The first-ever fashion showcase at the iconic Red Fort celebrated the textile heritage of India

Weaving in History

On a cold January evening, a host of political leaders, government officials, entrepreneurs and artisans got together at the newly refurbished Red Fort complex, not for any political event but to celebrate the artisans of India from the ramparts of the historic monument.

The Ministry of Textiles organised ‘Artisan Speak’ on Saturday, an event to showcase India’s textiles and honour the people behind the loom, at Red Fort’s Sawan Pavilion, with the stunning Zafar Mahal forming the backdrop.

Union Minister for Textiles, Smriti Z Irani, presented Special Recognition Awards to seven individuals and an organisation for their contribution to the textile sector, while also honouring 13 master artisans for their work in the handloom industry. These weavers — six Padma Shri awardees and seven Sant Kabir awardees — included Ramkishore Chippa from Rajasthan, an expert in Bagru and dabu hand blockprinting, Gajam Anjaiah from Andhra, who weaves Ikat and Kota saris, and Langpoklakpam Subadani Devi from Manipur, known for her work in art weaving.

Irani called the event “historic” as it brought together weavers and fashion designers on a single platform. Raghvendra Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, added, “While planning an event of this scale at Red Fort, we kept the sensitivity of the monument in mind. The event marks the beginning of an outreach programme by the Ministry towards the artisans, by linking them with the verticals of big garment manufacturers.” A similar programme was organised at Kolkata’s historic Old Currency Building on Monday evening, while the Ministry also plans to hold such events in other parts of the country.

Weaving in History
The 13 Padma Shri and Sant Kabir Awardees, who were honoured at Artisan Speak.

Even as the weavers didn’t speak at the event, their presence in the front row of the fashion gala spoke for itself.

The ceremony gave way to a fashion showcase by some of India’s top designers known for working with traditional textiles and craft — Anita Dongre, Anju Modi, Gaurang Shah, Rahul Mishra, Rajesh Pratap Singh and Rohit Bal. One saw a melange of chikankari, gotta-patti and kanjeevaram, being juxtaposed against the rich history of the venue. Mishra presented a chikankari-heavy collection of saris, long jackets and dresses in muted shades of white, teal, beige and baby pink, while Shah presented kanjeevaram saris in bold hues in the trademark gold weave. Dongre struck to her forte and presented a velvet-heavy collection embellished with her signature gotta-patti, whereas Bal brought in an Elizabethan flair to the evening with his voluminous gowns that had fitted vicaresque collars and sleeves, in shades of white. Singh played on the overwhelming levels of pollution in Delhi by pairing face masks with white ensembles and gold sneakers. Modi, too, presented an ornate and heavily embellished collection.

Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) president Sunil Sethi, organisers of the show, said: “This was an evening of firsts — the first time that such an event was held in the surreal setting of Red Fort; the first time that we paid tribute to India’s top master weavers and crafts persons; and, most certainly, the first time that these artisans came together on a common platform with fashion designers and other creative individuals who have contributed so much to the textile industry.”

Sethi also bagged the Special Recognition Award for promoting handicraft and textiles, and for his pursuit of the Made in India ideology. Meanwhile, the Outstanding Achievement Award was conferred upon textile designer and conservationist Madhu Jain, who has introduced India to bamboo fibre, an eco-friendly alternative textile, and also developed the world’s first bamboo-silk Ikat textile.