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November 28, 2017

How Mir Art Gallery Braves Kashmir’s Socio-Political Climate To Produce Fine Pashmina

Text by Shubham Ladha. Photographs by Mir Art Gallery & Mathieu Gauchet

Akeel Hussain Mir and Charlotte Kaufmann are dedicated to working with master weavers and embroiderers using genuine pashmina

Rooted in Srinagar, Kashmir, Mir Art Gallery is a luxury textile company that was the brainchild of Akeel Hussain Mir and Charlotte Kaufmann. Mir is a young Kashmiri entrepreneur whose family has been in the business for the last 45 years, and Kaufmann is a French textile designer who works with the processes of dyeing, weaving and experimenting with pashmina. Their venture hopes to innovate with pashmina designs beyond traditional patterns.

As the valley has been struggling with a volatile socio-political climate and the craft has only recently been revived owing to insufficient demand, the company is dedicated to working with master weavers and embroiderers using genuine pashmina, cashmere and silk. Pashmina and kani shawls are two very intricate weaves that can take anywhere from nine months to a year to create, and the company does so with painstaking details in special designs.

We spoke to Kaufmann about her work in textile designing and more….

On her interest in pashmina… “I came to India for the first time four years ago, thanks to a scholarship from Fondation Culture et Diversité, UNESCO, to learn embroidery techniques in Mumbai. Since then, I’ve been back every year to explore and learn more about all the fabulous textile crafts and create their dialogue with design.

I have been to Gujarat for the tie and dye, Rajasthan for dhurries and block prints, and Kashmir for the pashmina weaves. I was very impressed by the technique of the pashmina weavers, the precision of their gestures and the care and patience that they have for their work.”

On working with Akeel Hussain Mir… “Akeel’s energy and dedication to promoting this craft inspired us to create Mir Art Gallery. We complement each other. He has taught me everything I know about pashmina and I am teaching him what designing collections and experimenting with the craft entails. While he takes care of the entrepreneurial and management parts, he is also the key person who will make the weavers understand the designs. He is the one who makes all I dream of, come true.

On their label’s aesthetic… “I would describe Mir Art Gallery as a creative lab, where design and craft meet. The result is a refined mix of Mughal aesthetics and French style, by introducing new materials in the embroideries and in the weaves – changing the size of the traditional Mughal patterns and balancing the floral/organic drawings with geometrical, contemporary rhythms.”

On the difficulties tackled in Kashmir’s socio-political climate to maintain the craft’s revival… “It’s not easy to find the kani craftsmen as they mostly live in remote villages. And pashmina weavers are becoming rare, as the new generation is not interested in working with this challenging craft. Akeel and I wish to value the craft and the craftsmen and make them realise that they have ‘golden’ hands and a body of precious knowledge. We want to increase their income and support the training and learning of young weavers and embroiderers.

We do our best to stay afloat against all odds. But it is not easy — the administration of Kashmir keeps blocking communication lines (phones and internet) very often. Akeel does his best to find ways to keep the link between us and our customers — he has many applications on his phone to ensure at least one will work when 50 per cent of them are snapped. He lives near the workshop, so that even during curfews, he can supervise the work of the weavers. Moreover, he wakes up at dawn, as many Kashmiris do, to avoid army controls that will stop him from getting to suppliers who are located at a distance, and returns only late in the night. Working in Kashmir is a commitment to craftsmanship and peace.”

On managing to keep the demand for kani steady… “I had learnt the kani technique in Srinagar in just two months last year and tried to understand its complexity as well as the creative possibilities. I am currently working on our first kani design, and my main concern is to make a simple design in a balanced composition. By adopting elementary, yet contemporary patterns in kani, not only will the production accelerate but we would also be able to meet the demand for the same. Eventually, I would like to incorporate other designs I’ve created, into the pashmina weaves.”

On tackling the problems of fake pashminas in the market… “Akeel and I are participating in mega fairs and events to promote both pashmina and the collections of Mir Art Gallery. We always carry raw pashmina, sheep wool and cashmere wool yarns with us to show people and enable them to feel it, so that they become sensitive to their distinct textures. We also explain the making of the pashmina on the tags of each shawl. We intend to participate in the Maison&Objet & Premiere Classe Tuileries in the coming years with something totally contemporary in pashmina.”

On the possibility of giving pashmina and kani goods their due… “We have to spread awareness about pashmina and the kani craft by reaching out to maximum people and make them understand the different counts in the pashmina yarns. We have taken the initial steps in this direction and are hoping that pashmina regains its appeal as the king of all cashmeres.”

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