Genuine handwoven fabrics, antique Pichhwai paintings and handiwork of master weaver using long-forgotten techniques – Delhi Vintage Co. will make you feel like a trip down history in a fashion time machine.
The brainchild of Manish Chhabra, the brand is devoted to reviving ancient Indian heritage that came about to resurrect the dying pool of talent with the crash of the Indian handloom industry. “I have been working with Indian handloom and textiles for almost 23 years. I have been associated and friends with many weavers in Varanasi…so I have seen their rise in the 90s and the decline in the 2000s. The talented weavers went looking for work on the construction sites or as taxi drivers, “ he says.
Are you buying real handloom?
The era of fast fashion has not only taken a toll on the weaver but on the quality of your so-called handloom fabrics. “Nowadays, weavers also use machines, it is just a faster way of producing a woven product. So, when you pay say Rs 20,000 for a ‘handwoven’ piece, the real cost may not even be more than Rs 4,000. This is misleading because a customer cannot tell the difference between a genuine handwoven piece and a machine-made one,” says Chhabra.
So, in the Co. headquarters, the younger generation of weavers is being taught weaving skills that are not used anymore. For instance, the Jamdani weave from Bengal that reached Benaras to evolve into Awadh Jamdani – a weaving style so fine that it almost looks like a print.
And this is the inspiration for their next summer collection.
Time is of the essence when it comes to genuine handloom and that may also mean steep prices. “The concept is not to only cater to an audience who can afford a handloom sari. We have a parallel line of wearable saris with lesser handwork and subsequently lower price as compared to those with intricate handwork that can cost up to a few lakhs and take six months to complete,” he says.
League of ‘woke’ retro brides
“You may have seen brides in lehenga but you rarely see them in Benarasi saris anymore. We often advise them to wear their mother’s Benarasi sari because at the end of the day we feel that people keep collecting creations they don’t value. That’s what sustainable fashion is all about,” he says.
Even though it is hard to imagine such a scenario in the age of choreographed, designer weddings, there are some brides who are challenging the status quo.
The Delhi Vintage Co. bespoke couture line is deliberately made to look aged for an authentic vintage vibe. “We use a lot of techniques such as coffee or tea staining, inks etc to give the embroideries a vintage look. The zardozi, mukkaish work is done in our factory in Kolkata with a workforce that only uses traditional techniques while our base fabric is handwoven in Benaras. So, the amalgamation of both gives a dated look to this bridalwear”, he says.
The thought behind the aged bridal wear occurred to him almost two decades ago while attending a weaver cluster in Ramnagar. “There were some beautiful old creations, probably centuries old, hanging on the wall of the museum and I thought to myself – Somebody should be wearing it…instead of hanging it on the wall.”
And, the rest is history.