From Alexander McQueen to Valentino, European luxury houses are enamoured by India’s rich and diverse legacy of unique artisanship; be it block printing, weaving or embellishment. Many of their finest pieces are created at local export ateliers and yet most of them are hesitant to speak about it. Good craftsmanship is at the very heart of luxury fashion, and yet with few countries being able to align themselves with India’s level of saviour-faire and pricing, we find that India’s role in the industry is too often underplayed.
The artisans (kaarigars) who create these beautiful pieces are at the heart of the trade. 60 million people are employed by the apparel and textile industry (it is the country’s second biggest employer) and the COVID-19 epidemic has upturned the lives of many of these highly skilled artisans. Between the current migrant exodus and the forced closure of factories due to coronavirus, the future of this precious sector is at risk.
Fashion as an industry is usually happy to address social, cultural and political issues and yet, in this specific case, the Indian kaarigar's voice needs to be heard. So the teaming up of internationally renowned designer Peter Dundas with quaran-T, an initiative set up by Swedish brand incubator Bozzil and renowned Mumbai embroidery house Saks India, to launch a charitable T-shirt label that will feature artwork of designers, celebrities and fashion students in support the kaarigars, is welcome news. This project goes live this week.
The designer who has previously been at the creative helm of Roberto Cavalli and Pucci is known for his unique marriage of high octane red carpet glamour and a carefree bohemian aesthetic (with a vibrant side serving of rock), is the first designer to work with the newly formed quaran-T. And be assured that you will find your fill of drama so unique to the Dundas World: one of the designs has an animal print background—in the colour that former Vogue editor, Diane Vreeland, famously called “the navy blue of India”, pink.
Dundas made his last trip to India nearly three years ago, when he was setting up his label, Dundas World, with his business and life partner Evangelo Bousis. “I made my first trip to India in 2000 before just starting as chief designer for Christian Lacroix. The trip was immensely inspiring and I then started using more embroidery in my work. I haven’t looked back since.” Throughout this crisis Dundas has made it a point to remain in close contact with all his suppliers all over the world. “We really are all in this global crisis situation together,” he says.
The Oslo-born creative talent says that he is unable to comment as to why European houses are so reticent about speaking about their ties with India. Dundas believes that India’s role will always be key to European luxury fashion. “Having worked extensively with European embroidery houses I find it difficult to imagine that they could ever replace the wonderful and unique artisanship that Indian craftsmen offer.” He points to the first piece that his eponymous label made, worn by Beyoncé to the Grammys in 2017: a beaded gold gown. It took 50 embroiders in India to work on this dazzling creation. Hand embroidered with cherubs, her lyrics and even her own image, New York Times celebrated the Grammy winner describing her as a “gold-encrusted goddess out of an Erté fantasy.” Dundas World has become a celebrity favourite since, with Natasha Poonawalla making them her label of choice for the Met Gala last year.
Throughout Dundas’s journey, Mumbai-based Saks India has played an important role. Renowned for their fine artisanship, the designer says, “I love their taste, refinement and professionalism.” quaran-T’s will exclusively be sold through a system of lottery tickets, which can be purchased by donating a specified amount through a dedicated campaign link. 100 per cent of the proceeds generated will be donated directly to kaarigars in need in areas such as Madanpura and Nagpada in Mumbai. Says Dundas, “These kaarigars will, in turn, share the funds with their teams and those working under them. In the spirit of transparency and honesty, the entrusted kaarigars that quaran-T has partnered with for this, will sign an official document declaring the number of people who will benefit from the funds as well as what purpose the funds would be used for, depending on individual needs of each factory.” Perhaps this will now encourage other European designers to continue this conversation—and bring awareness to the talent of our kaarigars.
The designs are available to view on quaran-T.in, where you can also buy your individual lottery ticket. You can also access the designs on Instagram, on @quarantee.in.Also read:
How the Italian luxury fashion industry is responding to the coronavirus pandemic
Indian designers on the challenges of keeping brands afloat amidst the coronavirus pandemic