Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > Fashion> Trends > Nobody has pushed chikankari out there: Ali Fazal

Nobody has pushed chikankari out there: Ali Fazal

Actors Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal on launching a brand dedicated to the traditional embroidery of Lucknow and the importance of handmade

Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal in Ehaab Couture garments
Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal in Ehaab Couture garments

Actors Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal, in collaboration with Lucknow-based designer Yasmin Saeed, have launched a fashion label, Ehaab Couture, dedicated to preserving chikankari embroidery.

The idea for the brand, which also aims to raise awareness about the traditional embroidery form from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, started about four years ago. "When the pandemic hit, we got to know that there were a lot of families in Lucknow (as Ali, her husband, is from there) that were on the verge of hunger, since there were no orders. At that point, we realised the importance of a good distribution model. Demonetisation had also impacted the small scale industry that relied heavily on cash transactions. A couple of disruptive events during that phase impacted some of the karigar families we knew from Lucknow," says Chadha. The couple says they then started supporting the artisans financially during the pandemic and eventually thought of generating employment for them. "That's when this idea of a design house shaped up," says Chadha, who plays the role of a courtesan in Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed series Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, releasing on Netflix on 1 May.

The first collection of Ehaab, which means the essence of gift or a gift of love in Urdu, includes 18 womenswear looks, besides some commissioned pieces and a couple of menswear looks.

Also read: Inclusivity in fashion is the natural way forward, says Sheetal Mallar

“I take my costumes very seriously, the fits, the stitching. I find some problems with the fits in some brands I shop from. Hence, I want to make sure, we want to perfect the fit. That's why we haven't released the menswear fully yet. We are still working on it. We want to bring some serious swag to it and we'd love to do a runway show at some stage,” says Fazal. “I feel nobody has pushed chikankari out there.”

From the Ehaab Couture collection
From the Ehaab Couture collection

In an interview with Lounge, Chadha and Fazal talk about the brand, the importance of handmade and more. Edited excerpts:

Were you always drawn towards traditional embroidery and craft?

Richa Chadha: More than fashion, I've been drawn towards things which are handmade and steeped in indigenous culture. Handlooms, textiles, embroideries resonate with me. Some of the global brands boast of embroideries which happen in India. India has always been the epicentre of art, crafts and culture. The royals would commission portraits and paintings which kept the arts alive. The royalty and nobility were always patrons of handwork.

How was the process of collaborating with the artisans in Lucknow?

Richa Chadha: It's primarily women-led. While men do indigo dyeing and cutting of the block, women lend their expertise to slow, patient, delicate work. Most of these women come from sectors where they may not want to go out and work but if they have work coming into their house, they're able to do it.

Ali Fazal: It's been one of the most humbling experiences. These are wonderfully talented women. Then there's dyeing by the river. It's a slow process but totally worth it. You learn that even though everybody is buying these pieces in bulk, each piece takes two to three months of dexterous handwork. It all depends on the intricacy of handwork. We hope to provide the right fashion which is accessible to people all over the world.

How have you given it your touch?

Richa Chadha: It's not so much about giving a new touch but reviving it. There are 12-15 styles of traditional embroideries like bakhiya, jaaliwork, which could easily become extinct. Our effort is to introduce people of our generation to something which existed, something which reached the level of excellence. Our focus is on what comes from India and travels through the world and can't be replicated anywhere else. Every country has its USP like China is known for its silks, or Arab world for oudh. In the 1700s, Dhaka muslin in the royal courts was considered luxury. Mukaish available today in the market is a downgraded machine version of it. Honestly, mukaish work has to feel like a starry night. When you touch the handcrafted, it doesn't feel pokey. Handmade is something crafted with love and human effort.

How many pieces are in the collection?

Richa Chadha: There are close to 18 pieces besides some commissioned pieces. I'll be giving some of them to my colleagues in Heeramandi. It's wearable. There are some menswear pieces too. There's a huge demand for chikankari. I would love to take this textile and embroidery to even the coastal regions across the country. I feel that a man couldn't look more sexy than in a linen kurta with light embroidery.

Ali Fazal: The first collection features two menswear pieces. Hopefully, we will be expanding in all categories very soon.

Also read: Would you wear tweed and crochet tops in summer?

Next Story