SUNEET VARMA — MIRROR WORK
“I've had a love affair with mirror work since the beginning of my career. I cannot tell you why I love it, but I can give you a thousand reasons for it. I love how the mirror will shine at night and how the light will pick up on the bride’s eye—there’s something very romantic about it,” shares Suneet Varma.
He adds, “There’s also something very sexy about it. Look at the old movies—Zeenat Aman with her mirror work halter in the ’70s or even Mughal-E-Azam. It speaks of freedom, sexiness, and movement to me—if it doesn't move, it's nothing. When you dance, move, swirl, twirl, the mirror work comes alive.”
A garment with this technique is made by gluing medium-sized mirrors (of 1/2 to 3/4 inch) onto the base fabric, around 2 cm apart. These are then sewn down with thread, to reinforce it, and the sharp edges of the mirror are covered. The empty areas can be filled with thread embroidery or sequins.
“You can do beautiful mirror work on lehengas—like a gradation on the skirt, with smaller mirrors around the waist and larger towards the hem. One can even create smart stripes or paisleys, line the border of a sari with mirrors, place them on the sleeves, or add them to the blouse—all over, or just on the neckline. Since the base fabric gets stiff with mirror work, you can go with sexy shapes like a halter blouse or with a tiny back because there won’t be much movement,” he advises.
In fact, Suneet has also been adding mirror work to modern designs—jackets, which can be worn with jeans or trousers on a night out, and gowns.
“If you plan to include mirror work in your sangeet outfit, you need to mix two to three sizes of mirrors, because if you use very large ones and a lot of them, your outfit will get very heavy. And this is one night when the bride should dance and move around,” says Suneet.
He continues, “If on a skirt, there should be a lot of ghera (circle) for movement, and always put a nice, fat border at the bottom—it’ll ensure the skirt’s movement. For small corsets or a tiny blouse, I would prefer the base fabric to be georgette, chiffon, or organza—something light in weight. If you add this craft to heavy fabric, your garment will resemble an armour because the mirror work is stiff by itself.”
For those wanting to include other embellishment to this craft, Suneet recommends including threadwork and a bit of sequins to the outfit.
JJ VALAYA — DABKA, KORA, MUKAISH
“People want to invest in clothes that are timeless. And a Valaya definitive is embroidery done with antiquated, oxidised metal work—dabka, kora, and mukaish,” says JJ Valaya.
“Dabka is a shiny metal wire that is very tightly coiled (similar to a spring),” the designer explains. The matte version of this is called kora, and both are the most widely-used materials in the zardosi technique. Mukaish is the embroidery done with a flat metal strip. “I tend to use all three, and often together—blending them with crystals, beads, and pearls,” he reveals.
“The question is: how do you make the age-old technique relevant today? The most classic motifs are the ambi (paisley), booti (small flower), and leaves. But you can use the same techniques to create anything you think of—even Aztec motifs, if you wish,” he shares.
Since Indian weddings are a series of larger-than-life celebrations, every other function (apart from the so-called cocktails) inherently includes the use of metallic embroidery. The ratio simply varies.
“Remember that when you include this embroidery, the weight of the garment tends to increase because the main embroidery material is metal. But the trade-off is that you’ll look splendid in an outfit that is timeless and will stand the test of generations. There is no rigid law on how to include these techniques in your wedding attire—you can use them simply on the borders, across the entire piece, or even as statement placements. It depends entirely on your aesthetic and comfort,” JJ adds.
“Zardosi is an ancient handcrafting technique that has been around for centuries. It is the kind of legacy that is passed on through generations, and it’s custodians are the craftsmen’s family,” states Ritu Kumar.
“During ancient times, karigars would use pure silver and gold threads to weave intricate designs—this was known as Kalabatun. That is the reason why real zardosi embroidery would not tarnish with exposure to air and moisture. Today, synthetic threads have replaced these, but technique and intensive skill remain,” she says.
She explains that the beauty of this technique is that it can be combined with other embellishments, like precious stones, to enhance the richness of the garment. Earlier, the designs included Mughal floral patterns, paisleys, geometrical patterns, and jaalis. A variety of motifs have been included in today’s designs.
“The wedding outfit should look regal and exquisite, and should be heavily-embellished with all-over embroidery. Since it is the main component of the attire, a mix of main motifs and jaal would be ideal. The blouse would generally have an all-over jaal. And the dupatta should have a prominent embroidered border with motifs on all four corners, along with a spray of smaller bootis.”
When it comes to styling a look with heavy zardosi work, she recommends wearing traditional jewellery, a matching minaudière, and a simple neat hairstyle to complete the style.
ASHDEEN — PARSI GARA
“Parsi Gara is an exquisite craft that originated with the trade between India and China around the late 18th century. The Parsis of India began taking opium and cotton there, in exchange for black tea. While in China, they saw these beautiful textiles for the European market, and decided to customise it for the women in Bombay and other cities of the country,” Ashdeen Lilaowala explains.
For the Indian context, they picked up the oriental and asian motifs that had a meaning and reference to Zoroastrian culture and Parsi life. “These include flora and fauna, and birds like the rooster—considered sacred in Zoroastrianism, as it is believed to bring life back to earth with its call every morning. You will also see the crane, which signifies long life, and the mythical phoenix, which is the bird of the empress.”
What is unique to this craft is that the embroidery isn't simplified or abstracted, but is very realistic—like creating art or replicating nature on textile.
“We work with over 150 craftspeople in Delhi and Bengal, who create these works entirely by hand using different kinds of satin stitches. Ultimately, it is all about the shading and getting the details correct, like painting with a needle” he shares.
Parsi Gara can be adapted to tell the story of the bride. “We once created a lehengas for a bride who was getting married in a forest—we included birds like cranes, cockerels, ducks, chickens, a family of roosters, and fish. And another time, we made a lehenga with ombré flowers for someone getting married at dusk,” he says. Along with this, Ashdeen has an extensive range of saris crafted painstakingly with the embroidery.
The fabric can be customised to suit the occasion— organza, silk, velvet. “If you plan to wear very heavy jewellery, tone the blouse down and vice versa. Today, a lot of young girls don't want a traditional blouse. You could consider a boat neck or lace blouse—it adds a touch of the vintage, and vintage can be very sexy and modern, too. A sheer lace blouse is way sexier than a low neck blouse. That play really depends on the occasion,” Ashdeen suggests.
His final word of advice is: “Have a bit of fun and make it personal, so that it becomes memorable.”
ABU JANI SANDEEP KHOSLA — CHIKANKARI
“Chikankari embroidery is a thing of pristine beauty. It is also the most time-consuming technique of embroidery. And we are proud to say that it is an AJSK hallmark,” says designer Abu Jani.
A chikankari ensemble involves multiple stages of production and many highly-skilled craftspersons. “The motifs include Mughal or Persian garden-inspired flowers and creepers, including roses, lilies, leaves, and creepers,” he adds. “We also use a lot of architectural designs in our work including jaalis, arches, trellises, and geometric patterns.” The wooden blocks are first painstakingly carved with the motif and then dipped in dye, before master printers apply them onto the fabric. AJSK’s chikankari is embroidered exclusively by female artisans—each piece of cloth is worked upon by three or four artisans, working on a different stitch.
This delicate craft of shadow work has long been the mainstay of the couture house. As designer Sandeep Khosla recalls, “In 1992, we visited Lucknow and decided to restore and reinvent the ancient techniques of chikankari. It took two years of intensive training, research, and development before we could create our first collection.”
A sari or kurta takes up to six months to complete, and a bridal lehenga takes a minimum of twelve months. The embroidered fabric is then washed for several days to remove the dye and other stains before it is transported from Lucknow to their factory in Mumbai for stitching.
Their first ‘chikan bride’ was Shweta Bachchan Nanda in 1997 who wore it to her mehendi. “It was a path-breaking ensemble, which made the statement that white is completely auspicious,” Sandeep states.
For the wedding, he recommends wearing an elaborate, chikankari lehenga, and you can also include zardozi, Swarovski, and sequins to it. “One can contrast the pristine off-white with borders in bright hues of silk like red, green, or yellow. You can also include pastel shades as the georgette base for each panel of the lehenga,” he suggests.
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