Appreciating Parsi couture with Ashdeen Lilaowala

Arushi Sakhuja 
Ashdeen Lilaowala is one of the few designers in India who brought to the country a glimpse of Parsi couture. Famed for his Parsi gara creations that blend age-old Parsi embroidery techniques with his design sensibilities, Ashdeen’s work reflects not only exemplary technique but the craftsmanship and intricate details are a piece of art. Today, he is sought after for his embroidered creations that give a modern twist to the Gara.
Ashdeen Lilaowala
Photo Courtesy: Ashdeen Lilaowala
Launching its eponymous label in October 2012, the label today is well known for its hand-embroidered saris and Persian hand embroidery techniques. The designer built an enviable fan following with his flagship store in the capital city of New Delhi, but this year, he launched a new store in Colaba, Mumbai. The new Ashdeen store boasts the brand’s signature aesthetic and the label’s value of the revival of traditions. From bridal lehengas to western separates and accessories, saris with motifs and colour palettes tailored to modern tastes and the use of lighter, more wearable fabric; the store houses it all.
LuxeBook caught up with the veteran for a deeper understanding of Parsi couture and its future in India.
Ashdeen Lilaowala Mumbai Store
Photo Courtesy: Ashdeen Lilaowala
You are a veteran when it comes to Parsi design, tell us a little about the unique techniques that define Parsi couture.The Parsi Gara craft is an amalgamation of various textile traditions including Chinese, Persian, European and Indian. The unique craft has evolved to keep pace with the dynamic Parsi community as well as its non-Parsi patrons. Parsi Gara embroidery uses satin, crewel or aari and stem stitches as the main base stitches in addition to specialised ones such as the meticulous French knot or khakha and the jaal technique inspired by tatting lace.
How has the Indian market responded to Parsi couture, and is it a growing market annually?There’s definitely a renewed interest in and a resurgence of the Parsi gara craft in recent years as many young entrepreneurs and designers are making Parsi Garas, by hand or using machines. I feel fortunate to play a small part in this historic moment and I hope the legacy of this beautiful textile continues.
Ashdeen Lilaowala Mumbai Store
Photo Courtesy: Ashdeen Lilaowala
Are brides and grooms more accepting of Parsi couture as their preferred wedding choice?Our bridal lehengas do very well as young brides are keen to wear gara-embroidered lehengas for their big day .Young brides are also keen on the craft as a part of their trousseau. Including a dedicated bridal lounge space is an indication of how important this category is to us. We also take orders for custom menswear pieces for grooms to match the bride’s lehengas.
You are known for exceptional handcrafted Parsi Gara, tell us a little about it.Depending on the nature of the work, a Parsi gara can take anywhere from three weeks to two months to execute with six to eight artisans working on one gara together. This meticulous, highly-skilled handwork is what sets the Parsi gara apart, and makes it precious. India is blessed with world-class embroidery masters who have not only imbibed this global art form but infused it with their own creativity, finesse and skill.
What makes Ashdeen designs so unique, and what made you foray into the world of Gara craft?The gara has enamoured me since my childhood. My mother who always had a keen interest in textiles was my biggest influence. I honed my interest as a textile design student at NID. After graduating, I worked with the UNESCO Parzor foundation travelling across India, and the world documenting the gara and that, really, is where it all began. The Ashdeen brand endeavours to strike the perfect balance between keeping the core essence of the embroidery tradition alive while innovating in applications.
Ashdeen Lilaowala Mumbai Store
Photo Courtesy: Ashdeen Lilaowala
After opening a store in Delhi what pushed you to open one in Mumbai?I was born in Mumbai and spent my impressionable years in the city, before heading to NID, Ahmedabad to study textile design, before setting my brand in Delhi. My parents still live in Mumbai and it’s home before it’s anything else. A flagship store in Mumbai was always on the cards as the Parsi Gara also has a history in the city. Opening this store in an iconic location in Colaba, Mumbai is a kind of homecoming for me.What does the future of the brand hold, can we expect more stores? Will there be a focus on bridal or do you plan to come up with a prĂ©t line?I never say never, so maybe there will be more stores and I’ll come up with a PrĂ©t line also. We’ve done some interesting collaborations including those with Benarasi textile brand Ekaya, boutique Kanjivaram brand Kanakavalli, and luxury jewellery brand Zoya. I look forward to more creative collaborations in future. Bridal will continue to be an important focus category for us in the coming year as well.
Ashdeen Lilaowala Mumbai Store
Photo Courtesy: Ashdeen Lilaowala
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