For someone who embraced ikat when Indian fashion was yet to find its feet, Madhu Jain has always been looking ahead of her times – first in 1980s when only a handful of designers would rummage for raw materials in the labyrinthine bylanes of the Walled City to now when designers have no compunction of procuring imported fabrics, accessories to economise cost of their outfits.
As a precocious child, Madhu was quick to appreciate the aesthetic eyes of her father, who liked dressing up in his best bib and tucker and lived in regal style in posh Aurangzeb Road. Madhu meticulously studied everything – be it décor, lifestyle, cuisine and heritage. Years later, that would reflect on her sartorial choices.
She loves figurative work of Thai ikat and that translates into her food as well. As we meet at Zing, the Asian restaurant of The Metropolitan Hotel and Spa, she observes the large vegetarian spread aesthetically. After settling down, the food connoisseur in her comes alive as she inquires about erstwhile Siam’s Pamelo salad and raw papaya.
Madhu’s dietary influence has come from Rajeshwari Devi, her mother, who hailed from a traditional Jain family of Kucha Bulaki Begum in Old Delhi. “At home, mother would cook onion and garlic-free food which was so sumptuous. At school in Delhi, I would take tiffin in which she packed me lip smacking chana and puri.” Surprisingly, she was enlisted as a non vegetarian at Welham Girls School in Dehradun. “But, right from day one, I was adamant to stick to my vegetarian palate.”
B.D. Meattle, her father, was fond of fashionable clothes. And would gift floral French chiffon saris to her mother. “She wore it with pearls. His aesthetics could be seen in Belgian chandeliers, Persian carpets at our home.” The Walled City continues to be her favourite haunt for street food. “Jo khatir nawazi wahan hoti hai, kahin nahi hoti. At my nani’s house in Old Delhi, khumchewalas would send banana leaves filled with kulfi, kulle, a fast disappearing edible, from which sweet potatoes and other veggies would be scooped out.”
Foraying into fashion
Having taken the bold decision of working on the ancient weaving technique of ikat even though she was a student of Economics, Madhu was not perturbed by the fact that Indians then had virtually no exposure to couture.
“I was lucky to be around the same time as Rohit Khosla.” Those days camaraderie existed between designers. “Today, it is rare to find two designers on the same page,” she says, while sipping her hot and sour soup.
She has remained loyal to the indigenous handmade crafts and textiles. “Foreign buyers have a lot of respect for our handmade clothes but the problem is that only a few designers are presenting Indian art and craft in their totality abroad. Like when I took Kashmiri handicrafts to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Americans were in awe of it. There needs to be responsible fashion and the idea of giving back to society should be pursued. That is what I believe in and follow.”
She is worried that blatant commercialisation by designers these days is making a dent in India’s image overseas. She laments that the finesse with which she did her crafts no longer exists now. “Now it has become too commercialised,” she gripes, while sipping her soup.
Like she zeroed in on Kalamkari, which gave her a chance to express her creativity, one asks. “It also created multiple jobs. How many designers have worked on it? We used it for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. That is when it took off,” she says.
The conversation shifts to how imported fabrics have penetrated across the nation and are threatening to ruin livelihood of artisans. “Tamil Nadu is famous for its kanjeeverams which is staple for weavers there. However, there is influx of kanjeeverams from China at one third the price. It has become a huge issue. What is going to happen to weavers of the State?”
While polishing off Pamelo salad, Madhu feels the solution lies in designers following the path of ethical fashion. “Indian fashion designers need to work on this. They should not alter the geographical craft index. There need to be ethics in fashion. There has to be credibility on what we showcase on the ramp. If designers are trying to work with traditional crafts, then economics is a consideration but that doesn’t mean that theyforget about backward linkages.”
She further says that designers need to understand how much damage powerlooms are doing to handlooms. .
“Everybody is falling in line due to the push given by the powers that be. Our history informs us that crafts have always been protected by rulers. All it needs now is right positioning. The government has to step in to protect our identity,” suggests Madhu, a strong proponent of the government’s ‘Made In India’ scheme.
In 2018, Madhu forecasts that alternative fabrics, anti-fit silhouettes would be worn by fashionistas. “We will have more eco-friendly textiles and practical silhouettes based on comfort. This is where the Ministry has to play a bigger role and I am glad that Smriti Irani is open to new ideas.”
As far as story of sustainability goes, Madhu is a cut above the rest of her fraternity. And this could be seen from the special award conferred on her by the FICCI.
Explaining how she seeks to take the sustainability story forward, Madhu asserts that she is the first designer in the world to come up with bamboo silk ikat. “Not even in the North East there is any designer who has converted bamboo, which is found in abundance into textiles. This is my gift to our industry.”
Sipping fresh orange juice, Madhu opens up about the secret of hard bamboo from which furniture and upholstery is made in the North East.
“It doesn’t require much water. It doesn’t take away earth’s resources. This is textile for the future and is completely organic. One does not require fertilizers for its growth.”Read more at:formal dresses online | formal dresses sydney