Keepers of the Elegant Embellishment

With the return of gota, dabka, mokash and zardozi, the recently concluded FDCI India Couture Week heralds a golden epoch for the world of wearable art. Smriti Mukerji finds out that Indian designers are nostalgically looking at what is local.


A model shows a ‘lehenga’ embellished with ‘mokaish’ and sequins


Couture may be all about made-to-order clothing and, in the case of India – bridal wear. Sooner than later, influences creep into ready-to-wear lines. The big trend of the just-concluded India Couture Week, the motif rendered in some form of gold inlay, deserves more than our passing interest.

Almost every designer worth his weight in gold (pun intended) embellished his ghagras, coats, gowns, with shimmering patterns in, not Swarovski, but traditional materials like gota, mokash, zardozi and zari patti-work. Besides conventional Indian silhouettes, which were heavily ornamented with paisleys, peacocks, ambis and what have you in the said material, the week also saw western ensembles being delicately embroidered with sprays of gold hand applied in traditional Indian materials.

Though zari has widely been in evidence in Indian and Pakistani garments, it originated in Persia. In the old days, a pure gold flattened strip was wrapped around a central yarn to create it. Today, polyester imitation zari and metallic zari, the cheaper options, are also used. Polyester zari is more popular than metallic zari because it absorbs moisture better and is more durable. Besides being used for kinari-work, zari is also used for mukaish and zardozi work.

Zardozi, also of Persian origin, is a beautiful technique that renders designs in three dimensional forms. Typically, pearls and coloured stones are used to highlight such embroidery. In India, Lucknow and six neighbouring districts are recognised for producing the best zardozi and the intricate work carries with it a certificate.

Zari, its variant mukaish, and zardozi have, for centuries, been a part of Indian bridal finery. And couture usually implies bridal clothing. How are the designs showcased at the recently concluded fashion week different?

We have witnessed gold detailing sweeping most, if not all, collections. At a time when digital prints and crystals had taken over, the Indian designers are showing nostalgic love of what’s local, especially with regard to the gold embellishment. This is why we got a welcome reprieve from tacky crystal bling replaced by the muted lustre of hand beaten gold work, zari and rich zardozi patterns contrasted by velvet and satin textures. The ramps got classier.

Now, trips to Delhi’s walled city and bridal boutiques around the country will attest to the fact that gold motifs in such materials are the main stay where Indian bridal clothes are concerned. How the ramps make it different is the way the trend is interpreted.

Subtle gold sparkle motifs ornament bright hues


This season, the motifs, inspired from patterns on Samarkand’s buildings, Mughal architecture in India, flower gardens and similar themes – are large, cover most of the surface of the garment, and at times are reminiscent of beautiful tapestries that tell a story.

In keeping with the seasonal preference for costume drama, we saw collections like Rohit Bal’s ‘Kehkashaan’, Manish Malhotra’s ‘The Persian Story’, Manav Gangwani’s ‘Begum-e-Jannat’, Rimple and Harpreet Narula’s ‘Hirayat’ and even Anita Dongre’s light-hearted ‘Epic Love’ collection – among many, many more, harness this trend. While Bal’s luxuriant dark velvet over-coats detailed his trademark peacocks and lotus motifs, Manish’s regal collection saw plenty of dark velvet surfaces ornamented with both details and architecture-inspired borders in rich gold threads which shone even brighter against his chosen palette.

Stories in architectural patterns rendered in gold-work along hemlines also distinguished some garments from Rimple and Harpreet Narula’s collection. Manav Gangwani’s ornate boleros, blouses and lehengas and capes displayed some exquisitely rendered floral motifs along borders and the body of the garment that were reminiscent of decadent Spanish costumes.

Traditionally, gota-patti work is used for borders in Indian costumes; but at Couture Week we saw zari, gota and mokaish also being used for more unconventional geometric patterns which lends itself to more than just strictly Indian-occasion wear.

How do you wear it in a global context?  How would you carry them off if you are ordering one of these pieces, either as a separate, or an ensemble?

While designers like to show these pieces in all their glory for a local audience more inclined for Indian occasion wear, internationally they can be paired with sober separates without looking over-the-top. For example, Manish Malhotra’s choli tops which are a part of his collection inspired from Persia are styled as smart crop tops with gold piping that can give a more feminine skirt for great effect. Conversely, Rohit Bal’s rich coats should be paired with straight pants and Manav’s shrugs and blouses also make beautiful evening wear. If getting made-to-order, the designers may oblige by creating some offbeat zari embellished separates with a touch less gaudiness.

The West may be familiar with zardozi but its time gota and zari were also reinterpreted to take their rightful place on the world stage.

Mukerji is a Delhi-based lifestyle critic and food journalist with a penchant for the good life. 

Photo courtesies: DNA

Featured image: Large motifs are the flavour of the season. Designer Anita Dongre strikes a pose with models at the India Couture Week.