Ashdeen Lilaowala on his love for Parsi Gara


September 12, 2018

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Ashdeen Lilaowala dives into his fabulous family archives and has come up some “Vintage Tales”

Childhood memories never fade away. In fact, the talented tend to preserve these precious recollections by either penning a short story or creating an artistic impression. It also means a lot to those who live, work and dream fashion. This is what Ashdeen Lilaowala, a textile designer based in Delhi, has done in his newest collection, “Vintage Tales”. “In the late 19th and early 20th century, a fad swept across the Parsi community. Well-heeled Parsi women would pose for portraits and photographs in a variety of idyllic settings wearing their newly acquired, precious Gara saris,” says Ashdeen, whose new collection is available at his new store in Defence Colony

Article by Madhur Tankha | The Hindu

He fell in love with the traditional Gara saris as a child growing up in the close-knit Parsi community. And each year he reinterprets this in his own special way on multiple outfits. “For our latest collection, Vintage Tales, we dived into the fabulous archives of these portraits and photographs that can still be seen in Parsi-run institutions, fire temples, libraries, schools, and hospitals, and re-created Gara embroideries that have scarcely been attempted in over a century. The result is a rare collection of traditional Garas in blacks, violets and reds, on rich silks.”


On interpreting Parsi Gara

Since the inception of our label in 2012, we have been working with Parsi Gara. I was very clear that our saris would be a modern interpretation of embroidery heritage rather than slavish copies of vintage pieces. Over the years, we have done several collections with varied themes. In 2015, Our “Scent of the Orient” collection was inspired by the classic Chinese pottery. From the classic blue-and-white pottery to exotic shades of crimson and burgandy from the snuff bottles, each season, the idea is to explore the multi-faceted, rich heritage and culture of the Parsis.

This collection has many new elaborate jaals and saris, which we haven’t done in our previous collections. We have pushed ourselves to do very fine detailing and work. We have also done saris in which we have created a khakha or peking knot effect using an aari needle.

On how it is different from other embroideries

Parsi Gara embroidery has a distinct style and varies from other embroideries in the way the colours combine, the motif placement and the artistic rendering of birds and flowers. Garas are usually in dark, rich colours like black, purple, red and blue with embroidery in soft shades of cream, dove, blue and lavender. This distinct combination with the very detailed motifs of chrysanthemums, peonies, roses and lilies set Parsi Gara apart from other embroideries.

On his experience with Parsi garas right from seeing them in family heirlooms…

The Parsi community has always been fascinated by Gara saris and these are treasured family heirlooms. They are cherished and worn with great pride at weddings and navjote ceremonies. Growing up, I was charmed by these exquisite creations and would notice them carefully. I was always riveted by our family’s Gara sari. As a textile design student at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, I did my first paper on Gara saris tracing its history, the motifs and the colours. This sowed the seeds for future research and documentation with the UNESCO Parzor Project.

On the highlights of the collection

The collection focuses on dense embroideries featuring a variety of butterflies and mythical birds with fantastic plumage, as well as flowering trees, plants and vines. We have also revived rare geometric lattice patterned Garas, as well as the Kanda-Papeta (onion and potato) Gara, a favourite, featuring a dense border of butterflies and flowers and a field of embroidered polka dots.