Zardozi on jerseys
A Mumbai-based embroidery designer, who travels in ST buses in search of new experiences, and a Paris-based fashion designer, who performs cabaret, have come together to launch a collection that's more high art than high fashion
While creating a collection for cabaret performer Romain Brau, with sequins, silk threads and feathers, embroidery designer Prakash Shetty realised they were birds of a feather. "We connect because we have a similar style of thinking and ideologies," says Shetty, at his atelier in Lower Parel. On email, Brau, also a fashion designer, tacks on his two bits, "Prakash is very knowledgeable, and we both care deeply about traditions. We come from two different cultures, but we love precious, secret references, and are obsessed with colour arrangement and experimentation. He's working with amazing brands in the fashion world, but he never really had the opportunity to experiment with personal stories. My own love for antique embroideries and techniques was dancing [in my head] when we met. It was obvious we had to do something together."
Over the last 18 years, Shetty has created some extraordinary patterns for some of the biggest international labels: all uncredited. His handiwork has graced the runways of Paris, New York and London, but don't carry his name. He seems to prefer that arrangement. "I began my career with Indian clients, but my sensibilities were always more western," he says. "I like experimenting with textures and colours, which doesn't really fit into traditional Indian clothing. Here, embroidery is reserved for wedding clothes or occasion wear, in which I don't get a free hand to be creative. So, I concentrated on the European market, where I'm recognised more as an artist. When I work for international brands, I sometimes even embroider the lining of the dress, because it should feel good along with looking good. I like embroidery to be three-dimensional, to be moving, to be something with which you can have a conversation." For him, each piece, like its wearer, is one of a kind. "For each piece, I'll have a story. In each design, there would be many ideas."
Fashion designer and cabaret performer Romain Brau
To illustrate, he shows us a swatch that resembles seashells, crafted out of beads and threads. "It's inspired by the houses you see on top of mountains," he says. And, then we see it: four walls and a ceiling, cemented with cotton, wool and silk. Another patch, a mosaic of leaves, has been stitched with thin metal strips. "They were shiny, so we added chemicals to make them look vintage. We've even done embroidery using hair from wigs." A third resembles moss on a wall; a fourth, coral reefs; and a fifth, zebra stripes. "Ninety-five per cent of my inspiration comes from nature. Anything could give me an idea, even a beetle climbing a tree."
From Paris, Brau says, "Prakash's power is in his travelling." And, Shetty confirms, "I travel six months in a year. And, I don't just mean internationally. Whenever I don't have anything to do, I go to Dadar East, take an ST bus, and say, 'Last stop.' I get excited about who's going to sit next to me, getting into a conversation with them, reaching a place I don't know. I like people who are not glamorous."
Intricately embroidered swatches from Shetty's atelier; A black pullover from Paris-Mumbai collection
When Shetty X Brau, they arrived at an unfamiliar place as well. They have designed a capsule collection called Paris-Mumbai, which includes pullovers in black, jumpers and bags with elaborate needlework, 18 pieces in total. One pullover has been stitched with leather strips, about which Shetty says, "When I wear it, it takes some time to register what it is." Another has birds of paradise created with French knots, satin stitch and other techniques. "We have not invented the techniques of embroidery, but the artwork is original," says Shetty. "It's about how you mix and match." It isn't available in any store, but can be ordered from their Instagram page. Although priced in the neighbourhood of €500 (about '40,000), it's an artistic project in its soul.
"We are connected to very sexy customers," says Brau. "They want luxury and not just expensive items. For many people, embroidery means high luxury. So, it's really fun to put it on a jumper." In aesthetics and in attitude, the duo is on the same page. "Hand embroidery is art. It's like a painting," says Brau. And Shetty says, "Even if you're not a pullover-wearing person, you could place it in a frame and put it on the wall." It's that unique and beautiful, he leaves unsaid.
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A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli