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The Allure Of Chikankari

Anjul Bhandari on her unapologetic love for Chikankari, also known as Indian lace and how to preserve it in future. By Arushi Sakhuja 

Like many celebrated crafts in India, chikankari is an art with an understated charm. Delicate, hand-stitched embroidery, the craft extends back to the era of the Mughals when chikankari graced fine muslin cloth. However, with the advancement in technology and the mechanisation of crafts, the original art is dying down. We spoke to the maestro of chikankari,  Anjul Bhandari to know her thoughts. 

Craft and Community

Originating in Lucknow, today, the craft is widespread and celebrated amongst designers. A noteworthy designer who is at the helm of reviving the craft in the right way while empowering the women of Lucknow is Anjul Bhandari. 

Discovering her love for chikankari was simply a coincidence she stumbled upon when she married into a family based in the city. "Because I belong to Lucknow, chikankari is a homecoming for me," said Bhandari. Launched in 2012, the eponymous label has become synonymous with its Mughal craftsmanship and champions Chikankari in its purest, most undiluted form. Known as Indian lace the master of chikankari, Anjul Bhandari has an undying love for the technique and the community of women in Lucknow who bring the creations to life.

The Colour Palette 

Often spotted in her collections are soft pastel hues, "We are a traditional brand that specialises in a traditional craft, and if you go back in time to the archival books, you will notice that the age-old craft was originally worn by Nawabs on muslin which is a white cloth – the thinner the cloth the more beautiful the craft comes out." She further told us that, chikankari is called the 'Indian lace' for a reason, "This craft is the most see-through, and that is what makes it more beautiful. Hence the colour palette is pastel – The more pastel the colour palette the more graceful."Presenting her latest collection, 'Chand Mati', Bhandari picked the serene location of Raffles Udaipur to match the allure and understated elegance of her creations. Featuring gold chikankari threadwork, the venue perfectly set the stage adding immense glamour and flamboyance. Tracing patterns on soft material, chikankari often makes for an elegant ensemble that is timeless and sophisticated.  For the first time, Anjul has done a collection in gold using not white, but gold thread. "The collection is further embellished with a unique size and piece of sequins and, pearls that look like dewy drops, hence the name of the collection."

Evolution of Chikankari

The art today is widespread, however, it has caught on with the modern trends and technology. Thus, she throws light on the fact that chikankari does not need to be revived – it is present in almost every Lucknow household -  instead, she says, one needs to focus on its quality. "Working on the craft for the last 10-12 years, I have managed to put forth the technique that focuses on quality. I want to take chikankari to utmost beauty and the pinnacle of how it used to be done during the time of the Nawabs." She defines the craft as subtle, beautiful, glamorous and a revival of the number of stitches coming back to its full form. Sharing a little more on the craft, she says that what truly sets good quality standards is the weight of the craft which depends on the number of threads, stitches and jaal. Initially, chikankari had thirty-two stitches but today the craft has only seven to eight stitches which are commonly used. At Anjul Bhandari, the brand uses a total of sixteen, this can be seen in the iconic Anjul Bhandari Ek Taar saree which uses fourteen to fifteen stitches and at some points sixteen. 

The Bridal Allure 

While machines have taken over, Bhandari still has an unapologetic love for handcrafted creations. She believes machines are "killing our own craft, something our country is proud of." With the rising pastel trend, Bhandari is of the opinion that chikankari can be as glamorous as you want it to be! "If you want to be a pastel bride, chikankari is a great element to be proud of. You can bling it up and make it couture which takes the craft to the next level." But for brides, she says, they should always know their personality. "You shouldn't look at your Big Day in isolation, but you have to look at your Big Day as the years to come." 

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