Fabrics of India at V&A

Victoria and Albert Museum is currently having India Festival and that got me reminiscing about my own travels in India. I will write down some of my memories later on, but for now a few words about the beautiful fabrics exhibition.

The show space, that just half a year ago was overtaken by Alexander McQueen´ s masterpieces is currently filled with the best gems from extraordinarily rich history of handmade textiles from India. The exhibition observes the development of the textile design from the earliest known fabric fragments of naif applique designs to contemporary fashion and the growth of traditional textiles to modern day.
All of the 200 objects displayed are made by hand – from ancient ceremonial banners to modernized saris.

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The exhibition also sheds the light on how these handmade masterpieces were created, from the point of raising silk worms to gold weaving. Ancient natural dyes, such as chai plant roots for red color, tumeric for yellow and indigo for blue, originate from this country. Indigo even gave the name to this country!

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The beauty and complexity of Indian fabrics has spread around the world and inspired many Western designers, as well as made the local ones reinterpret their own traditions. I would say my own personal favorite is New Delhi-based fashion designer Manish Arora, who has been successful showcasing at Paris Fashion Week. His innovativeness of combining traditional handicraft elements with crazy fantasy, using bright colors is quite remarkable.

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Manish Arora butterfly dress. The image borrowed from the blog, where you can read more about Manish Arora´ s magical designs.

The display reviews the history of how European industrialization made it possible to produce similar cloth at lower cost, especially in British mills, threatening to wipe out Indian handmade fabrics production completely. This lead to consequences where Indian fabrics played an important role in Indian independence. By the early 20th century, Indian textiles became a major symbol of resistance to colonial rule and a political tool, with people spinning and weaving  their own yarn and fabric by hand, to produce a cloth known as Khadi. It is quite surprising to know that the wheel on Indian flag actually derives not  from the “Samsara” – the circle of life – but it is the spinning wheel that has been incorporated into the design of the flag.

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The history of Indian fabrics is extremely rich and is worth discovering!

The exhibition is open till 10th January 2016.

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