Designer, author and curator, Ashdeen Lilaowala, under his eponymous label, ‘ASHDEEN’, has been instrumental in reviving the traditional Parsi gara embroidery works. Delhi-based Ashdeen often holds exhibition across India, and showcased his exquisite Parsi gara designs at Della Towers, Dadar, Mumbai, on 24th and 25th February, 2017. He presented the traditional gara embroidery designs with a modern twist. “Copying a gara is easy – taking the same colours and patterns doesn’t interest me. The real challenge lies in creating a new vocabulary while maintaining the essence of the traditional technique,” says Ashdeen.
It is this pursuit of a new vocabulary that led him to bring the gara embroidery to new silhouettes as well. “I have incorporated embroidery on the Western silhouette, where the challenge lies in knowing the right balance between keeping it aesthetic and yet contemporary. I also have incorporated the gara embroidery in Indian designs like ghagra cholis and kurtas. My work is for a larger audience, hence the innovations in designs and introduction of a different colour palette.”
It was intriguing to see his versatility in gara embroidery – embellishing even accessories like stoles and purses. “We have started incorporating elements of zardozi and use zari thread and mix smaller elements, like pearls, so it doesn’t lose the aesthetics of the gara and yet has freshness to it. For this collection I have also experimented on net. I am able to work with different materials as the craftsmen use the aari technique and the threads are much lighter than those used in the earlier traditional garas,” says Ashdeen as he expertly drapes a saree for one of his clients. “I feel the sari is one of the most versatile garments that never goes out of style or loses its essence. In a sense, I think I’m creating heirlooms, and for me a sari gets elevated to the status of an heirloom when you have a fond memory attached to it – perhaps of your mother or grandmother wearing it,” he avers.
Speaking of heirlooms passed down through generations, we prod him to tell us what he thinks of Parsi women, in keeping with the oncoming Women’s Day… “I think Parsi women are super stylish, super opinionated. I always feel that they are very firm about things and always have a view point. They cannot be cowed done and I adore that. I’ve seen that in my mother and so many of my neighbors – strong women who stand up for what they believe in. Most Parsi women have always been empowered. Today empowerment, in a larger context, rather than just financial independence or equal rights, is more to do with respect. I grew up with a working mother and today I realize how great that was. My mother is still working, not because she has to but because she wants to – that is the kind of sprit that women should have,” says Ashdeen.
Perhaps it is this intrinsic respect for women that has made Ashdeen understand women better and create designs that are coveted by all, from the blushing Parsi bride to Bollywood divas like Tabu, Sonam Kapoor and Madhuri. The venue of the exhibition was packed as ladies went on a buying spree – a sellout collection indeed!