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Fashion
March 21, 2017

Sagrika Rai Talks About All Things Benarasi

Text by Amishi Parekh

At the cusp of opening a revamped store, the founder of Warp ‘n’ Weft speaks to us about the enduring elegance of the Benarasi weave

Baby steps
“When I moved to Mumbai, I realised that there was no awareness of the calibre of Benarasi weaves that I saw through my childhood. It was a time when Benares (now Varanasi) had lost its so-called buzz, and had become very static. It meant a very thick sari, lots of zari and bright colours. Warp ‘n’ Weft was a welcome change from this.

It was a very creative journey for somebody who studied mathematics and statistics! But I had the flair for it, I had grown up seeing it all around me and I was always very enamoured by the art. I traversed the lanes where the weaving families resided; researching what they were doing and how I could bring it to Bombay (as Mumbai was called then). So within two years of opening Warp ‘n’ Weft, I started creating with the weavers, giving them direction on colour schemes, and the kind of motifs and fabrics they should use. It was extremely exciting because through my work I would meet women of high talent and skill from various fields and we would exchange notes.”

Bringing the sari back
“Fifteen years ago when I introduced saris in my store, the trend of the metropolitan urban woman in the workspace who did not have to rely on her husband’s credit card had already set in. So I would have women walking into my store in trousers and skirts and they would see me in a sari. Over time I think I was rubbing off on them — telling them that it’s not that tough to wear a sari, it is very much you. I think I have influenced the tastes of my clients to a large extent. The good thing about today’s women is that they are so well-educated, well-read and aware. It is very gratifying because today we are talking about the 100-sari pact.”

New look, same heart
“I think the makeover was long overdue. When people walked in it was like a treasure trove — they would always end up buying more than they expected to. I am designing the new space in such a way that each of the creations can be seen visually and appreciated better. But I don’t want to take away the personal touch or the warmth and quaintness of the store. So even though it expands in space, we don’t want the relationship to change.

In addition to the new collection, we’re launching a prêt line of lehngas with the same sensibility in mind. A structured garment is easier for the woman of today to pick up, she doesn’t have to stress about getting it tailored.”

Crossing borders
“When my products started selling in London, I felt the younger audience needed some education on the textile and how it has evolved. I took the idea to the High Commission of India in London and the exhibition came into being. It took place last year and we were going beyond just textiles. We curated a range of jewellery typical of the Benares gharana and we had accomplished Indian artistes who were working on a music project. They recorded the sounds of the city — from the ghats, the sacred Ganges and the temples to the sounds of the handloom where the fabric or sari was actually woven. It was the essence of Benares that was showcased at the Nehru Centre in London.”

Branding Benaras
“The ethos of my label and me is that ‘tradition is most trendy’. You just have to bring in a comfort factor and flexibility, and you have to avoid being drawn to the West. Warp ‘n’ Weft stands for Benares in its purest form. In my span of 20 years, I cannot remember a moment where there was even the slightest temptation to gravitate towards the power loom, or bringing in any power loom fabrics just because I could make easy money there. That was never the objective, and neither is it today. For that I stand very tall.”

In her wardrobe
“Only Benarasis [laughs]. I love colours, whites and pastels. At the same time, I don’t like to intermingle two concepts but prefer absolutes.You’ll never see me combining a kurti with a trouser. You will either find clothes that are completely Western or totally Indian. I’m not an in-between kind of person, I find that very confusing. Of course, I also have a love for other types of saris — gorgeous Paithanis, balucharis and ikats. I love to collect masterpieces.”

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