In 1947, India won independence from Britain. Jawaharlal Nehru became the country’s first prime minister, and decided to welcome industrialization. Though national designers used up-to-date machines, they retained centuries-old techniques to celebrate the craft’s rich history.
For example, according to Amnéus, designers still use bandhani, a tie-dye technique that creates intricate patterns. In saris, or traditional draped and wrapped garments, some designers now integrate modern facets such as zippers, or create blouses to go along with them. “We see designers like Manish Arora,” Amnéus said, “who utilizes artisans in India to create his very heavily embellished garments, but they have a Western silhouette.” NGOs have also begun empowering Indian artisans (mostly women) by offering financial assistance and providing opportunities for global projects.
Contemporary designers such as Anita Dongre and Sabyasachi Mukherjee update customary silhouettes with new patterns, and vice versa. Specializing in statement jewelry and ornate, embroidered floral patterns (sometimes studded with uncut diamonds, rose quartz, jade, and other stones), Mukherjee has transformed traditional Indian textiles into a sleek global brand. Dongre makes lehengas (long skirts) and bandis (mens’ coats) in addition to culottes and more casual dresses. On their Instagram accounts, both designers capture models in palaces: Royalty and national history underlie their campaigns, through digital-savvy filters. Sumptuous and expressive, their strikingly modern garments honor age-old craftsmanship while bringing it into the 21st century.