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Keeping alive traditional skills: Designer Sunil Mehra in his studio in the Capital.
Delhi-based designer Sunil Mehra wants to work for emancipation of traditional karigars and give them a better work environment, finds out Madhur Tankha
A breed apart from the rest of his contemporaries, Delhi-based designer Sunil Mehra has imparted a unique dimension to his fashion statement by focusing on spirituality and peace.
Sunil, who has been in the fashion business for the past two decades, generally designs traditional wear. Even his Western outfits have a desi touch. “I mostly create sherwanis and jawahar jackets and crisp kurtas and use Indian silk, khadi, cotton and linen. Sometimes I import high-end cashmere but that is only while creating Western wear. Since I am against animal slaughter, I don't design leather belts and accessories that have leather in them,” says this menswear designer.
Though Sunil keeps himself aloof from the film industry, he designed the dress for Bollywood and Tamil cinema actor R. Madhavan in the just-concluded Filmfare awards.
“As Madhavan is blessed with simple looks I prepared the tuxedo that jells with his personality. Since Filmfare function is attended by the who's who of tinsel town, I also gave the tuxedo a glamorous look. The tuxedo has been teamed up with a white pleated shirt and a black and white tie. Even if I make a Western outfit I add a touch of Indian element by having mor ka pankh from inside.”
It was Madhavan who first approached the designer who then sent his team to get the correct measurements. The dress has been exclusively made for the actor. “If a designer is based in Mumbai, he gets most of his clientele from Bollywood. Since I am based in Delhi I have mostly politicians and industrialists as my clients.”
Striving to work for emancipation of traditional karigars, Sunil wants to improve their economic condition and give them a better work environment. “Only if the kargiars get remuneration commensurate to their talent will we get the desired results. Also traditional designs on handloom can be kept alive. Because of low salaries, karigars are taking up different professions like driving auto-rickshaws. They are the base of our fashion industry. If we have to keep alive our traditional skills, it is high time our designers think of a package for karigars. We don't require government support because they play an important part in the money we earn. Our design fraternity needs to look into their aspirations and set up a body exclusively for them.”
For his part, Sunil voluntarily hiked salaries of his karigars who do hand embroidery. “I have 70 karigars who are engaged in hand embroidery. After increasing their wage, they are creating beautiful works and their traditional skills are shinning.”
With the entry of international brands in the Indian market, competition has increased manifold for our design fraternity. But Sunil feels competitiveness is advantageous as it is producing better results. “Thanks to competition, we are touching different kinds of levels. We have started working hard and at the end of the day customers are getting better and diverse range of products.”
A self-taught designer, Sunil is critical of the mushrooming of fashion institutes across the country. “How many students passing out from institutes that charge astronomical fees get employment in the fashion business? Coming from middle class families, their parents are coughing up to Rs.15 lakh as fees. But the sad part is these money-minting institutes are providing only bookish knowledge and students after passing out are not prepared to work for three to four years for a store or known name. Like a rolling stone, they keep switching jobs.”
Sunil says only when budding designers work for an extended duration will they be able to learn about the quality of different fabric. They will learn whether to use soft or stiff fabric while creating a dress. And in the process realise that they need to work without bloated egos and they cannot become chief designers overnight.
To provide a holistic environment to budding designers, Sunil is planning to set up a design institute, preferably in the National Capital Region. “Students will learn everything relating to design in a congenial environment. In fact, I plan to teach them intricacies of fashion in the lap of nature like Rabindranath Tagore's ashram at Santiniketan. First, they will be taught how to be better human being, have right values and value lives of others. Only if they have beautiful thoughts will they be in a position to come up with innovative designs. I want them to portray a part of their personality into every dress. If you observe a painting created by M. F. Husain or Tagore, you can automatically make out that it is their creation.”
Seven years ago, the designer got so besotted with Lord Krishna that he started emblazoning Him and Radha on collections mostly worn by Indian clients. Unmindful of the fact that he might be ridiculed by his colleagues, he introduced a spiritual dimension to his works.
“I went to Vrindavan and the journey started from there. Even my store has the ambience of Vrindavan and I have personally painted Lord Krishna on the walls. For others this was a new concept but not for me. That is the way I live and want to convey the love between Krishna and Radha.”
Sunil's next collection “Madhuriya” will be launched in March. “It will highlight Krishna's smile and the inimitable way in which he plays his bansuri. Ever since I have become His disciple, my work output and creativity have increased. India is fast becoming an important destination for travellers from abroad because they are coming here for peace and tranquillity. My collection is also providing them peace which is missing from their lives.”
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