Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Ashdeen Lilaowala: I am Floored by the City’s Love for Saris

Taking the dazzling textile tradition of the culturally-rich Parsis to a wider audience, young designer Ashdeen Z Lilaowala dons several hats.

Article By Janani Sampath | The New Indian Express

An author and curator, Lilaowala, who is a graduate in Textile Design from National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, was in the city recently, to be part of the Crafts Council of India’s 50th year exhibition, alongside famous names like Pheroza Godrej, distinguished author, curator and philanthropist and Jasleen Dhamija, an expert in India’s handicraft and handloom industry.

Ashdeen-Z-Lilaowala

After a detailed research project on Parsi embroidery that he undertook for the Ministry of Textiles, Lilaowala also held training workshops in Ahmedabad, Navsari, Mumbai and Delhi. Under these workshops, more than 120 craftspersons were taught the Parsi and Gara embroidery. He is also the author of the book Threads of Continuity – The Zoroastrian Craft of Kusti Weaving, which was launched at the World Zoroastrian Congress 2013.

Earning the coveted title of the ‘Hottest design talent of 2013’, Lilaowala also launched the label Ashdeen a couple of years ago. With his exquisite designs of the age-old Parsi Gara embroidery, offering a spin on the ancient technique, he has taken to the craft to creative heights. In the recent exhibition in the city, Lilaowala displayed a range of saris, cocktail dresses and gowns with handcrafted embroidery. City Express caught up with the Delhi-based designer to talk about his efforts to take the art that is pictorial, colourful, to a larger audience, contemporising designs and how Chennai’s undying romance with the sari has floored him.

Gara Tales

Apart from the traditional Parsi saris, there is a range of Western wear that have inspired by the same technique used in saris. The idea is to contemporise the rich designs that have been passed down generations for many years now. However, the traditional saris are also a part of the collection. It is to show how versatile the old technique of embroidery  that comprises designs of birds and flowers can be.

Chennai Chronicles

This is actually my second trip to Chennai in just a few months. The first was again for the CCI’s exhibition in September this year. Both the trips have been extremely enriching and rewarding for me as a designer.  I have been very fortunate to have such a rousing welcome in this city. It is so wonderful to see that the sari is still a prized possession for many Chennaiites and they just can’t seem to get enough of it.

For the Non-Parsis

While the embroidery work is an integral part of the Parsi culture and it is most worn by the women in the community, I propose to take the designs to a wider audience. Chennai, therefore, has been an ideal place for me to showcase the designs. That is why the Parsi community being a small one in the city doesn’t bother me. True to that, most of them who have chosen to adorn the designs are non-Parsi women.  The best part is the women here know their saris well. They don’t look for anything blingy and they have a great sense of colour and proportion. Their informed outlook towards the fabric and the craft makes the whole sojourn all the more exciting.

Precious Pashmina

I am a great admirer of the Pashmina shawl that is woven by Kashmiri craftsmen. The intricate designs and their motifs are fine examples of aesthetic designing.

Waiting to Return

This whole collection was a mix of materials that suit the climate here. So, the taste and preferences of the people here have been at the centre while planning it. Working with the CCI that is based here has been a great pleasure. They have been extremely helpful in promoting the craft and are a dedicated group.  I look forward to returning with my designs.