By Priyamvada Singh
Exploring the rich fabric legacy of Rajasthan, we follow the trail of two craft crusaders who are passionately reviving traditional workmanship in the cities of Jodhpur and Jaipur, while creating modern interpretations.
From the blue city’s delicate hand embroideries to the pink city’s bold block prints, here is a glimpse into the state’s much-loved textile forms with its two homegrown labels – Kriya by Kadambari Rathore and Rekh by Rohini Singh.
Kriya by Kadambari Rathore
The evolution of Kadambari Rathore’s label Kriya is also the story of the city of Jodhpur, the revival of its vintage artistry and the resurgence of its ageing embroideries, crafting eternal finesse in the fabled six yards.
A self-taught design revivalist, Kadambari creates an eclectic ensemble of saris distinctly reflective of a flavour of the present with a fragrance of the past. “My aesthetic quotient mostly stems from my understanding of the ethos of this region,” says the entrepreneur.
“Jodhpur is a treasure trove of artistic brilliance for centuries. This city is like my proverbial professor who never closes the door on its eager pupil, generously offering creative solutions to my curious mind each time I seek its guidance.”
Kadambari entered the realm of artisanal handiwork about half a decade ago when her younger sister Hemadri got invited to a high-profile wedding in Udaipur and coerced her older sibling into designing something special for the occasion.
“I created a lemon-yellow shaded chiffon for her and embellished it with subtle sequins and an antique net border in gold. This sari piqued the interest of many cosmopolitan connoisseurs at the event and I was soon flooded with queries.” She seized her first few orders within a week of this talked-about wedding.
For a self-confessed sari lover, her label Kriya presented her the perfect opportunity to delve into the marvels of vintage design sprawling across her hometown. “I have always been an advocator of the sari because it evokes a sense of style and sophistication like no other garment,” she says.
Kriya not only allowed her to do something she thoroughly enjoyed, it also became a medium for her to reciprocate the generosity of her beloved city by reviving its native artistry and financially empowering its artisans.
She may have found her initial clients without much ado, but the journey ahead was not as breezy. Kadambari aspired to recreate the traditional drape in its modern-day relevance. Unfortunately, her quirky sensibilities did not sync with the local artisans in the initial days.
“They harboured notions about conventional design and often voiced their hesitation about my creative decisions in the beginning. Yet, as our pieces garnered appreciation and orders poured in, their skepticism was replaced by conviction.”
Each sari takes about a month of relentless collaboration with embroiderers and dyers to produce striking masterpieces. Whether it’s a traditional floral motif or a contemporary geometric pattern, every design element comes alive through a passionate interplay of craft and colour.
Besides catering to loyal clientele across the globe, she connects with new clients through her Instagram page or with prior appointments at her studio.
Kadambari is conscious of the fact that her patrons aspire to take home a coveted collectible and she feels fully responsible to ensure that they are never disappointed.
“We often remind ourselves that every creation by the house of Kriya serves as an ambassador of our region’s textile legacy, and this is what inspires us to keep going,” she says.
Rekh by Rohini Singh
Block prints have always held a place of pride in the textile history of India. Jaipur’s age-old craft of printing on fabric using carved wooden blocks has been perfected over centuries, but what distinguishes Rohini Singh’s work from her predecessors is the fact that, with her new-age initiative, Rekh sprinkles a dash of contemporary seasoning to the traditional art form.
Having completed her Bachelor’s from MS University Baroda and Master’s in painting from the Delhi College of Art, Rohini worked with water colours on canvas and paper during early years.
Recalling the time she used blocks for the first time in college to imprint an image on paper, she admits how she loved the process. “I was so fascinated with the hand-printing medium that exploring the world of textiles was probably a natural progression for me.”
After her academic tenure, Rohini participated in several exhibitions across India and created a number of commissioned pieces for homes and commercial spaces. When she moved to Mumbai after marriage, her ability to produce art declined. For someone who only draws inspiration from nature, she felt a sense of disconnect in the maximum city. “All I saw was crows!” she chuckles.
A few years later, she shifted to Jaipur with her husband Siddharth and re-discovered her inspiration in the kaleidoscopic landscape of the city. Producing new work was not a challenge anymore but the dearth of art connoisseurs continued to disappoint.
“There aren’t too many people in our country who understand or purchase art. When I started longing for the high I got by seeing my paintings hung on the walls of my patrons’ homes, I decided it was time to expand my horizons.”
She transitioned from paper to fabric with a vision to take cues from the past and create a collection that works for the modern woman. Not wanting to bind her creations under any limitations, she launched an eclectic range of free-flowing saris, dupattas and stoles. Her kaftans are created in a single free size to endorse her unrestrained design ideology.
Surrounding elements like a pomegranate tree in her garden, a parrot sitting on a jamun tree, a dancing peacock in a temple, sparrows chirping outside her window and the elephants engraved in the city’s magnificent architecture have all found place in her creations.
She has re-designed some old blocks belonging to her grandmother and also collaborated with her five-year-old daughter Ahilya to interpret her version of ‘wheels on the bus’ on a travel-bag, which landed up being a bestseller.
Rohini’s collection was earlier available at some luxury stores in Jaipur, Udaipur and Goa but she currently caters to clients through her Instagram page and studio appointments.
While her Kota-silk saris have found place in the wardrobes of actor Lara Dutta and Maharani Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda, her kaftan with a matching mask was recently sported by actor Soha Ali Khan with the caption, “Who says you can’t be safe and stylish?”
With people choosing comfort clothing during the pandemic, Rohini’s kaftans are heading the popularity charts at the moment.
“It gives me immense gratification to see people adorning my wearable art and feeling good about themselves. This validation from patrons is my ultimate high!”
A former TV professional, Priyamvada Singh is now pursuing her vision of restoring her family’s 150-year-old ancestral fort in Rajasthan. She won the Nari Shakti Puruskar in 2019 for this endeavour that blends heritage restoration and socio-cultural resurrection.
First published in eShe’s May-June 2021 issue
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