Purvi Doshi X Rosanna Falconer
The sounds of the tambura and beep of car horn; the smells of cinnamon, cardamom and cloves that seem to hit the moment you step off the plane; the sweetness of masala chai and fresh mango with lime… And oh, the colours! From cross-country delivery trucks festooned in floral wreaths to shepherds tending their goats wearing tightly-wrapped turbans saturated in colour against the desert landscape. India invigorates and inspires me in equal measure, and no region more so than its ‘Land of Kings’, Rajasthan.
My husband and I visited on our honeymoon six months ago. Intoxicated by the colours, history and most of all the people and friends that we made, we swore to ourselves that we would return as soon as possible. On a bleak January day filled with honeymoon blues, the beautifully illustrated ‘Save The Date’ from our friend Devisha for her brother’s birthday party provided just the reason we needed: it promised a weekend in the ancient fort and dunes of Khimsar with 48 hours of music and the theme, ‘Rajasthan Burn’.
What to wear for such a theme? How to bring together the fantastical, other-worldly Burning Man festival fashion with the exquisite colour and craftsmanship for which Rajasthan is renowned? Happily, through my work with Eco-Age, I was introduced to the brand and team of Purvi Doshi. India is a country famed for its art and textile industry, skills that are passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, they are talents that are at risk of being forgotten due to a lack of demand, a loss that Doshi seeks to preserve through her brand. As the designer puts it: “The label was born out of the urge to give back to the earth… We are using the planet, consuming its resources, while hurting the future of our people and our planet, and this is simply unsustainable and cruel. We should know better as a species.” The brand's credentials are impressive, from their fabric choices (Khadi, Ahimsa silk and organics) to the care they provide for their craftsmen, “the hands that wield the magic” as Purvi poetically puts it.
First, I started a moodboard. Colour is so evocative of Rajasthan for me and two shades particularly stood out. One is the hot pink of SUJÁN Rajmahal Palace’s interiors, shepherd’s turbans and women’s saris - it even has its own name: Rani pink (a rani is a Hindu queen). The second is blue, inspired by the blue buildings of Jodphur’s famed old city, Bar Palladio floral frescoes and of course, the peacock, the national bird. The two together were a perfect combination. Flowing skirts, eye-catching mirror-work and festive accessories were also on the board.
The first video call with Purvi and her wonderful team was a delight. It was a joy to share my enthusiasm for India and discuss sustainability in the fashion industry. The team understood the brief perfectly and were able to translate my vision into gorgeous hand-drawn sketches within days . We began with a dress but quickly realised a play on the traditional lehenga and choli style (a full maxi skirt and cropped blouse) would be the best route for a night of dancing. I shared my measurements and then the team got to work…
A crucial step was achieving the colours' vividness. Purvi and I went back and forth with swatches over WhatsApp, perfectionists that we are! This can be challenging for natural dyes, so Doshi has been working for some time on alternatives. They have started to use azo-free dyes which are non-carcinogenic and do not harm the skin. Furthermore, they retain colour better than their natural counterparts without variation.
Handspun, handwoven, cruelty-free fabric is at the core of Purvi Doshi's designs. The cotton used for this outfit was hand-woven by weavers in remote villages of Gujarat, India. Purvi says: “These weavers are far away from the chaos of the city and have been weaving for generations. The art has been passed down from generation to generation."
Be prepared for the first impressive stat: the skirt uses a total of 15 metres of fabric! “The skirt is made with a very light weight cotton - even if you were to use 50 meters of this cotton in one skirt, it would still be extremely light. That’s the beauty of using the finest counts of cotton. In addition to the 15 meters of the cloth which created the skirt's beautiful flare, the wired hemline made it more voluminous and graceful."
Intricate hand-embroidery is one of the brand's signature techniques. “Every garment is priceless and has the warmth of human hands with its delightful imperfections. It was the core ideology of the brand to generate employment for at least 3-4 artisans through one garment. Hence we work with the tribal artisans of Kutch region in Gujarat, India who specialise in handicrafts and various textile art.” The mirror-work on the garment is known as abhla. It originates from the Kutch region of Gujarat, India, and Purvi says: "We work with more than 300 women artisans to transform this traditional art into contemporary fashion." It is a fine craft: one by one, each mirror is placed on the fabric and attached with a hand stitch. The skirt's waistband features just over 800 mirrors, which took 15 to 20 days to craft and the blouse is adorned with 425 smaller mirrors.
The skirt tells a story all of its own. There’s a little dancing man, a tiny metallic shoe and even a fan. This was all Purvi’s idea: “India is a colourful country and the festivals in our country are filled with so many elements that all have their own significance. The trinkets are inspired by the traditional festivities of Rajasthan and were incorporated to bring vibrancy and quirkiness to the outfit. The little dolls, dressed in traditional attire with beautifully hand sewn and handmade shoes, fans, baskets were added to tie in with the theme of the night.”
On arrival at Samode Palace, the first stop of our trip, a box awaited me with the bespoke design ready to try on. It was even better than I had imagined: colours brighter, details more intricate and wow - the twirl of the skirt! A few days later, the party began at sunset on the ramparts of Khimsar Fort. We then rode camels into the sand dunes, arriving at an event of awe-inspiring proportions: light shows, trapeze artists and DJs from the four corners of the globe. We danced until dawn, only leaving the beats of the DJ to climb to the highest dune to watch the sun rise. How special to have marked this unforgettable night in an outfit with a story all of its own. A veritable ode to the colours and craft of India.
My love of India goes so much deeper than its sights and sounds. It is the people, their charm, their talent and their effusive, friendly hospitality. It was a privilege to experience this first-hand in the design of this very special piece, especially given the brand’s emphasis on the greater good of their country and preserving its world-renowned craft for generations to come.