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  • Writer's pictureLalita Dileep

Six Yards of Fashion - Designer Gaurang Shah's ode to the timeless Sari

His NYC store, his quest to push the limits of traditions and much more

Creating magic with Weave

Gaurang Shah, India's iconic designer of Heritage saris combines his love of textile, classical weaves and innovation to keep expanding his craft the world over. His store Ave, located in the heart of New York City, is home to curated collection of luxury Couture, Bridal and Pret clothing & accessories from the heart of India.

During his latest visit to NYC, Gaurang Shah, in a wide ranging conversation spoke of his love of craft, his vision for the future and deep connection with his weavers. What comes across is his deep seated belief in the intricacies of the waft and the weave, combined with his energy and verve in exploring new avenues using timeless traditions to create something new and fresh. In his own words, "we have to be continuously innovating, if the weavers say, this is the way my grandfather was doing it, I won't change, the craft will die.” “We have to evolve, combine and create something new all the time". “I love interacting with them and encouraging them to experiment constantly”, he adds. His work has empowered hundreds of villages, who no longer have to eke out an existence but live comfortably.

As Gaurang points out, the craftsmanship of hand embroidery is priceless and in a word "speaks depicting the joy, the laughter, the stories and even the life of its creator". No wonder, Gaurang has been traversing all over India the last 20 years, and keeping alive the loom traditions. His work spread across 16 states, engaging 7000 weavers, craftspeople who have made jamdani, dobi, kutch and kasauti, a household name. Reminiscing, Gaurang continues, “way back in 2001, the traditional handlooms were fading into oblivion, I took it as a challenge and this is how my label, “Gaurang” was born”. “My design concept is always to combine something contemporary and bygone to create sustainable, drape able garments of timeless appeal”.

The Saga of the Sari

In a fashion scene flooded with lehengas ( skirt and blouse ensemble) and dresses, Gaurang remains eternally wedded to the allure of the sari. Even though he is realistic enough to admit with a rueful laughter that Indian bridal trousseaus previously made up entirely of silk Kanjeevaram or Benares saris, are now opting for fashionable options. “I can’t help it, he says, “but I continue to create curated Saris for which there still exists a niche market”. Gaurang should know, when he had his first exhibition in New Jersey in 2015, his collection was sold out in one hour. He hopes to expand his footprint in the US, by establishing stores in Dallas and San Francisco in the near future.

Ave, India Design Collective, in NYC is a treasure storehouse, home to many of India’s well known designer’s collections. Expanding on his vision to create a one stop shopping couture experience, Gaurang has this to say. “Most of the customers who step through our doors, prefer to explore India by shopping at our store for a once a in a lifetime experience. Instead of making a trip to India, we are offering a wide selection of women’s and men’s wear and accessories for the entire family in a custom environment”. It is a return to roots experience, without the hassle of online shopping that often has its hidden challenges”, he adds.

Multi Generational Treasure

When I asked him if anything from the Western fashion scene had influenced his work, he replied with a smile and said, “There is a wealth of rich history that remains to be explored in Indian culture, history and architecture”. “If anything”, he continues. “the reverse is true, our Indian influences have permeated the West in their fabrics, their design, their motifs and even the use of fabrics and colors”. “There is a wider acceptance, which is great, since the world is a global village today”.

Gaurang is a self-taught textile designer who grew up learning the origin and heritage of textiles at his father’s store “Indian Emporium, “in Hyderabad. It was his parents who inculcated in him a love for handlooms as well as fostered his artistic sensibilities. He firmly believes that design comes from within and cannot be completely taught but has to be nurtured. Gaurang Shah won the National Film Award 2019 for Best Costume Design for the Telegu film “Mahanadi” starring Keerthy Suresh, a biopic on the legendary yesteryear actress Savitri. In the course of his career, he has dressed many well-known film personalities including Taapse Pannu, Vidya Balan and Kirron Kher to name a few.

Sustained on social media dominated by aspirational millennial consumers, fashion continues to evolve and is constantly in a state of flux. My interaction with Gaurang Shah reinforced for me the appeal of the six yards of sari, how suited it is for the Indian frame and how it draws on the wealth of Indian traditions, its heritage and craftsman, keeping alive the sumptuousness of its history. A legacy treasure that can be multi-generational. A national jewel that is known internationally. My conversation with Gaurang transported me back memory lane, a return to my roots, a melding of craft and imagination, fashion that carried the mystery of history.

We are stronger together

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