Home Entertainment The Mumbai atelier is the secret workshop for the best in French fashion

The Mumbai atelier is the secret workshop for the best in French fashion

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Mumbai (AFP) – Sitting in the lotus position, four men weave shimmering beads through golden thread on an organza sheet and painstakingly create a wedding dress that will soon wow crowds at Paris Fashion Week.

For once, French fashion designer Julien Forni is determined to put these artisans in the spotlight: His new collection, presented Tuesday in Paris, consists entirely of fabrics from Mumbai.

A kind of “design imperialism,” he says, means that French fashion houses often disparage the fact that their fabrics are made outside of France.

“Families who don’t realize this may fear losing their customers,” Forney told AFP.

Go on, but this is nonsense.

Shanagar’s designs have created fabrics for top fashion houses and the movie “Moulin Rouge!” » © Punish PARANJPE / AFP

India is the first in the world when it comes to embroidery. It’s ancestors. They have been wearing gold-embroidered maharaja garments since the 16th century. »

Forni works with a company called Creations By Shanagar (meaning “decorating” in Sanskrit), located in a nondescript beige building near Mumbai International Airport.

Dozens of men in gray polo shirts sit on cushions, their heads bowed over large paintings. There is silence except for the clatter of needles and beads, the whirling ceiling fans, and the occasional jet in the air.

Lots of imagination

For decades, they have played an essential but unrecognized role in the fashion industries of Europe, Japan and the United States.

“I love working with Julian because he is another professional craftsman who knows his subject well,” said Chetan Desai, the director.

“He has a lot of imagination. He came up with his own concepts and I have to translate these ideas into needlework.”

Chetan Desai expanded his father’s business internationally © Punish PARANJPE / AFP

“It was a very challenging and at the same time very rewarding experience,” he added.

Back in France, Forney commends him.

“What they know how to do better than anyone else,” he said, “is embroider with crumbled gold thread, passing it through transparent beads to create gradations of color. This is unheard of.”

It gives silk an old-fashioned, elegant look to bridal gowns that “sparkle, but not too much.”

“Sewing clients don’t want to look like a Christmas tree,” he added.

“I worked with amazing French models and every time it was complicated. Everyone wants to come up with their own ideas and you will never get exactly what you want.”

Distinguished customers

Creations By Shanagar was founded by Desai’s father in the 1960s as a workshop for hand-embroidered and embroidered sarees.

In the 1990s, Desailly took refuge in France, where he collaborated with French-Tunisian designer Azzedine Alaia for dresses that Naomi Campbell eventually won.

He does not disclose his current clients in his books, but his past list gives the impression of high demand. Among them are Jean Paul Gaultier, Yuji Yamamoto and Donna Karan.

Even Hollywood came knocking, as Shanagar helped design Nicole Kidman’s costumes for “Moulin Rouge!” » 2001.

The workshop attracts workers from all over India, like Biswajit Batra, 31, who has worked here since he was 16.

The haute couture creations were featured in Julien Forni's latest show at Paris Fashion Week
The haute couture creations were featured in Julien Forni’s latest show at Paris Fashion Week © BERTRAND GUAY / AFP

He said, “I learned the trade in my village near Kolkata because my father did the same job and my brother and sister did the same job.”

One of their unique ideas is how to roll up pieces of tulle to make embroidered flowers.

“They have a range of technologies that we don’t have here,” said Jean-Paul Coffin, director of Forney’s house in France.

One of the most difficult jobs is to prepare the fabric once it arrives from India and travel to the workshop where it will be assembled into dresses.

Forney himself ironed the fabric.

“Sixty percent of couture irons,” he says with a smile.

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