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How to design couture in a garden

Designers behind label Shivan & Narresh talk about their new couture series, reinventing the bikini sari and their love for nursery

From Gardeners At Work by label Shivan & Narresh

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With their new couture series, Gardeners At Work, designer label Shivan & Narresh has set the stage for a textural interplay, celebrating the designers' love for gardens. 

Conjuring theatricality and a botanical fantasy, designers Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja have presented 35 looks for both men and women that include kurtas, bustiers, sheath gowns, bomber jackets and skirts. 

In an interview with Lounge, Bhatiya, the head designer, and Kukreja, the  creative director, talk about their new collection and their love for gardens. Edited excerpts:

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You’ve often drawn inspiration from botanical elements... 

Shivan Bhatiya (SB): Since childhood, I have always had a great inclination towards nature and botany, be it outdoors or even at home. During the pandemic, I was able to find most of my solace at this one nursery that was close to our home, where I spent hours exploring and understanding the minutest details of the luscious bounty that was around us. 

So when it came to designing this collection, the inspiration instantly trickled down to that memory and delving deeper into how nature by itself is so varied in terms of its tactile elements, be it the quality, shape, texture or colour, making it a seamless fit for our drawing board.

It’s part of your ‘couture series’. Is there a reason you're calling it couture? 

Narresh Kukreja (NK): This collection is strikingly different from our ready-to-wear range, where majority of the focus lies on the diverse prints that define the entire series as the key talking point. 

With couture, we move away from that print-centric universe and go into a textural space altogether, where we work with a multitude of diverse materials and textiles. We have had our atelier play with multiple variations of signature skein embroidery to provide new textures to the fabrics. 

In ready-to-wear, we use fabrics like silk in the form of crepe and satin. Whereas here we move towards very fine organza, tulles and gazars as the main surfaces on which we build the entire story of couture. 

Even in terms of elements, each ensemble is painstakingly hand- strewn with intricate and minutest detailing as opposed to ready-to-wear which is comparatively bolder in its skein work.

Your signature skein work is present in this collection as well. How have you refined it further here?

SB: The skein work has been hugely refined in couture as it has been enhanced at the element level. We have handcrafted resin moulds to give a unique spin to the meticulous artistry of 3D motifs, there are glass and metallic beads that have been intricately hand-strewn across textural surfaces and even the kind of patterns that have been created are extremely different from what you see in our ready-to-wear range. 

We have used knitting and crocheting to create floral skeins that have been used extensively in a sophisticated tone-on-tone manner on layers of gazar and organza. 

Your bikini sari is also present in the collection…

NK: The bikini sari has been supremely elemental to the brand since its very inception in 2011, wherein it was emulated in a relaxed, resort avatar. 

At the couture level, it has gone through a multitude of transformations, the entire bikini and bodice inside are hand embroidered and beaded, while the trail, which was previously crafted in Italian swimwear jersey, has been now translated into  fine organza with the same amount of visual elements that any of our couture ensemble entails, from delicate threadwork to handcrafted resin motifs and luxurious ostrich feathers. 

Thus, it has definitely become a lot more glamorous and ornate.

Several menswear brands offer ceremonial bandhgala and suits in bespoke space. How have you experimented with these traditional garments with your luxe resort touch?

SB: While the silhouettes may be classic, we have definitely experimented a lot more with the kind of techniques that have been used in their craftsmanship. The collection explores structure and sharpness through bandhgalas and suits, balanced with dreamy folds of shirts and kurtas in luxurious silks and hand-knitted textiles. 

We have incorporated ostrich feathers, tonal threadwork and also bold motifs in shimmering glass beads that range from organic to antiquity aesthetics. On select menswear silhouettes, you will see a striking face motif, meticulously handcrafted and designed in glass mosaics and metallic beads, as an ode to our love for Italian gardens. 

Even in terms of styling, we have played with unconventional elements, for example, a beautiful champagne button-down kurta that opens up has been paired with a fully embroidered crystal mesh vest inside to a breezy silk shirt fastened at the waist with a pleated cummerbandh and ostrich feathered neck accessories, all garnering the idea to instill a very luxe yet resort-like feel even in couture.

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