The House of Angadi: The 600-Year-Old Legacy Brand Modernising Heritage Weaves
All it took was one miscredited photograph on Instagram to highlight the pivotal role of Bengaluru-based label Advaya in designing Deepika Padukone’s trousseau. The label’s CEO and head of design K. Radharaman says, “In the case of Deepika’s saris, we did not seek publicity – it all happened inadvertently. I am happy with the attention that a designer label from South India has received in national media. It was unexpected and we are grateful for it but I continue to work as I always have – with my focus on design and innovation. I prefer to let my work do the talking.” Launched in 2010, Advaya is an in-store label from The House of Angadi (a heritage label based out of Bengaluru) and is known for its neoclassical take on Kanjeevaram saris. Advaya is Sanskrit for ‘unique’. The label comprises saris woven in various Indian handloom clusters like Kanchipuram, Varanasi and Kota. It also stocks ready-to-wear apparel made from unconventional textiles. “We have interesting silhouettes as well, but they are also meant to showcase the beauty of the textile since I identify myself primarily as a textile designer.”
The impact was out there for everyone to see: Padukone’s royal demeanour shone through the red and gold Kanjeevaram that she wore on her wedding at Lake Como in Italy. Later, she opted for a gold sari from the label for the couple’s Bengaluru reception.
Excerpts from an interview where Radharaman tells us the story behind The House of Angadi and Advaya and how he walks the tightrope between innovation and tradition.
How is your family associated with centuries-old weaving communities?
The Angadi family belongs to the Padmasaliya community – a traditional silk weaving community of South India. We started out as court weavers to several royal families. The Padmasaliyas are in fact credited with being the community that introduced silk weaving to Kanchipuram several centuries ago when they migrated from their ancestral hometowns to what is now Telangana. I am fortunate to have been born into a family with an unbroken tradition of having been in the business of textiles in one form or the other for 600 years. My father R. Kothandaraman was personally responsible for many firsts in the industry and I am still amazed by how much he could achieve in the 1950s and ’60s.
How much are you involved in the working of the in-store label Advaya?
I am totally involved in every aspect of the design process. I work on the motifs, the yarns to be used, the weaves, the construction of the fabric, the techniques and colour palettes. I also decide on the type of loom to be set up for the construction of the textile. Of course, I have a team of dedicated textile designers to help me in my work but I am very hands-on.
When producing linen-blended and khadi-blended Kanjeevarams, how do you make sure it doesn’t dilute the quality of the weave?
Firstly there is a misconception that a Kanjeevaram cannot be made in any other yarn. Yes, it was typically always made in mulberry silk. This is true even of Banarasi as a genre, but it accommodates every type of yarn – from silk to tussar to cotton and even artificial silk. My point is that while Banarasi weaves had a tradition of using different yarns in the warp and weft, Kanjeevaram had never moved from the conventional silk-by-silk composition. I felt sceptical about changing it at first. The change was only in the weft – the warp remained 100-per-cent silk. Also, we never change the design vocabulary of the sari. The motifs used in the border, body and pallav (pallu) remain true to a classic Kanjeevaram.
How do you find a balance between innovation and tradition in textiles?
There is a thin line between the two. Speaking purely in the context of an age-old genre like a Kanjeevaram or a Banarasi, the best way do this is to understand the soul of the genre that you are trying to reinvent. The inherent character of the genre must be respected and understood. Needless to say, innovation is necessary to keep the genre alive and relevant to the current times. But there are a few distinguishing factors of every genre and trying to reinvent every aspect of the textile without thought is a sure-shot way of the textile losing its complete identity. Hence innovation without losing the essential character of the genre is, in my opinion, the right approach, especially when dealing with traditional genres.
How open were the weavers to the idea of producing linen- or khadi-blended Kanjeevarams?
I think most people who have worked in handlooms will know that most weavers are resistant to change. The mindset is ‘Why fix what’s not broken’. The importance of innovation is sometimes lost to them especially because this genre has been made in the same way for centuries. The only innovation that they knew of in this genre was that of a change in the colour scheme. The idea of a yarn or weave change was unheard of and seemed impossible. From a weaver’s point of view, the apprehension is understandable since the characteristics of various types of yarns is vastly different. The re-engineering is not just restricted to the fabric but also the loom setup and most weavers are not equipped to handle the technical side of the same.
Did you get a brief from Deepika Padukone on what she was looking for in her saris?
No, we did not get a brief. The sari Deepika wore for her Konkani wedding is a real zari Kanjeevaram brocade sari. The body design is the Gandaberunda, the mythological bird that is representative of the state of Karnataka. The two-headed bird represents prosperity and wisdom, i.e. material wealth and spiritual wealth. It is very symbolic for the bride to have chosen this sari. The sari worn for the reception is an Advaya tissue brocade sari and is another pure zari Kanjeevaram sari. The body is embellished with a beautiful all-over jaal. The weaving for the sari she wore for the wedding took approximately 45 days and the gold sari she wore for the reception took approximately 60 days.
After the whole case of wrong accreditation, who does the sari belong to?
I think there is a misconception at various levels here. Firstly, the designer and the label can claim to own the intellectual property, i.e., the design that was originally created by the designer.
Secondly, a weaver in most parts of South India does not perform the same role as that of a weaver in other parts of the country. In our case, the weaver is the artisan who sits on a loom and actually does the job of weaving. He is not responsible for conceiving a design, creating the artwork, making the graph, punching the cards, setting up the loom, making the warp, dyeing the yarns or any of the other subjects associated with weavers in many other parts of the country. In the case of The House of Angadi, we do most of these tasks.
The situation is comparable to that of an architect who conceives a building. He decides what materials are to be used, how it should look, the structural design of the building, how it is to be built and then employs a team of people to build it. Now, in most cases, the architect is credited with the design of the building and that is exactly how it should be. Without design, the raw materials can assume no distinct identity of their own. As textile designers, we do the same. We decide how the product should look even before a single thread is in place. We decide what yarns to use, the construction of the fabric, the motifs to be used, the colours, the technique of weaving, the type of loom and the weave to be used.
The intellectual property of the design for a woven sari belongs to the textile designer just as the intellectual property for a lehenga or a gown would belong to an apparel designer. If that were not the case then every lehnga, suit or shirt would belong to the tailors and seamstresses who were involved in their making. This is not to underestimate the task of the weaver – I come from a family of weavers myself. Ownership of a physical product can be transferred from a manufacturer to a retailer to a customer but not the intellectual property.
There is so much work involved in textile design and it is yet to be understood by most people in India, which is sad because India is one of the oldest and largest textile-producing countries in the world.