I was raised in a predominantly Parsi community, where my immediate neighbors and nearly everyone in our building belonged to this vibrant and culturally rich group. This background afforded us the unique privilege of frequently attending various Parsi celebrations, including the awe-inspiring navjot ceremonies and weddings. Even as a young child, I vividly recall being utterly captivated by the resplendent Parsi women adorned in the traditional Parsi Gara. The Parsi Gara, a testament to ethereal elegance, class, and vintage embroidery, is not merely a textile but a narrative woven through time. Its story unfolds from the British colonial era, when Parsi merchants ventured to distant lands like China, trading opium, acquiring tea and spices, and then selling these coveted treasures to the British, who would in turn export them to Europe.
In the world of contemporary Parsi textiles, one name that instantly ignites enthusiasm is Ashdeen Lilaowala. Ashdeen has played a pivotal role in preserving and rejuvenating the legacy of the Parsi Gara. His journey and fascination with the Gara were serendipitous. While studying at the prestigious National Institute of Design (NID), he embarked on a project delving into Parsi textiles, initially focusing on the sacred Parsi Kusti, a sacred thread worn by Parsis. This exploration naturally led him to unravel the mysteries of the Parsi Gara. Ashdeen's quest took him across India, China, and Iran, tracing the historical footprints and trade routes that infused the traditional Gara with an oriental touch.
Mala Sinha |
Ashdeen elaborates on the Gara's genesis, explaining, "Traders who visited China were restricted from entering Mainland China and resided on its periphery. There, they encountered people from various parts of Europe purchasing ceramics, textiles, and other commodities. Textiles, adorned with intricate embroidery depicting flora and fauna, caught their discerning eyes. It was during this time that a trader expressed a desire to have similar motifs on a sari. Hence, Parsi Gara saris evolved into a fusion of Chinese, Indian, Persian, and European influences. Over time, women began to infuse their personal creativity into the designs, nurturing the craft. Companies in Hong Kong began producing and distributing these exquisite garments in India."
However, as is often the case in the realms of fashion and history, the popularity of the Gara waned, influenced by the Khadi movement and political unrest in China. Fast forward to the 1980s and 1990s, and the Gara underwent a renaissance within the Parsi community. A young Ashdeen was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the Gara, which his mother and aunts adorned.
Aditi Ranjan |
Recalling his initial foray into designing Garas, Ashdeen remarks, "It all began in 2005, after I completed my studies at NID and immersed myself in the world of embroidery. Someone approached me with a request to craft a Gara, igniting the spark of my journey. In 2013, we made our debut at Lakme Fashion Week, which significantly boosted our brand's recognition."
Ashdeen's signature touch lies in his experimental designs, motifs, and materials. He mentions, "One of my earliest creations, the 'Crane and Lake' sari, reflects my deep admiration for cranes, particularly their exquisite flight. I portrayed a tranquil lake with aquatic plants below and cranes gracefully soaring above. In this design, I eliminated the need for a conventional border or pallu, which is customary in a Gara, focusing solely on the mesmerizing bird."
Delna Mistry |
When asked about the traditional silver and gold borders, Ashdeen proudly notes his innovation, where he introduced silver and gold embroidery throughout his designs. He pushed the boundaries by exploring materials like net, organza, and sheer fabrics, a deviation from the conventional Gajji silk.
Discussing his future aspirations, Ashdeen exudes excitement, stating, "For Ashdeen, we have amassed a vast archive of Gara saris, accessories, coins, brooches, and borders over the years. I've invested a significant portion of my earnings in this endeavor, and I aim to curate a comprehensive showcase. This exhibition will narrate a compelling story, shedding light on our journey and the enduring evolution of the Gara. It's a tale that continues to unfold, and we are eager to share it with the world."
When asked about his future plans, Ashdeen cryptically concludes, "There's much more to come.” So stay tuned for what lies ahead.