A New Age of Contemporary Indian Design

Louise Nicholson is a woman who shares our vision. An acclaimed journalist, art historian, and self-confessed “Indophile”, Louise’s love affair with India began early on in her life. Early this July, we were lucky enough to have Louise at our Dover Street store, for an event in support of the organization she founded in 1985, Save a Child. After styling Louise in a custom-woven silk jacquard jacket from our Taj Collection, we managed to steal a little of her time ahead of our guests arriving.

Filled with excitement for what she sees as a new age of contemporary Indian textile design, Louise is as animated as we are about Varana’s arrival in London’s Mayfair. We took the chance to talk to her about her experiences, her work and her passion for Indian craftsmanship.

Louise, can you tell us what it was that first inspired your love for India?

“I’m an art historian by training, I specialised in Indian and Islamic art. So it was really through my studies that I first discovered India. I was captivated by these beautiful, romantic paintings and pieces of art that showed people wearing such incredible textiles. My first visit was in 1980, when my husband and I got married. We visited for our honeymoon and I was seeing it for real – the reality totally lived up to my expectations. From the moment I saw these fabrics, first at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and then in India, I was absolutely mesmerised.”

And what was the first piece that you brought home with you?

“We bought one piece back from our honeymoon. It was a sari, which actually came from the South. When we had our first child it stayed and, for the christening, we used that sari to make a dress for me and a little baby romper for our son to wear.”

There’s an incredibly meaningful complexity to India’s relationship with textiles. What’s your perspective on this?

“In India, fabric is the lynch pin of everything. It’s for trading, it’s for worship, it’s what you wear for special occasions. When I was first going to India, there was a tradition. Before the daughter got married, a family would go to Varanasi buy the shawls for the bride, the shawls for the mother, the shawls for everyone at the wedding. Beautiful fabrics are so embedded in these kind of social customs. You can also see a lot of India’s history through the trading of textiles – both within India and the trading of textiles around the world. Everybody has always wanted the fabric from this part of the world.”

As you know, the design philosophy for our Varana collections is based on crafts that have sustained over centuries. Can you talk to us about what you see as the revival of craftsmanship?

“Since Independence, there’s been a tremendous movement for India to rediscover its crafts people. Really, it was a government-led and state by state encouraged movement to log, revive and keep going the thousands of crafts of India. Beginning in the 80s, but more so in the 90s, India had this new confidence. It was the start of their contemporary fashion movement. Taking their heritage, people designed a piece and they would have the fabric woven,printed,painted,embroidered for the piece. InIndia, it’s in your blood to understand fabric in this way. Now we’re in about the third generation: there aren’t just a few amazing designers doing this, there are hundreds of them across the whole of India.”

We’re delighted to have the chance to bring this Eastern heritage of craft to Mayfair. How do you feel about seeing more of this in the West?

“I buy almost all my clothes in India, and I try to buy them from the young designers coming up. What is sad to me is that there’s so little of it in the West. Varana’s arrival in London is incredibly important. It’s a store that’s showcasing what India can do, from weave to piece. And Creative Director, Sujata, is doing two things here. She’s taking the greatest textile heritage in the world and being innovative. She’s also using these incredible crafts and bringing them again to their finest level.

To find out more about Save a Child ‘s incredible work and opportunities to contribute to their mission,