Block printing has been crucial in shaping the design culture in the country, from the Dabru prints from Rajasthan to the work of the artisans of Serampore in Bengal. Heritage crafts are undergoing a renaissance in the new wave fashion world as designers redefine its traditional parameters.
Aparupa Ghosh, who runs Kolkata’s label Syu Studio, uses iconic patterns (kitsch cut chai and ‘haatpakha’) in block prints that add a modern touch to her traditional weaves.
“When I created my label, I was looking for artisan units open to working with contemporary forms of block printing. It was important for me to work with groups of artisans who were passionate about experimental design, ”shares Ghosh.
Over the past year, block prints have also gained a place in leading wardrobes. Whether it was Katrina Kaif’s bridal party (who all wore Punit Balana prints in her ‘haldi’) or looks from Bollywood airport on leave, this labor-intensive contraption is experiencing a curious resurgence. Here are some of the more creative block printing options you must explore:
Kolkata designer Vedika M is best known for her whimsical prints. The designer uses block prints on jackets, coordinating sets, dresses, jumpsuits and pre-sewn sarees. Each piece is hand painted and block printed in the brand’s internal textile unit and whether you’re looking for breathable tone-on-tone prints or contemporary designs, you’ll find plenty of options.
The designer also offers abstract prints and oversized florals, so if print over print is your thing, especially for resort wear, you’ll find plenty of great choices.
Earlier this year, Dongre launched a conscious sewing line to highlight age-old craft traditions. The collection was conceived as an ode to Bhuj where the Ajrakh print was supported by a single family of 10 generations, the Khatris.
Ajrakh uses only natural dyes and involves an elaborate 16-step process of printing, dyeing, printing and drying. Dongre uses hand block printing in an ornate wrap by mixing it with dori, zardosi and glitter. “It was an absolute joy for us to create this special collection with the artisans of Bhuj. Their craftsmanship and these pieces are truly timeless and I hope everyone who buys them enjoys wearing them as well and passing them down as heirloom pieces just like our grandparents did, ”Dongre explained.
The brand’s official website has ready-to-ship kurta and culottes sets, printed sarees, sharara sets, embellished skirts and more.
Earlier this year, Ghuri’s Debjani Ray Chaudhuri customized tiger designs for Vidya Balan, which the actor wore when promoting his film Sherni. But Ray Chaudhuri is best known for evoking radical nostalgia with her Feluda, Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen and Charulata printing blocks on jamdani and chanderi.
“Kolkata prints and Ray’s centenary posters are bestsellers. Oddly enough, most of my buyers are not from the city, they are from all over the country and also from overseas. Bulk prints are very popular with millennial shoppers, especially 25-35 year olds. The block prints are mine and my setup is totally durable. We avoid toxic colors and everything is done by hand. I work with my own clusters of artisans. I’m trying to craft a story with my prints – you’ll notice that they tell a story, which is very appealing to people who are looking for something different, ”says Ray Chaudhuri.
Ayush Kejriwal X Label Varsha
Designer Ayush Kejriwal recently collaborated with Label Varsha to highlight the Kalamkari tradition of South India. The linen satin ethnic clothing line features corded yarns in earthy and rusty tones and traditional block-printed Kalamkari designs that are first hand drawn and painted, then digitally converted for printing.
“It’s organic, earthy, and draws inspiration from Kalamkari’s fine art. Collaborating with Varsha gave me the opportunity to reach a wider audience and I was able to make my pieces more affordable, ”adds Ayush Kejriwal.
Looms are also gaining popularity in the housewares category, especially when it comes to linens and tableware. To mark its 25th anniversary, Anita Lal’s luxury lifestyle brand, Good Earth, introduced an Orient X Occident line, titled Bosphorus, where the brand has maintained design traditions from Asia and Europe. The “razai” line of the Bosphorus Rosa was made up of 35 intricately hand-carved wooden blocks.
The label used hand-drawn canvases designed with classic Greco-Roman designs. The Asian element was represented by graceful Persian cheetahs painted against lush green palm trees and red roses.
Good Earth has also produced hand-printed textiles, created for the Heirloom Project (in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum Of Art) by master craftsmen working in Jaipur and New Delhi.
After a 3-year stint at Weaver’s Studio in Kolkata, Aparupa Ghosh launched Studio Syu in 2014. The designer works with several groups of craftspeople based in and around Kolkata and has found a way to seamlessly merge craftsmanship. heritage from block printing with modern design language.
“We design most of our own blocks, but we also use the classic lines and herringbone blocks. We have really tried to bring a contemporary format to the printing of blocks. For my new line, we are borrowing influences from Pichwai paintings from Rajasthan, which are religious representations on the theme of Krishna. The line includes hand-woven saris and mulberry stoles with hand-blocked lotus patterns, peacock trails and other popular Pichwai prints, ”Ghosh tells us.
Neelanjana Bhattacharya’s resort brand based in Kolkata, HANSHU is taking new dimensions with block print vacation wear. The brand’s hand-blocked silk shrugs or hand-blocked abstract fishnet print dresses are bold and bohemian chic. The brand also emphasizes unusual colors and local craft traditions – an Ikat silk trench coat, for example, in flashy hot pink.
Last summer, Anavila launched a line of hand-woven floral jamdanis inspired by the natural benefits of spring, such as peaches, pink apples, cardamom, Amalfi lemons and periwinkle. The collection featured vibrant hand block prints, sequins and patterns in Khatwa embroidery.
For her latest winter line Heather, the designer moved away from muted pastels and presented her first collection entirely in wool and wool-silk where she produced a few petticoats with pleated hemlines and block prints.