Fashion's betting on optimism

Updated: Jul 05, 2020, 11:28 IST | Shweta Shiware | Mumbai

Designers are finding a personal connect with poetry during the lockdown, realising that like with clothes, words have the power to comfort and inspire

Pranav Misra, co-founder and and designer at Huemn, says, "I think in Hindi and I'd say my design embodies multilingualism. Poetry comes from the ebb and flow of life. With designing, it's a dialogue, almost a political and social commentary.
Pranav Misra, co-founder and and designer at Huemn, says, "I think in Hindi and I'd say my design embodies multilingualism. Poetry comes from the ebb and flow of life. With designing, it's a dialogue, almost a political and social commentary.

All dressed up and nowhere to go. As the Coronavirus lockdown throws up paradoxes, a community of fashion designers is searching for slow-paced poetry in prose. Often, literature has taught us how to 'read' an outfit. "Poetry has come as a relief [during the pandemic] because it's not trying to sell anything tangible; it doesn't need your money—just your time and heart. In return it offers us a new lens, an ancient understanding and of course, hope," says Delhi-based poet Navkirat Sodhi.

“My performance dressing is  always a concept. Sometimes  stark, sometimes subtle and  almost always abstract,” says  poet Navkirat Sodhi. She wore  a 300-meter skirt for collaborator and close friend, designer Gaurav Gupta’s couture show titled Unfolding at Royal Opera House
"My performance dressing is always a concept. Sometimes stark, sometimes subtle and almost always abstract," says poet Navkirat Sodhi. She wore a 300-meter skirt for collaborator and close friend, designer Gaurav Gupta's couture show titled Unfolding at Royal Opera House

A sudden stop to life as we knew it has halted all transactional behaviour, or at least discouraged it, making us seek altruistic connections. "It has left us fluid, as if taking any direction is now possible. It's the perfect ground for poetry, romance and rebirth," adds Sodhi about poetry experiencing a renaissance during the lockdown.

Anita Lal of Good Earth, says, “Much like design, verse provokes thought. Both entice you to think, imagine, interpret, unlearn, and then find your own meaning”
Anita Lal of Good Earth, says, "Much like design, verse provokes thought. Both entice you to think, imagine, interpret, unlearn, and then find your own meaning"

Designer Gaurav Jai Gupta's Instagram posts feature lyrics by Paul Laurence Dunbar, accompanied by images of Akaaro's signature handwoven metallic sarees. Good Earth has collaborated with designer and writer Pranav Misra to holistically convey the essence behind Still, their new summer collection inspired by moments of introspection. And Amit Aggarwal references craftsmanship in Gulzar's lyrics, Phirse aaiyo badra bidesi from the movie Namkeen. "That's the beauty of this poem; it holds within its realm, a million possibilities," Aggarwal thinks. This, it turns out, is entirely intentional. "In the times we are in now, what better way to convey thought than in verse?" Anita Lal, the founder and creative director of Good Earth, says in an email interview. "Much like design, verse provokes thought. Both entice you to think, imagine, interpret, unlearn, and then find a meaning your own." The brand's new range of apparel and home linen collection dwells in the unhurried; from loungewear crafted in diaphanous Chanderi and handloom cottons to an all-white bed selection with tonal embroidery that wouldn't look out of place in the WFH days of our lives.

A couplet by Misra where he addresses fear. “Ghabrane se waqt kat ta hai, badalta nahin,” he writes
A couplet by Misra where he addresses fear. "Ghabrane se waqt kat ta hai, badalta nahin," he writes

Misra, 35, found his hinterland in solitude while self-isolating for the last four months at his Delhi home. His poem, Zindagi ki sthirta (Stillness of life), for Good Earth is rooted in the wonder and beauty in small things and the natural worlds, and the interconnectedness of life and time. "I think in Hindi and I'd say my design embodies multilingualism. Poetry comes from the ebb and flow of life. With designing, it's a dialogue, almost a political and social commentary on the world we live in," says the co-founder and designer at Huemn, an indie clothing brand. Misra says he first started writing when he was in Class 8. "My father was my inspiration. He was great with words, had sophisticated taste, and did everything in style." German-American poet Charles Bukowski and his work, Like a Flower In The Rain, remains an eternal favourite in his reading list.

Good Earth’s Summer 2020 collection titled, Still, is inspired by the moments of stillness and their subtle charm
Good Earth's Summer 2020 collection titled, Still, is inspired by the moments of stillness and their subtle charm 

While writing comes naturally to him, he decided to train as designer because he liked the idea of social responsibility that comes with the job, which was in fact paid little attention by the industry. Writing during lockdown got him off the frenetic rollercoaster that is fashion. "The pandemic has been a great awakening. Most of the time, we are reacting rather than reflecting, running between collections in a race to execute and exhibit our work faster. I realised that this movement is not necessarily growth."

Besides, for him, writing poetry hasn't been very different from designing. "You call it poetry, I call it storytelling"—whether on paper or on a sweatshirt with a personality. "Just like poetry, clothes have to emote, and inspire," he reasons. "When I am designing a sweatshirt, I am investing my time, research, my ideas and also my emotions. A Huemn product is not just another piece of cloth but a story that hangs on the rack."

Amit Aggarwal’s AXIL collection showcased at the Lakmé Fashion Week finale in February before the lockdown. He wrote this poem (right) while designing the line
Amit Aggarwal's AXIL collection showcased at the Lakmé Fashion Week finale in February before the lockdown. He wrote this poem (right) while designing the line 

For Amit Aggarwal, illustrations and verses—together— inspire, fuel and transform the initial ideas into final concepts. Sometimes fantastical, sometimes bare bone, sometimes out-of-this-world, the two art forms coalesce when pen hits paper. "Poetry and clothing are similar; in a way they are able to conjure up whimsical fantasies, and transport you to another space," says Aggarwal whose seamless designs, much like the brims and swoops of wordplay, offer unmistakable lightness of form and fabric. Gulzar's writing was his starting point, followed by the work of Mirza Ghalib. "Luckily, I found a partner [Ankit Chawla] who loves Gulzar equally," says the designer who penned a poem for Chawla during their lockdown-enforced separation.

Amit Aggarwal

Amit Aggarwal - The Universe has made us companions. For all the realms we have travelled and for all the lives we have lived We surely must be bound by a thread of eternity. How else would one explain our relationship even before I took my first breath or saw my first light?

Gaurav Gupta regularly teams up with Sodhi, his muse and close friend, for poetic show notes. So much so that, without them, Gupta's fashion showcases somehow feel not quite complete. "We influence each other through freedom and honest flights of fantasy. Sometimes, they appear as design, sometimes as poems," says Sodhi.

Check out the video, filmed and edited during the lockdown by Sodhi's loving co-conspirator Vijendra Bhardwaj:

Clothes, like words, Sodhi reckons, are inanimate until we breathe into them stories—of our bodies, our minds, our voices. As we continue to grapple with lockdowns and uncertainty, clothing will become an axis on which we balance our safety, and the desire to feel good about ourselves. "I feel it will give birth to a new wave of progressive stay-at-home fashion and we can only hope it will be kinder this time around," imagines the Poetress.

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