Versatile, anti-fit, re-wearable statement pieces, created with natural fibres, are the hallmark of Kolkata brand, HAŃSHU. With vacation withdrawal at an all-time high, now you can at least feel like you’re on holiday, without a care in the world, when you slip into one of these luxurious silks every time you need to step out (or step in). My Kolkata caught up with Neelanjana Bhattacharya to discuss the appeal of minimalism and the ease of free-flowing silhouettes, whether one is travelling or staying in.
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Tell us a little bit about your journey with Hanshu? Why and when did you start the label? What was your primary inspiration?
HAŃSHU was born not out of design but by default. In the fall of 2016, I took over a hand-block-printing unit in Serampore, left behind by my mother-in-law, which was on the verge of closure. I quit my law practice and was happy to take over something that was never in my scheme of things. I quickly realised that it was anything but easy as any transition comes with its own share of hurdles but at the same time, my mother-in-law had left behind thousands of beautiful hand blocks which she had designed herself and I felt that the unit had immense potential. The karigars who worked for years for my mother-in-law were extremely talented and I learnt a great deal from them about the art of block prints, colours, and the whole process. They were my first teachers in this business. They showed me the beauty in colors, as prior to that, I never dabbled in colors and wore only black or white.
They also introduced me to the weavers of Sonamukhi, a small town in West Bengal, and there began my love affair with this beautiful handwoven silk which feels like butter on skin even on a hot summer day. We have now been regularly working with the weavers. I used the handwoven silk to make some simple, easy-to-wear silhouettes, using the beautiful hand blocks that we had, in bright colors. I showed those to other brands and labels to make them aware of how unique these hand blocks are, so that we might be able to help with hand-block-printing their garments. I also happened to show it to Richa Kanoi, owner of Bombaim, who liked the aesthetics of it and agreed to keep the line in her store and thus began the journey of HAŃSHU.
How would you describe the look of the label?
In my mind, I am constantly traveling. Sitting in Kolkata, my mind often drifts to beautiful places in the world where I have travelled or would like to travel. I feel that clothes have to have a connection with their surroundings. For instance, a silk kaftan is wonderful for a beach holiday to Amalfi, Santorini, Goa, etc. A silk sundress or overlay, casually worn over jeans, is perfect to wander around in the stylish surroundings of Paris, Jaipur and the likes, on a beautiful sunny day.
While travelling to beautiful destinations or when one is just flâneuse-ing around a beautiful town, one needs comfortable clothes to float around in but also look and feel luxurious. HAŃSHU is a luxury resort brand for stylish female flâneurs and for discerning travellers.
What are the silhouettes that define Hanshu?
I gravitate towards silhouettes that are effortless with a luxurious look and feel. I like to float around in relaxed silhouettes in stylish surroundings. Elegant clothes, that don't overpower one’s personality but compliment it, are more my style. So, as you can see from our Instagram page, the silhouettes are fuss-free, unstructured, easy-breezy with an insouciant charm.
What is your design philosophy and how has it evolved over time?
Designs that withstand the passage of time! Apart from that, easy, elegant styles. I think the brand is constantly evolving in terms of presenting new silhouettes and colours every time it hits the stores. I like geometric patterns, so we see how we can play with those in different ways.
Do you think “resort wear” could now be a part of our everyday dressing?
Of course! And I already see that happening. Stylish loungewear or streetwear is an important aspect of our everyday lives and resort wear easily fills in that need as well. A kaftan can be casual daywear to stroll in and out of the house in but it can just as easily transform into stylish evening-wear, with a bit of accessorising. It’s interesting to see how the wearer can make the most out of a single garment and give it a different look depending on what time of day it happens to be.
The pandemic has also ignited meaningful conversations around sustainable fashion. What is your personal take on sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is a complex subject matter, albeit an important one. The conversation around sustainable fashion has been around for a while but the pandemic made us sit back and view every aspect of life differently. It definitely made us more mindful of our lives and the impact we have on each other and the planet. The global fashion industry is extremely energy-consuming, polluting, and wasteful. Despite some modest progress, fashion hasn’t yet taken its environmental responsibilities seriously enough. I feel the bigger global brands have a greater responsibility towards sustainability as they have the resources for it. Even if in the immediate future it is not possible for brands (especially smaller brands) to be 100 per cent sustainable, the mere fact that brands are taking steps towards it, is itself a step in the right direction. If we look at history, changes for betterment didn’t happen overnight but over a period of time, through continuous advocacy. I do feel all these conversations around sustainability shouldn’t die or be taken lightly so that we (brands) remain mindful of the positive changes we can bring about as we evolve.