For the last several months, Sanjay Garg was swamped with putting together his collection for Lakmé Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2017. It was his first time with chikankari and he wanted it to have a unique appearance, different to what one would imagine chikankari to have. Much like the saris he designs.
Sanjay’s saris are nothing like the ones our mothers’ generation wore. Nor have been watered down for the sake of making them wearable. He catapulted these nine yards to the realm of the most desired outfits while having preserved its essence. Colours which are a brilliant mix of pastels and pop tints make an appearance. Whimsical motifs take the unstitched drape’s sensual appeal several notch higher. In all of it what do you suppose takes centre-stage? If you thought fabric then you’d be right. Sanjay’s fabrics most deservingly hold the highest position when it comes to the specifics of his creations. Sanjay firmly believes that great fabric does not need embellishments; it stands alone, magnificent in its own right. Delicate textiles are painstakingly hand spun and hand woven through looms by kaarigars who he has taken under his wing. Master craftsmen and tailors work at his utterly peaceful, and remarkably white home called Angoorbadi in south Delhi which doubles up as his studio and workshop. He first gets his head around the various techniques and then enhances them with craft, loom and textile innovations of his own.
Saris have been a part of Indian heritage since the beginning and Sanjay has managed to make them relevant and I would go so far as saying that has made them aspirational garments for the younger generation. “I believe that tradition is not only linked to the past, but is also an integral part of our culture and its future.” And to make long lost traditions relevant to modern wearers, Sanjay not only pulled Benarasi, Chanderi, brocade, and organza out from oblivion, but also made them wearable. Case in point is his work with mashru that was on the brink of extinction. Usually, satin fabrics with silk warp and weft are used in weaving mashru textiles, but Sanjay created new patterns using only weft floats. It is woven alongside a soft cotton body, thus making it easier to drape. “We want Varanasi to become synonymous with mashru as well, just as it is to silk weaves,” he says.
Raw Mango, within a few years since its inception finds itself holding its own with ease among a handful of brands that are not only sustainable but also commercially viable. But Sanjay did not stop at just that. He decided to give women another reason to flaunt their love for handcrafted excellence.
And so, came the renaissance with his eponymous label in 2014. With it began Sanjay’s journey beyond saris, showcasing brilliant collections of dresses, lehengas, separates and coats at fashion weeks. “They are two separate brands, but essentially have the same DNA with textile development being essential as always,” Sanjay says. He did let us know why he never took his saris to the ramp, “Saris transcend seasons. I would like them to stay classic.” Not that his eponymous label is a slave to trends and seasons. Unveiling only one collection a year, he aims to give more casual occasion wear options to women when they are not wearing a sari.
A lot has changed since Sanjay started Raw Mango in 2008. Something that hasn’t changed is his penchant for bringing the best in textiles. The uniqueness of his designs, the easy-chic silhouettes and fluidity of fabrics delicately hand woven remain his forte.
This year, he chose chikankari for his collection, Cloud People showcased at the Lakmé Fashion Week. “We have been working intensively on chikankari for a year and are happy with the outcome,” Sanjay says. The collection was poetry in motion. Models walked in apparel crafted with Bengal mul delicately enhanced with chikankari, zardozi and hand-woven brocade. Floral prints and geometric figures, a shift from traditional motifs, were used for surface texturing.
What took him so long to dabble into this craft, we asked to which he explained, “Chikankari is a popular technique, but we wanted to show that it is capable of much more than its current roaster of mass produced kurtas.”
This 37-year old from Mubarakpur, Rajasthan attributes the development of his textile sensibilities to his days at NIFT, Delhi. He has always been interested in exploring and looking for solutions in design, but the Cluster Development Project became the tipping point. “It brought me face to face with the weavers in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh and there was no turning back,” Sanjay says.
Today, he works with 400 kaarigars from across India with a steady lineup of clientele, both in India and abroad.
But it is a challenge to run a viable business while staying true to sustainable practices. “The biggest is to not fall into the trap of trends and yet being able to maintain an organic growth,” Sanjay says.
While he insists that a Raw Mango sari is not high maintenance, Sanjay pointed out that his outlook is not just limited to fashion. “We, as a race, need to be responsible for everything around us.”