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After taking a leap of faith by undertaking a post-graduate course in Textile Design instead of following teenage dreams of journalism or psychiatry.. Chhaya Mehrotra turned out collections packed with modern classics. Loyalty to natural fibers and sagacity of color harmony is her signature though she loves experimenting with surface techniques. Of late she has been exploring her roots as a medium of expression. In conversation with the designer who hails from one of the oldest textile printing families of Banaras.

Have you always wanted to be a designer considering you hail from one of the oldest textile printing families of Banaras?

Though I remember thinking of taking up Psychiatry in my teens or Journalism after school none came close to my love for design. As a profession it was an extension of all things inherent to my being and the environment I was in. Design and fabric.. color and fashion discussions were generic to our life in Banaras due to most of my friends and family being in the business of textiles. The afternoons spent in my fathers printing factory.. the way every single sari had to pass his desk.. how he checked each one of them in a glance.. Dads discussions on the nuances of color and detail.. business ethics and decisions.. his unique way of design appreciation all formed an impression on me. He did not realize though that he was leading me into a world of dreams and was in fact surprised that I wanted to study at NIFT and make a career out of it! But I am fortunate and thankful that Dad let me experience the dream and my family supports me every bit in living that dream.

Tell us about the fashion and textile landscape in Banaras.

Banaras is the oldest living city and its textile heritage dates back to the fourteenth century that flourished even more in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. What I find fascinating is that it has never lost its place in the dialogue of fashion and textiles right from a mention in the Rig-Veda about a weave. The fashion and textile scene here has seen meteoric highs as well as downward spirals! The textile landscape here ranges from carpet making to handloom and powerloom weaving.. block, screen and digital printing.. hand, machine and computerized embroidery. So basically it is brimming with a mix of traditional and modern techniques that cater to varied segments across domestic and overseas markets. There are craftsmen and businesses that have worked and continue to work with the best of national and International labels. Such assignments and exposure lend the people of Banaras a perspective on fashion which reflects in their personal style but a lot remains to be learned and streamlined and put into business practice. As far as  fashion is concerned I would say even the Banarsi on the street has an intriguing fashion element about him. As for the rest.. the dressing has leaned towards traditional clothing earlier but its great to see young women keep up with trends and wear what they wish to wear.

Do you feel PG in Textile Design helped you widen your horizon?

I strongly feel design is a versatile attribute. The education at NIFT further strengthened this belief. It touched upon all aspects of the textile industry and design and left students to choose their area of interest and then hone their skills. It broadened my horizon! I do not feel creative limitations. In fact I have done furnishing collections for the Heimtextil.. designed apparel fabrics for Texworld Paris.. worked with Weavers Service Centre in Banaras.. a short stint at The Weavers Studio in Kolkata.. designed trousseau and ethnic menswear from my boutique in Banaras.. and launched a prêt label. And trust me I have loved every bit of it!! Every time I embark on a new creative assignment or begin designing a collection it feels like The Situation Test unique to The Textile Design Entrance examination at NIFT.

What were your areas of interest and how has it evolved since? 

I have worked with prints and embroideries.. traditional textiles and modern techniques. I love Tussars and Banarsi weaves as much as I love French lace and chiffons. The ten years that I spent between education and the upcoming runway debut at Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week would account for a lot of footwork for future collections. I am interested in design per se but I am not biased towards any craft or textile or even cotemporary methods. I grew up observing traditional printing and weaving techniques but I  appreciated the impact of technology on the traditional design process. I remember how I coaxed Dad into buying a design software which seemed a wasteful investment in 2003 but made Print Design much easier and is in use even now!! This understanding has ensured quality and detailing in each successive collection.

Would you describe your collections as modern classics that blend memories of Banaras and its traditions with modern design? 

As they have rightly said “You can take a Banarsi out of Banaras but you can never take the Banaras out of a Banarsi”. So it does manifest in my design. If you take a look at our collections so far there is nothing traditional or remotely Banarsi about it with the exception of a recent collection. I wanted to have something from my identity to come through my work so we printed fine Cashmere from Kashmir with heritage block prints from Banaras. But memories.. yes. Memories of how women in such places yearn to wear fashion that is wearable and stylish without being revealing. Memories that I share with my city as I grew up there.

You come from a rich cultural background. Do you feel the growth of design should be supported by govt. initiatives to attract artists to move into commercial production?

The govt and the artist and the designer (me included) live in an imaginary world while the businessmen (traders) have the cake and eat it too. The ground realities are quite different. Such initiatives sound great but it is a mirage because we ignore the real challenges. Most good artists have always worked in commercial production. The ones who do not quote obnoxious prices for common designs to visiting designers and buyers. There has to be a marriage between policy makers and the design and industry experts. It is high time design leaders are relied upon rather than being treated as spectators. Also I do not agree that traditional crafts and skills of Indian artists have to be commercialized in order to sustain.. at least not in all sectors!! Not every craft and weave,.. artist and business environment is the same. Strategic positioning of a craft such as a real Zari Banarsi Sari could be transformed into an object of desire for every bride-to-be. I admire few designers who have relied on this thought process and turned craft merchandise into lustworthy pieces of luxury fashion.

Where do you see your brand in the next five years?

I wish I had a looking glass mirror into the future! For now we are grateful and super excited to make our runway debut with the HI-5 show at the upcoming WIFW.

Chhaya Mehrotra
Printing Cashmere in Banaras
Chhaya Mehrotra
At the Work Desk
Chhaya Mehrotra
Chhaya Mehrotra
Sheer Luck: My Collection at WIFW SS13
Chhaya Mehrotra
My first collection for WIFW
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28-MARCH-2014 Minu Shukla
Fascinating read!!!!!Got to know so much more about you! All the very best for your first show and many,many more to come!!?
19-MARCH-2014 Chhaya Mehrotra
Thanks Anahita,Dhawal,Neelam.
15-MARCH-2014 Anahita Magan
Great going ! Wishing you all the best for the upcoming show.
15-MARCH-2014 neelam mishra
good collection Chhaya. it gives me immense pleasure to seeyo ur successful hardworking career growth. Always have a firm belief on yourself and GOD. U have miles to go .......... All the best for your future endeavours.
15-MARCH-2014 Dhawal Prakash
Awesome stuff..Got to know so much about you through this post. Way to go. All the best for your show.
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