I set off for New Delhi in June – the capital and political hub of India. Delhi as the first port of arrival was rare, it was mostly Bombay or Calcutta which reigned supreme for me running off the tarmac to see friends and family, putting pleasure before work. This time however the capital was beckoning. The sense of excitement, romanticism and urgency made me want to fly like no other time.
We had successfully completed our launch for Napeansea earlier this year and ready with ideas to bring in our next new collection. Whilst I was prepared for the heat and dust to greet me, India always evoked a sense of nostalgia and history like no other place and now more so heightened by Lutyens’ Delhi ( an area in New Delhi, India, named after the British architect Edwin Lutyens (1869–1944), who was responsible for much of the architectural design and building when India was part of the British Empire in the 1920s and 1930s) My book of choice, Nehru and Edwina my companions, for a nine hour flight seemed befitting to my destination.
After a quick shower and breakfast on arrival early in the morning, I was ready to brace the heat by mid-day (not really) – it was like being in a blast furnace and my body was ready to melt and be moulded. Ironically it was H.P. Singh at ‘ Nehru Place’ which gave me air-conditioned solace in four floors of fabric heaven. A trip to Nehru place for textiles is incomplete without visiting H.P. Singh. There are many more stores too in the area which have direct mill-access, whereby you can expect wholesale prices for handloom and cotton material. Yards of silk, linen, net, crepe and georgette are also in abundance in a variety of colours and prints. They generally have fixed prices, but you can ask for a discount when buying in bulk, making this one of the cheapest cloth markets in Delhi.
Well Looked After At The Factory
North Indian hospitality is legendary though not always belly friendly! Within a few days of arrival and kick starting sampling for our new range, sudden showers arrived and brought not only respite to the heat but samosas and endless cups of tea. In fact the tea-maker at the factory was given instructions on the onset of my arrival -‘”har ghante mae memsaab ko chai dena'”- this loosely translates as “bring the lady tea every hour on the hour!” This was a small part amongst the many breakfasts, elevenses, lunch and high tea I consumed while working. Nothing was ever too much for Gigi’s factory and her team in their endeavour to look after me.
Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh
My resident host in India made sure it was not all work and no play. I had the privilege of visiting his parents home in the city of Chandigarh. The drive from New Delhi to Chandigarh takes approximately three and a half hours by road which was our preferred mode of travel. Chandigarh, the dream city of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, was planned by the famous French architect Le Corbusier. Picturesquely located at the foothills of Shivaliks, it is known as one of the best experiments in urban planning and modern architecture in the twentieth century in India. Chandigarh became symbolic of the newly independent Indian. The foundation stone of the city was laid in 1952. The city is well known for its architecture and design by architects such as Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Jane Drew, and Maxwell Fry. The home that welcomed me for the weekend had the most beautiful manicured lawns , mango trees, and a garden full of exotic flowers and proudly tall palm trees.
Nothing prepares you for the skills and workmanship hidden in the depths of alleys, nooks and crannies of India. Hand block printing studios are amongst one of these. This method of hand printing and mixing colour to the correct shade, is now being recognised in the West and also amongst urban Indians as a skill to be treasured. They are all cognizant of the fact that block printing requires greater human effort and time, finesse and above all it leaves a personal mark of the artisan who prints it. Minor errors and tiny splashes of extra colour sets it apart from its screen printed version. As all artisans strive for excellency, it is in this human imperfection that we find a prized perfection.
My visit to the factory took and ended in six weeks. Hopefully I have been able to capture a tiny essence of India through our upcoming collection. The exotic fragrance of the Mogra ( aka Jasmine) flower in our cushions, the India night sky through our star print, the leafy boulevards through our chevron leaf print throws, Dabu print hand stitched ‘rajais’ ( Indian quilts made using a mud print reminiscent of the Indian monsoons) and lots of block printing to give the treasured printers their due.
Our journey continues and keeps us inspired.
Written by Reena