpose of the model is to not cater solely to 1 viewers phase.

Has there ever been any destructive response to the campaigns?
PS: I’ve by no means confronted any backlash as such. However part of the viewers discovered the movies for The Crossing — Natives of Nowhere marketing campaign (2019) unnerving. However once more, I feel that it was manner forward of its time.

Nikhil, in what path would you wish to see the model develop?
ND: It’s essential that I introduce Palak to people whose work is true for her model. I’ve facilitated conferences between Palak and stylists who work at my expertise company, and I like what they’ve conceptualised for her. It matches into the larger story that we’ve got created and once we make that photograph e-book, I might be comfortable to see their work in there.

Ekaya is forward of its time and will probably be remembered for that. While you have a look at Instagram, the imagery may be very comparable in the case of manufacturers which might be dressing ladies in saris. After we shot for the Kashi within the Clouds assortment in Varanasi, it was photographer Rid Burman’s concept to shoot ladies who wore their hair quick and appeared boyish. That was very new for a Banarasi model. In a way, they appear to be two boys strolling on the ghats, and that, to me, was pushing the envelope for a industrial model promoting ready-to-wear to ladies; their shoppers weren’t anticipating to see one thing like that. It appeared just like the type of imagery I might need to see if I have been going to a model to buy. It wasn’t simply the pictures that spoke to me but in addition the people within the pictures; they mirror a sure life-style that I affiliate with and relate to. So, these are the type of campaigns that I want to proceed to be a part of.

1. Handwoven inexperienced organza sari, from Ekaya Banaras; knit tube high, stylist’s personal 2. Digitally printed silk skirt, corset shirt in pink satin, each from Ekaya Banaras; shirt and tights, stylist’s personal.

PS: We’re going to do extra of those campaigns quickly.

ND: The Crossing — Natives of Nowhere marketing campaign was additionally particular.

PS: I like that marketing campaign. It’s one in every of my favourites.

ND: We did push boundaries so much with that one. The drapes and the headgear have been impressed by tribal ladies. It was a powerful marketing campaign, and truly that’s when the speak of the e-book began.


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