The delicate Parsi gara embroidery is getting a Benarasi update


Sumptuous Benarasi silks are no strangers to embroidery and embellishment. But when the famed handloom weaves of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, meet a 200-year-old needlepoint technique that originated in China and was popularised by the Parsis in India, the resultant oriental-Benarasi narrative can only result in a match made in collaborative heaven. Or a Kashi-meets-Cusrow-Baug hybrid, if you please.
Heritage textile label Ekaya has teamed up with fashion designer and Parsi gara expert Ashdeen Lilaowala to launch ‘Ziba’, a line of saris, lehengas, yardage and dupattas. This unique collection derives its canvas from woven handloom textiles and its artwork from Lilaowala’s Parsi aesthetic of gara embroideries and ‘kors’ (borders). And while textile technicians have attempted Benarasi weaves with motifs of bamboos, Chinese scriptures and flying cranes in the past, never before has the needlepoint magic of a resplendent gara sari been attempted on a loom.
Here, the exotic birds of paradise and peacocks entwined with chrysanthemums, peonies and Chinese roses are, in fact, woven into the textile itself and not embroidered on with delicate satin stitches and fine French knots. Palak Shah, CEO and fourth generation flag-bearer of the weaving legacy that launched Ekaya in 2012, describes it as a natural progression of a working relationship built with Lilaowala over a few years. “We’ve worked on various collections with Ashdeen—the Harlequin collection, the Rose collection—and this seemed like a great project to collaborate on. His strength lies in Gara embroidery and ours in weaving,” she explains.

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