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When the grandeur of Rococo and craftsmanship of Banaras meet

How design label Tilfi Banaras adapted the ornamental style of French Rococo art to different Banarasi weaves

From the Rococo-inspired Tifli collection

By Dhara Vora Sabhnani

LAST PUBLISHED 28.09.2023  |  05:00 PM IST

Intricate curves and the use of soft pastel colours define the Rococo style of art and architecture. 

That's what inspired Aditi Chand, co-founder and chief executive of Varanasi-based designer label Tilfi Banaras, to bring the delicacy and grandeur of Rococo art together with Banarasi craftsmanship. Chand played with Rococo’s palette and motif vocabulary to give it a Banarasi interpretation for Tilfi’s new collection called “Quarter to Time". She has used classic Kadhua and Meenakari weaves of Varanasi to create patterns of acanthus leaves, roses, lilies, lilacs, and poppies seen in Rococo art. 

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In an interview with Lounge, Chand shares a glimpse of creating the collection and decodes different styles of Banarasi weaves. Edited excerpts:

Why does Rococo work so well for Banarasi weaving interpretation?

We found deep artistic synergies between Rococo art and Banarasi craftsmanship. The Rococo style’s playful inspiration from nature resonated with our commitment to intricate detailing and artistry, making it a compelling addition to our Banarasi heritage. Brocade textiles and lavish silks also permeated Rococo fashion, which also works really well for a Banarasi interpretation. The Quarter To Time collection is an amalgamation of these two heritage artistries and a marriage of silhouettes that have defined feminine wardrobes across diverse cultures and eras.

Tell us a bit about the colour palette.

The colour palette is synonymous with the hues found in Rococo art: light tones, pastels, and gilding. The collection includes gold and silver zari brocaded garments in satin silk and Katan silk fabrics in lavender, lilac, cream, off-white, old rose, soft peach, light pink, light and powder blue, sage and mint green, taupe, and mauve. It’s a deliberate departure from the quintessential Banarasi colours, which are often characterized by their vibrancy and bold choices. It is part of our attempt to reintroduce a fresh perspective to Banarasi textiles, one that exudes a contemporary allure while staying true to our heritage. 

Historically, the Banarasi colour vocabulary has embraced softer and more nuanced shades, often drawing inspiration from nature's delicate hues. So, while these colours may appear unconventional, they resonate deeply with the refined artistry and craftsmanship of Banarasi weavers.

Could you tell us a bit about ‘meenakari’, ‘phekwa’, ‘vasket’ and ‘kadhua’ techniques?

Meenakari involves the addition of supplementary coloured resham threads during the hand-weaving process. This adds different colours to the motifs or pattern apart from the zari, in a manner akin to enamelling - hence the name. The kadhua technique is a style of discontinuous brocading used to incorporate motifs and patterns, where each motif is laboriously handwoven separately as opposed to other Banarasi handloom textiles (namely, phekwa or cutwork textiles). Using this technique, diverse motifs of different sizes, colours and textures can be woven on the same fabric, which is quite difficult to achieve otherwise. The kadhua weaving technique cannot be replicated on a power loom.

Phekwa is a weaving style in which the extra weft or the supplementary patterning weft is thrown across the width of the fabric using a shuttle. This technique leaves a float of threads on the reverse of the fabric, which are sometimes left as is or cut right after the whole fabric has been woven.

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The Banarasi zari vasket weaving technique involves the meticulous use of a supplemental zari weft throughout the body, which leaves minimal float on the back of the fabric. Textiles woven in this weaving style are adorned with all-over zari, which gives them a rich and lustrous appearance.

Rangkat is an age-old Banarasi weaving technique that involves a crossover of yarns and multiple changes in the structural weft for a sharp change in the base colours of the fabric. The exquisite interlocking of yarns in the rangkat style is reminiscent of colour-blocking and adds colour and drama to the fabric without weighing it down.

What other crafts techniques do you plan to work with?

In the coming months, we will be releasing a collection which features an innovative introduction of pashmina or cashmere to the Banarasi handloom ecosystem through its interplay with silk and brocading.

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