The Duality of the Kutch and its Magnificent Crafts

Since its inception, Varana has been about the re-imagination of artisanal techniques.

Drawing on the deep crafts heritage of India and celebrating extraordinary textiles, Varana nods both forwards and backwards at the same time. Innovators instead of purists; re-invigorators as opposed to revivalists, Varana takes artisanal artistry and looks at it with an entirely new gaze. Following on from the previous season’s Taj collection – commended for its refreshingly understated take on Eastern craft – is Varana SS18’s Kutch collection.

To zoom in a little closer on this season’s concept: Kutch is an immense and beautifully pristine salt desert, found in the Western Indian state of Gujarat. Against the backdrop of this serene landscape, the tribes that came to inhabit the area centuries ago brought with them distinctive crafts that grew into time-honoured traditions. Perhaps as response to their monochromatic surroundings, they created vibrantly coloured and richly embellished textiles. It is this duality that is the inspiration behind the collection. From beautifully embroidered jackets and cocktail dresses in bespoke fabrics to exquisite light-weight cashmere, this is a collection of pieces that fits seamlessly into the modern woman’s wardrobe.

Looking back at how she was inspired by the grandeur of the Kutch desert, Varana’s Creative Director, Sujata Keshavan, talks about reinventing traditional techniques, breaking rules and addressing the modern wardrobe.

  • The Duality of the Kutch and its Magnificent Crafts
  • The Duality of the Kutch and its Magnificent Crafts

The Kutch collection follows on, of course, from the Taj collections SS17 and AW17. Where
do you find your inspiration and what was it for this collection?

I wanted to have a theme or a concept, that would drive each collection. The first was the Taj Mahal, so we used motifs that were inspired by the rich crafts of the Taj, like its inlay patterns and its architecture. We made use of embroidery techniques that came through the Mughals at the time.  For the Taj, we designed two collections, Spring Summer 17 and Autumn Winter 17.  For Kutch, we’ll do the same. Kutch is an amazing area in India. Honestly, it’s just mind-boggling. There are all of these different tribes that settled there and each of them has different kinds of artisanal techniques that they practice. I chose it as my theme for this reason. It’s just so extremely rich in craft – it gives you a lot to play with.

As well as the very different influences that inspired them, are there any other meaningful differences between the Taj and the Kutch collections?

The interesting thing is that our approach is the same. In terms of the way we’re thinking, we haven’t changed. It’s taking  existing techniques and designs and reinterpreting them in an entirely new way. The techniques that our collection is based on will naturally change, because we’re taking our inspiration from our theme. The visual vocabulary changes because of the different colour palettes and different treatment of fabrics.

Varana has never taken anything too literally. The focus has always been on translating tradition. Can you talk through your approach to reinvention for SS18?

We take our inspiration from the craft but it’s not that we’re just keeping it exactly as it was. We use the vocabulary, but we’ve reinterpreted the colours and reworked the fabrics. So, for example, the tie-and-dye technique of Bandhani has a very distinctive visual language that’s recognisable as soon as you see it. We took motifs from Bandhani and wove them in Jacquard. Its looks and feels different and excitingly unfamiliar – it’s much more sophisticated and fine.

We’ve also looked at the kind of mirror work embroidery that’s done a lot in the Ahir community in the Kutch. We’ve taken the mirror work and woven it into cashmere. No one’s ever done that before. We are breaking a lot of rules when it comes to textiles, so purists might have a problem with it. But that’s what really interests me. I think that there’s so much that’s already been done already – I want to find a new gaze and take it to a more modern level.

Where do you see styles from the Kutch collection fitting into the Varana woman’s wardrobe?

We like to be there as part of lots of different experiences for women. For SS18, we have light-weight cashmere – wonderful for travel. It’s beautiful, it’s warm, its soft. We have some exquisite evening pieces and then we also have the luxurious essentials like poplin and cotton. Of course, everywhere in Varana, fabric is of the utmost importance and we’ve selected only the best cotton even for our everyday pieces. We have silk kimonos and pyjama style trousers that work beautifully as resort wear.

The SS18 Kutch collection is now available in store at 14 Dover Street and online at harveynichols.com