Beyond The Surface

13 december 2013 / fashion / words adele chong

Innovative wearables by Indian-born textile designer Swati Kalsi draw contemporary style from traditional craftsmanship.

Being a textile designer, one would think that the term “interface”—these days associated with tech culture—might seem a tad out of place in Swati Kalsi’s professional lexicon. Instead, the word pops up quite frequently in conversation with the New Delhi-born creative, particularly when she is explaining the conceptual core of her emerging practice, which marries ancient processes with future-forward thinking. “My efforts are largely focused on marrying the unmatched skills of the traditional artisans with an aesthetic spirit,” says Kalsi.   

Bent on overturning the conventions of local craftsmanship in favor a revived sense of relevance to traditional practices, Kalsi, a graduate of the Delhi’s respected National Institute of Fashion Technology, is rightfully on her way to joining the ranks of India’s leading designers. With a decade’s worth of experience in handcrafted textiles, Kalsi is increasingly known for her innovative juxtapositions of color and patterns, as well as her fervor in championing the livelihoods of Indian artisans through socially motivated endeavours such as Jiyo!, a World Bank project which paired Kalsi with skilled women embroiderers from Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Recently conceived collections such as Anhad and Minor reflect those virtues; one-of-a-kind wearables enlist the unique, hand-wrought effects of traditional embroidery technique called Sujani as a means of showcasing edgy sophisticated forms. The vibe—part geisha and part robed mystic—owes much to the voluminous shapes as well as the sensual, characteristically stitched narratives that ripple through the fabric.

“Anhad was inspired by naturally occurring fractals in nature like rivers, blood vessels, DNA and clouds,” says Kalsi. “In this range, the embroideries are organic and seamless, and the silhouettes ample, to provide a bigger canvas for extensive play of the technique. Minor was an ode to the minor factors that become points of divergence, [reflecting] unpredictable shifts in a piece of work.”

A culmination of art, design and craft, the multi-dimensional nature of Kalsi’s works gives rise to a sense of timelessness – the telltale sign of a future fashion heavyweight whose creative calling seems perfectly aligned with a more consequential purpose.

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