Simply Mughal :

Posted by-Kalki Team

Designer Shalini James explains how she blended imagination with history to make her collection “Jahanara” in sync with her design sensibilities

Understated elegance is the hallmark of Shalini James’ designs. The Kochi-based designer, who has found her own vocabulary by aesthetically blending crafts of various States, chose Jahanara, the daughter of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, as the muse for her collection at the recently concluded Amazon India Fashion Week.

Rather than showcasing grandeur and opulence of the Mughal period, Shalini brought simplicity in a novel way.

“The Mughal period is known for its ostentation and has been touched upon by most designers. So I approached this period with a minimalistic eye. Regal simplicity of Banarasi weaves was the tool to bring minimalism to the Mughal period. In complete contrast to heavy silks and brocades of that time, I used lightweight cottons and cotton silk blends. The element of Mughal luxury was incorporated through soft silk and satin linings, organza veils and hints of crochet trimmings.”

Sari, which has been a common feature in her collections, was missing this time.

“As our muse was from the Mughal period, I refrained from showcasing sari. I opted for anarkali and showcased it in varied ways like voluminous anarkali, shorter anarkalis and floor long anarkalis which went with voluminous organza dupatta to give that light airy look.”

Ghagras and long tunics were worn with palazzo and skirts.

A confluence of conjecture and history was at play while portraying the shahzadi, who faced many upheavals in her life. “History does not specify the kind of clothes Jahanara wore. So I relied on my imagination to visualise the kind of garments she would have worn. I was helped by the fact that a major event took place in her life in 1644. While a tomb was being built in the memory of her dead mother, the princess clothes accidentally caught fire by a row of flickering oil diyas. Fakirs rushed to her rescue with their potions and cures. The princess survived to tell the tale but her father Shah Jahan’s failing health and a succession war between her brothers to wrest the throne from the emperor led her to become spiritual and embrace Sufism. It is at this point in history that I take the artistic liberty to imagine that this internal change may have manifested itself in simplicity in Jahanara’s sartorial choices.”

Simplicity went with the signature line as well as with the subject. “Bearing in mind the life-threatening experience, Jahanara must have turned down dresses decorated with embroidery, dripping with rubies, emeralds, bolts of lace brought by English traders and heavy brocade of imperial ateliers to go in for softer lighter cotton anarkalis. So I created a simple look that could have existed in the Mughal court.”

The collection required lot of introspection. “Seven to eight months of work was required as I was engaged with weavers of Banaras on fabric development. Design inputs, sketches were given to weavers who developed entire textiles for me. Fortunately, I had great support from a weaving cluster run by Imran Haji Kasim. It is a family of weavers and Imran is a master weaver. For the last ten years, I have been working with this extremely talented team. Developing the fabric was a painstaking process. We had to do one sample at a time.

Construction was done in such a way that it flattens the body. Rose-gold and silver lurex threads were interwoven in the handloom fabric to simulate the effect of embossed gold-leaf technique in miniature paintings of that period. Zari embroidery was sparingly used to define the necklines.”

The Kerala connection can be seen in the fact that Shalini brought colour on to the fabrics in Kerala. “Dyeing was done at a local dyeing unit where I personally supervised that each outfit had the right colour. Since this was Banarasi, I had to showcase intensity of colours. Vintage icy pastel gave a new feel to the outfits.”

Embroidery was also done in Kerala. “We did simple embroidery on necklines, sleeve cuffs. To get the subdued look, aari was beaten by hand to take out the shine from zari. Anyway, I used zari only sparingly.”

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