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Is texture the new cornerstone of everyday luxury?

Recent collections from Indian designers mark a shift in aesthetics, with a focus on finer textures and quiet luxury

Three-dimensional silk garments from Alamelu’s launch collection, ‘Architexture'.
Three-dimensional silk garments from Alamelu’s launch collection, ‘Architexture'.

On 26 October, The House of Angadi launched its ready-to-wear label Alamelu, aiming to channel the country’s vast textile and design heritage to create a modern aesthetic for the daily wardrobe. The collection, Architexture, is inspired by modernist architecture.

Along with design interventions such as ikat weaving, the Bengaluru-based clothing label’s founder and creative director, K.H. Radharaman, has also experimented with surface weaves, lending a three-dimensional texture to textiles.

He says these “shimmer like rippling waters, yet remain lighter than air”. As poetic as it sounds, the description is apt—fine yet perceptible waves of silk with a flowing quality. The attention to detail is evident, and the clothes, very wearable.

Woven wonders

This approach to woven textures is a relatively new and niche part of Indian fashion, which has usually focused on two-dimensional textiles, replete with motifs and patterns. While all weaving results in some kind of surface texture, these approaches are more specialised, yielding more discernable textures.

Three-dimensional surface manipulations in the past have usually been reserved for the post-weaving process—from fabric manipulation like pintucks or pleats, to more detailed embroidery, embellishment and surface ornamentation.

Radharaman believes what his label is attempting is largely unexplored terrain. “Most Indian textiles have tended to be driven by a more visual vocabulary than a tactile approach. The idea of playing with the technical construction of textiles remains very unexplored in India.”

Radharaman believes the pandemic may, in fact, have accelerated this trend of quiet luxury. “There is a desire by consumers for everyday luxury, which as a concept doesn’t exist beyond the wedding season,” he says.

While woven textures have more to do with textile design than fashion design, they are fundamental to fashion. “Any garment derives a very substantial part of its beauty and aesthetic quality and properties from the textile. Without it, garments would just be made of simple cloth, without any design or detail,” says Radharaman.

Textures affect the feel, weight and drape of any textile, which are integral to the way it is to be worn.

Such textured textiles could be classified as “engineered” textiles. So it’s not surprising that the term is now increasingly used to describe textiles crafted with innovative permutations and combinations of the warp and weft of looms that lend them a distinct surface texture.

The garments in the Architexture collection focused on the choice of material— silk—the fabric construction and the technology. “The way in which the silk has been woven, i.e., interlaced, is what’s different,” explains Radharaman.

Garments from Hemang Agrawal’s ‘Tattva’ collection.
Garments from Hemang Agrawal’s ‘Tattva’ collection.

Material matters

At the recently concluded Lakmé Fashion Week’s 2020 digital first season-fluid edition, Hemang Agrawal presented his festive-wear collection, Tattva, also featuring surface texture. Agrawal used the Banarasi weaving technique, translating it to zari, and a manufactured sustainable yarn called Bemberg, which is made from cotton linter and comes from Japan’s Asahi Kasei Corporation. The garments were unique interpretations of festive wear, inspired by the Sanskrit mantra Sarva Mangalam, based on 12 natural elements.

“The crafts are about the process, but the traditional motifs and patterns we see in them are purely incidental. When done right, the process will take care of motifs. It’s sad that for the longest time this particular weaving process has been used to produce the same butas and butis, rather than working with newer textures,” he says. These garments were a more traditional rendition of the trend.

To represent the 12 elements, Agrawal developed 12 differently textured textiles, with distinctive motifs for each. “While developing the designs, we translated them using technology to get a wider canvas to make the motifs. On a traditional jacquard loom, only four- to five-inch-long motifs can be made, but on the technologically-enhanced looms, the motifs and their size can be scaled up and there’s a chance to create more details, but the final weaving is done by hand,” he says.

One of the first users of the term “engineered textiles” in the industry was designer Gaurav Jai Gupta, founder of Akaaro, in the early 2010s. The label is known for its contemporary ready-to-wear and festive clothes crafted from innovative textiles and experiments with texture.

Gupta says he tries to add value to the fabric rather than working on prints and embroideries. “That’s the hero product. It’s why I started to use the term engineered textiles, because I wanted my work to look like a painting, without any repetitions of motifs.”

His textile design aesthetic involves mixing different kinds of fibres, such as cotton, silk, wool and zari, to create fine textures. “More than the importance of weaving techniques to create these textures, I have been more interested in materials. At the end of the day, the weaving technique, which is just simple mathematics, functions on permutations and combinations of interlacing,” he says.

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