Block printing has been crucial in shaping design culture in the country, be it Rajasthan’s Dabru prints or the work of Serampore artisans in Bengal. The heritage craft is currently witnessing a renaissance in the new-wave fashion milieu as designers are redefining its traditional parameters.
Aparupa Ghosh, who runs the Kolkata label Syu Studio, uses signature motifs (kitschy cutting chai and ‘haatpakha’) in block prints that add a modern edge to her traditional weaves.
“When I started my label, I was looking for artisan units that are open to working with contemporary forms of block printing. It was important for me to work with craft clusters that are keen on experimental design,” Ghosh shares.
In the last year, block prints have also earned a place in A-list wardrobes. Be it Katrina Kaif’s bridal party (who all wore Punit Balana block prints at her ‘haldi’) or young Bollywood’s off-duty airport looks, this labour-intensive craft is experiencing a curious resurgence. Here are some of the most creative block print options you need to explore:
Kolkata designer Vedika M is best known for her whimsical prints. The designer uses block prints on bomber jackets, co-ord sets, dresses, jumpsuits and pre-stitched sarees. Each piece is hand-painted and block-printed at the label’s in-house textile unit and if you’re looking for breathy tone-on-tone prints or contemporary motifs, you’ll spot many options.
The designer also offers abstract prints and oversized florals, so if print-on-print is your thing, especially for resort wear, you’ll find plenty of great picks.
Early this year, Dongre introduced a line of conscious couture to spotlight homegrown, heirloom craft traditions. The collection was conceived as an ode to Bhuj where Ajrakh printing has been sustained by a single 10-generation family, The Khatris.
Ajrakh uses only natural dyes and involves an elaborate 16-step process of printing, dyeing, printing and drying. Dongre utilises hand-block printing in ornate dressing by melding it with dori, zardosi and sequins. “It’s been an absolute joy for us to create this special collection along with the artisans of Bhuj. Their craft and these pieces are truly timeless and I hope everyone who buys them enjoys wearing them equally, and pass them down as heirloom pieces just like our grandparents did,” Dongre shared.
The brand’s official website features some ready-to-ship kurta and culottes sets, printed sarees, sharara sets, ornate skirts and more.
Earlier this year Ghuri’s Debjani Ray Chaudhuri customised tiger motifs for Vidya Balan, which the actor wore during the promotion of her film Sherni. But Ray Chaudhuri is best known for evoking sweeping nostalgia with her Feluda, Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen and Charulata block prints on jamdani and chanderi.
“The Kolkata prints and Ray centenary poster sarees are best-sellers. Funnily, most of my buyers aren't from the city, they’re from across the country and also overseas. The block prints are really popular with millennial buyers, specifically the 25-35 age group. The block prints are my own and my set-up is totally sustainable. We steer away from toxic colours and everything is handmade. I work with my own artisan clusters. I try to design a narrative with my prints — you’ll notice they tell a story, which is a big draw for people who are looking for something different,” Ray Chaudhuri tells us.
Ayush Kejriwal X Label Varsha
Designer Ayush Kejriwal recently collaborated with Label Varsha to spotlight Southern India’s kalamkari tradition. The linen satin ethnic wear line features corded yarns in earthy, rusty tones and traditional Kalamkari block printed motifs that are first hand-drawn and painted, and then digitally converted for printing.
“It is organic, earthy and takes inspiration from the fine art of Kalamkari. Collaborating with Varsha gave me the opportunity to reach a wider audience and I was able to make my pieces more affordable," adds Ayush Kejriwal.
Handlooms are also gaining popularity in the homeware category, especially when it comes to home linens and tableware. To mark its 25th year, Anita Lal’s luxury lifestyle label Good Earth introduced an Orient X Occident line, titled Bosporus where the label upheld design traditions from Asia and Europe. The Bosporus Rosa ‘razai’ line was made with 35 intricately hand-carved wooden blocks.
The label used hand-drawn toile designed with classical Greco-Roman motifs. The Asian element was represented by graceful Persian cheetahs painted against lush green palms and red roses.
Good Earth also produced hand-block printed textiles, created for the Heirloom Project (in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum Of Art) by master craftsmen working from Jaipur and New Delhi.
After a 3-year stint at Kolkata’s Weaver’s Studio, Aparupa Ghosh launched Studio Syu in 2014. The designer works with several artisan clusters based in and around Kolkata and has found a way to seamlessly merge the heritage craft of block printing with modern design language.
“We design most of our own blocks, but we also use the classic lines and chevron blocks. We’ve really tried to bring in a contemporary format in block printing. For my new line, we are borrowing influences from Rajasthan’s Pichwai paintings, which are religious depictions themed around Krishna. The line features handwoven mulberry sarees and stoles featuring hand-blocked motifs of lotus, peacock trails and other popular Pichwai prints,” Ghosh tells us.
Neelanjana Bhattacharya’s Kolkata-based resort label HANSHU is introducing fresh dimensions with block printed holiday wear. The label’s hand-blocked silk shrugs or abstract mesh print hand-blocked dresses are edgy and boho chic. The label also has a focus on unusual colours and homegrown craft traditions — an Ikat silk trench, for instance, in flashy hot pink.
Last summer Anavila released a line of handwoven floral jamdanis inspired by the natural bounties of spring, such as peaches, rose apples, cardamom, Amalfi lemons and periwinkle. The collection featured vibrant hand block prints, sequins and motifs in Khatwa embroideries.
For her last winter line Heather, the designer steered away from muted pastels and introduced her first collection made entirely of wool and wool-silk where she produced a few block-printed, pleated hem petticoats.