A retrospective of 30 years of designer Madhu Jain’s work as a crafts revivalist.
Designer Madhu Jain is a master of fabric styling. Known in the fashion circuit as a craft revivalist and textile conservationist, Jain commemorated 30 glorious years of being in the fashion industry by showcasing 22 ensembles on the opening day of the Amazon India Fashion Week. She speaks to us about the good ol’ days in the industry, her love for indigenous fabrics and techniques including centuries-old Nakshi Kantha embroidery, Srikalahasti Kalamkari in handmade motifs with vegetable dyes and her all-time favourite Ikat, and future plans.
From launching her label in 1987 to being among the first to retail from India’s first fashion store, Ensemble, in the early 1990s, Madhu looks back on her journey and shares, “Three decades ago when I launched the Madhu Jain label, the fashion scene was enormously different from what we witness today. We were a small, tightly-knit fraternity with close friendships and relationships to fall back on. There were no concepts of solo shows back then. Rather, groups of designers came together to do a single show, and that one show per year was the biggest event on the fashion calendar. A handful participated in the first fashion week at New Delhi’s Taj Mahal hotel. Today, there are more than 100 designers taking part in fashion weeks. Working on one of those shows was fun and convivial. All of us were on our own learning curve. Tarun Tahiliani and Rohit Khosla need to be credited for kick-starting some major fashion movements in India. Today, like in every other professional field, the industry has become cut-throat and competitive and there is no room for mistakes.”
Her earliest memories of preparing for fashion weeks revolve around fellow designer friends sitting in groups, discussing ways to put their best collective foot forward. The camaraderie is etched in her happy memory. She recalls, “Ensemble, in erstwhile Bombay, was the forecaster of fashion trends and in Delhi, Ogaan and Signature had become the Meccas of fashion.”
Comeback to catwalk
Her collection for the AIFW show included Madhu Jain Classics. “I have delved deep into my personal treasure chest of prized weaves and embroideries that I have saved for such an occasion. My label is 30 years old this year, and to commemorate this, I included centuries old Nakshikantha, Dhaka muslin, and some Thailand and Uzbekistan-inspired Ikat. The selections I had made were my favourites. The show represented all that the Madhu Jain label stands for: innovation in sustainable loom-based textiles and hand-woven embroidery,” she says.
Textile’s poster girl
“I’m extremely nationalistic and proud of our heritage,” proudly shares Madhu whose grandfather was a freedom fighter. “My nanaji was a Khadi and swadeshi proponent. I guess I might’ve absorbed his philosophy unconsciously and reflect them in my collections.”
She works with raw materials, as a builder does with a building. Using natural fibers, she not only designs cloth but also melds, moulds and manages the work of several weavers creating fabrics. For the 7th World Bamboo Congress in 2003, she wove bamboo with silk, Khadi, and Chanderi. She also revived a handspun and handwoven Khadi sari that was woven by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1941. “For me, these textiles embody the very essence of India. We’ve produced excellent handlooms for over 2,000 years. As a craft revivalist and textile conservationist, my interest in helping this sector grow has intensified. As has the interest of my highly-skilled master weavers who were otherwise considering alternative livelihood modes. My deep and abiding passion for natural weaves has led me to experiment with devising new weaves in a bid to revitalise and contemporise the handloom sector. It’s important to keep up with the times by investing time in rigorous R&D, and a great deal of my creative energy goes into crafting blends of weaves to create new textiles. I want to leave a mark as an inventor of new weaves, not only for my personal satisfaction but also for the natural fibers sector,” she asserts.
Weaving the future
Creativity is essential – and so is the ability to communicate ideas, says Madhu. “I’d like to tell all upcoming designers a simple truth of life: don’t slavishly follow fashion trends. Instead, follow your heart. Be who you are.”