It all started 33 years ago when fashion designer Anjul Bhandari got married into a family of exporters and shifted to Lucknow. Little did she know, that soon she would be known as the master of creating heirlooms that would be passed down generations. A stalwart in her own right, her new experiments with mixing together different regionalembroideries have created a unique new aesthetic. Her creations are everything that define timeless and ageless elegance.

“My mother in-law was a very prominent social worker who used to work with female artisans and hold camps for them. And that was the first time when I had the touch feel of the beautiful craft of chikankari. I noticed young girls putting in so much of handwork into their fabric and creating masterpieces, that I had my heart set on it,” shares Anjul.

A celebrity favourite, her label is about chikankari and kamdani, the two of the oldest arts that our country has. And when it comes to embroidery done by hand, it gives her a blank canvas to express herself. She feels that fashion trends may come and go but, traditional crafts never shy away from shining out time and again.

Her creations are synonymous with the royal touch in fashion designing. She takes us through her inspirational board that creates such regal finesse. “My creations are always very traditional and synonymous to our beautiful women. One who speaks her mind, and carries her ensemble with grace. I keep in mind the oldest craft, block prints and the master craftsman while designing a piece. I want it to be focused on longevity, so much so that, even when a man takes a kurta out of his cupboard 20 years down the line, he doesn’t feel as if it’s lost its charm,” said Anjul.

By reviving old techniques of chikan and kamdani, she is bringing back the lost craft of the nation. She tells us that even if she tries to make it more contemporary, then her kaka’s and her prints speak for themselves and stay true to their heritage. When it comes down to fabrics, her choices with modern chevron enhances ones look and the number of stitches that she works with, remain traditional. In chikankari, the number of stitches and tankas matter, and she always motivates her craftswomen to work as hard as they can, at employing these techniques.

One of the most prominent features of the Lucknawi chikankari work are the stitches. Each and every stitch is done to perfection and the neatness in the work is hard to find. And she aces that quality each time, how does she do it is what we ask her.

We tend to use extra thread to make it taar. And I only do my work in ek taar, wherein a single wire is threaded through the stone and worked delicately through the garment. Since the work is so intricate, it is done exclusively by hand. The specialty of the embroidery lies in its fiber, the threadwork is on display on the garment, unlike other stitching techniques where the thread is hidden. We also design an ek taar sari which takes one year to complete and is a rare find; but we are trying to revive this lost art,” said Anjul.

She further goes on to say, “Once we ace a design we look forward to designing it with 16 stitches or more than 20 stitches. Our quality keeps on getting better each time, as we work with very talented craftswomen.

In a nation where handicraft plays a major role in defining one’s design language. Anjul’s label seeks to mark a pivotal role in this sector by contributing widely. For her, chikankari is a pure handicraft, and she looks at it at the grassroot level. When she distributes work amongst her craftswomen, she inculcates a feeling of responsibility in them. She uplifts and allows them to provide a better future for their family. When it comes to kamdani, she works with craftsmen who are 70+ years of age, and have followed their courses of life, while keeping the craft alive.

With millennial’s opting for the ‘less is more quotient’, we ask her how does she think that chikankari is making its way back into bridal couture. “The concept of ‘less is more’ is definitely making heads turn today and when it comes down to the modern bride, she is someone who knows what she wants. Earlier, when it came to our mothers or grandmothers, they were always draped in the traditional hues, which used to be picked out by their mother in-law. But, a millennial bride knows how she wants to look on her special day, and we don’t want to create something that she would never wear out of her cupboard ever because it’s a one time wear ensemble,” shares Anjul

The designer further adds, “The bride knows that if she likes a particular heavily embroidered dupatta then she would match it up with a plain anarkali or salwar suit, and she wants the full usability of the garment. Furthermore, we take the sustainability route of transforming an anarkali and turning into a sari when the bride gets her use out of it, it’s truly her garment but in a new avatar.”

The next step on this maestros journey is her new collection of the finest chikankari with Japanese pearls used in with the synchronisation of pastel colours. With intricate Persian jalidaar jals and 13 to 15 styles of stitches in doo taar embroidery draped in flowy delicate silhouette’s.

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.