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Journey of the Parsi petal with Ashdeen Lilaowala

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Ashdeen’s floral bouquet takes its cue from Japan this season, as seen on Gara saris, blouses and kimonos.

There is a quality of depth to Ashdeen Lilaowala’s blooms that is only getting better with age. At 39, the textile designer has spent the last 15 years researching the legacy of the Parsi Gara, ancient techniques like the French knot and the Forbidden stitch, and key motifs with quirky names like Cheena Cheeni (Chinese man and woman) and Chakla Chakli (male and female sparrow). His travels have taken him to Surat, Iran and Hong Kong to trace the journey of this intangible heritage from China. And now the chrysanthemums on his saris and lehengas are 3D-like, with every petal shaded in two colours, while the birds, animals and butterflies are precise yet charged with movement.

While the Parsi Gara has become a trousseau essential, Lilaowala notes that young brides have also begun insisting on silk lehengas embroidered with birds and small fish for Goa and other destination weddings. You’ll find roosters and birds of paradise, though elephants and wild cats are a no-no. The bat, an old motif, is not welcome either, even if he could pass it off as a butterfly. As for colours, red and purple are the bestsellers, but pastels are back in a big way. As is ombre. One shade that continues to remain a challenge? Yellow. Lilaowala aims to settle this once and for all with another collection.

Ashdeen Lilaowala

Ashdeen Lilaowala

For now, the Delhi-based designer is taking his contemporary Japan-themed collection of saris, lehengas, tunics and stoles to other cities, a nod to Parsi merchants who settled in Kobe and Yokohoma in the 1890s. Launched in April, these garments are studded with pansies, tiger lilies and crown daisies, and another Lilaowala constant, the Japanese red-crowned crane. On Instagram, his model sports a sumo top knot and attempts dancer-like poses, her saris styled with obi belts and pearls. Wait for the spectacular black kimonos, he promises, ideal for an evening out with trousers or as a sari blouse. With each garment taking about eight weeks to complete (he has a workforce of over 150), these are all heirlooms in the making.

I know Parsi women who have inherited the ‘kor’ or narrow borders with flora, from their grandmothers, and put them on new saris. It adds a lovely ‘sustainable’ angle to the Ashdeen story, also furthered by his crane, a symbol of longevity. Lilaowala is partial to the heavy bird and the visual of it taking flight. “Like the Chinese, I put it on fabric as a reminder of a dream that one day, you too can fly,” he confides.

Saris from ₹70,000 onwards and blouses, ₹18,000 upwards. In Chennai at Amethyst, from September 13-23 and at the Ashdeen store in Delhi

Published on The Hindu