Weaving the wand
It's sheer magic when the block hits the fabric, says Arati Monappa, whose new collection casts a spell
Arati Monappa looks at fabric as a canvas. Photo: Murali Kumar K.
ARATI MONAPPA catches the eye as she walks through the verandah of the Raintree store. Her radiant smile framed by salt-and-pepper hair could be a clue to her impact. But her vegetable-dyed sari is more the reason why. Its meandering terracotta zigzag stripes conclude in a black pallu, with a similar block print. The effect is dramatic, refined, and restrained, all at once.
That sums up the basic impression of her Arati Collection, on show at this old-world bungalow, refashioned as a trendy lifestyle store. Her label's design intent is to showcase the work of pan-Indian crafts groups while propagating natural dyes and traditional creative skills.
These draw attention in a stunning black tailored cotton knit skirt, attached to a swathe of maroon free-draping yardage, overprinted with a geometric black block. Or an elegant pale grey woven khadi silk dupatta, block printed dramatically at either end and at its centre with long-stemmed blooms in burnt pink. Or a knobby silk stole in turmeric yellow, its ends dyed in Ganga-Jamuna red and black. Or a Bengal jamdani sari, its fine woven ground of intricate butas flowing into an elaborate pallu woven in white and pale gold. Or an evening trouser ensemble in charcoal grey, set off by a black stole worked all over in appliqué and kantha work.
In another corner is a basket overflowing with cushion covers, some in tartan (at Rs. 200 a pair), some in red or black Gujarati Gajji silk, a few printed in primary colours to enhance an elegant home. Alongside them are reversible duvets, and bedspreads in typically Rajasthan-Gujarat belt patterns.
Whether working on stoles, scarves, saris or made-up garments, the classy, 1995-launched Arati label is conscious of its fine crafting. This Coorg-based designer has shown 40 of her garments at the Lakme India Fashion Week 2003, and been honoured with a Kingfisher Fashion Award for design in the South and a Silk Export Promotion Council Pret-a-porter showing in Paris.
Of her diverse collection, the first in Bangalore in four years, Arati explains the elements of "wearable art". "The fabric has been conceived as a canvas and, instead of repetitive motifs, I have used an element of surprise to bring freshness to the ancient technique of block-printing and hand painting with natural dyes," says Arati.
Her stoles, long exported to the U.S., can be used imaginatively in myriad ways. For instance, a delicate chiffon square in red-and-blue could brighten up a formal pant suit. Or a silk sarong with a cropped top in silvery grey and black could do double duty as a skirt with an elliptical hemline. Or a crepe tunic printed with floral motifs could be teamed with equal ease with jeans, capris or a skirt.
But no matter what the end product, Arati's avowed intention has always been in focus, ever since her design initiative was launched in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. She is intent on self-sustaining crafts families by designing client-specific blocks for them, while choosing specific fabrics, colours and prints. As an incentive to block-printers, they are provided with free printing tables that they can re-use for other clients.
"My accent is on simple silhouettes, with attention focused on weave, colour and print," Arati explains. "Colour is used as a design feature, and embroidery is never overbearing." That's a claim borne out by her current collection. With its one-of-a-kind saris. Its reined-in palette. Its natural fibre choices, mainly in khadi silk, cotton and crepe.
She's at ease with the non-machine imperfections of the vegetable-dye art, the white spaces on naturally-dyed indigo fabric. And the uneven textures of the handloom. That's why it's easy to believe Arati as she asserts: "When the block hits the fabric, it's still magic for me. One day, we don't want to lose all this... "
(The Arati Collection is on show at Raintree, 4 Sankey Road, opposite ITC Windsor Sheraton, till 7 p.m. today. Telephone: 30623251)
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