Tradition Gets Trendy - Sagrika Rai

Sagrika Rai Talks with You & I

Sagrika Rai is the epitome of soft-spoken and understated elegance. As such, she’s the perfect brand ambassador for Benaras and the beautiful textiles for which this ancient place is known. She is the founder and creative director of Warp ‘n’ Weft, a company that celebrates the Benaras royalty weave, and the lineage of the master craftsmen of Benaras for over two decades.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what your journey has been like?
I am a person of commitment and conviction, and I follow my instinct with faith in the energies that surround me. Perhaps that’s a nature I get from the spiritual facet of Benaras, where I was born and raised. My journey from Benaras to Mumbai has been interesting; from the epicentre of creativity and artists to the platform of recipients of artistry. My hometown has given me the sensibilities of understanding master art, and Mumbai has given recognition to the warp and weft of my passion. It has indeed been fulfilling and rewarding.

You’ve said, “Tradition is always trendy and glamour needs no flash”. Can you please elaborate?
Tradition comes from our roots. What we see today as ‘trends’ are only derivatives of age-old techniques. Our roots will always hold strong even though the offshoots may have various forms. Tradition needs no revival and will always be the core to any fashion. Glamour is within you. It’s a state of mind. It’s a chemistry you emanate. It doesn’t necessarily need any bling or ornamentation. It doesn’t refer to any particular defined look or a particular body type… It’s the confidence of being what you are.

In today’s day and age, many people don’t have a clue about traditional Indian weaves and fabrics. How can these become more relevant and popular among today’s youth?
There is much effort being put in today to promote Benarasi and other Indian handloom textile forms. In today’s jet-set age, unfortunately, the understanding of art is at its face value. Not just the youth, but also much of the mature audience are after lookalikes. They’re trying hard to achieve ‘the look’ with either settling for cheaper imitations, or establishing the value of a product only by its selling ticket. Apart from education on distinction of qualities, it is critical to identify the purists from the  offspring. This is the key for the stability of the heirloom industry. Adaptation to modern sensibilities and comfort is essential to take the tradition forward, but on the strength of its original nature.

What are the exciting things in store for you?
I look at each day as a fresh idea and a fresh start. Warp ‘n Weft is celebrating its twenty years, and this is coming with very exciting new projects. We initiated an annual music festival this year in Benaras. It is dedicated to our master weavers, who have been creating poetry under the vision of Warp ‘n’ Weft with their skilful fingers, ever since our birth. We are also planning to open doors to a bigger space at our flagship location soon. Apart from this we have launched a prêt line of lehengas, shararas, and traditional ghararas with a younger appeal without diluting the essence of Benarasi or blending its strong character with surface adornments. Our Benarasi sarees and odhnis remain our signature style, and our treasure of yards of hand woven fabrics for those who do not believe in the
ready-to-wear staple styles remains our strength.

You’ve got a big exhibition coming up in London at the Indian High Commission. Tell us more about it.
‘Benarasi: Fabric of Antiquity’ in the heart of London is Benaras in all its nuances. My connect with Benaras is beyond textiles. It’s my birthplace, it’s where I have spent my childhood, it’s where I have absorbed the fragrance of culture, it’s where I have soaked in music, art and the Ganga. It is a humble endeavour to present to the city of much culture, a taste of the treasure from India. It is an exhibit of the classical weaves of Benaras textiles with jewellery of signature Varanasi style and music composed with sounds of the sacred waters, the bells from the temples and the ghats, the romance of the ‘Kabiri’ in air, the sound of the weavers’ handlooms, and the drift of mankind towards the powerloom.     
                                                                                                                                               – as told to Suneela