Made To Order: Voli Mohamed Eliyas Tailor
The signboard states, ‘Since 1921’. I do a quick calculation — over 90 years and three generations of tailors. This bit of trivia gets me excited to meet the masterji. The first time that I walk into his space, tucked away in a little by-lane in Cuff Parade, I see a girl in her early twenties trying on a blouse. It is made from a golden-coloured fabric and has a low-cut back with a string that ties at the nape. She looks satisfied. Later, she fishes for some fabric in her bag, gives it to the tailor and asks him to make another sari blouse — any design that he prefers. “I have been coming here since I was a child. He used to stitch clothes for my mother, and now he does the same for me,” the girl informs me.
The second time I go to his workplace, there are two teenage girls. One of them is trying on a lehnga blouse; it is of a meticulous design with embroidery on it and very similar to what Alia Bhatt wore in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2014). The other girl then gives the masterji some more fabric and asks him to “do something with it”, adding that he already knows what suits her.
Eliyas masterji is a tailor whom you can trust. He is adept at his craft and can recreate any design or can translate your vision through fabric. As I am discussing his work and legacy with him, he quickly whips out a smartphone and shows me some designs that he has researched on the internet — his works in progress. It is a mix of beautiful gowns and dresses with painstakingly executed details and embroideries. He is not only proficient at his job, but also extremely tech-savvy and plugged-in to the latest fashion trends. “It’s our family business. We hail from Lucknow, and my grandfather Voli Mohammed came to Mumbai in the 1920s. He had four sons, including my father, who used to work with him. When I joined the business, I was 22 years old. Today I am 49 and carrying the legacy forward. My son also works with me now,” he tells me later.
I visit him for the third time with a camera and a crew of five people. He is dressed smartly in a blue shirt and waits patiently for us to finish setting up. As we begin tidying up his workspace for the shoot, out come the most impeccably tailored pieces from his treasure trove — white and black slim-fit blazers, a marsala dress with frilly sleeves, a yellow midi dress puckered slightly on one side at the waist, a tiered pink tulle dress and a heavily embroidered lehnga. There are some kids’ clothes as well — in comfortable fabrics and no trims. “We rarely do kidswear as the margins are small. We specialise in womenswear — both Indian and Western outfits. I have participated in fashion weeks and worked with leading designers and boutiques in the past. We have also made swimming costumes in Lycra,” recalls masterji.
Around seven tailors and two karigars work with Eliyas masterji at his workshop — some of them have been with him for over 20 years. “Very few people learn tailoring nowadays, hence it is difficult to find good workers. Everyone wants to start directly on the sewing machine, which is not a good practice. Back in the day my father taught me how to tack the clothes by hand first and then use the machine, a practice which I still follow. It takes more time, but the quality is unmatched.”
Read Part 4 with Gulshan Kolah here.
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