Photo Essay

Abraham & Thakore

NID Fashion

Abraham & Thakore was launched by David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore, textile design graduates from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. They were soon joined by Kevin Nigli, an early graduate of the Fashion Design department of National Institute of Fashion Technology.

Like most designer start-ups, A&T started as a very small design studio. We began by designing and manufacturing modest batches of textile and fashion items, manufactured mostly on handlooms and tiny printing and embroidery sheds in India’s still pervasive small-scale industrial sector. And indeed, 25 years on, our supply chain is still reliant on and supportive of many of these small enterprises.

We started our business by designing small collections of loungewear and scarves, made out of fabrics we personally designed, woven firms in the towns of Mangalagiri and Pochampally, in the southeastern coastal state Andhra Pradesh. Here we found the handloom sector to be the perfect match for our modest business requirements. The small production runs the handloom sector allowed meant we could weave just 10 to 12 pieces of a unique design without running into problems. We realized that the handloom and craft industry of India, with its small decentralized workshops, was in many ways the ideal research and development laboratory, as well as being an efficient production center for every design professional dependent on small batch production. We strongly endorse the rapid turnover and economies of scale found in the Indian craft sector. As a tiny design company marketing largely handmade products, this incredible infrastructure gave A&T an extraordinary flexibility and a unique advantage, where our innovations and flexibility in design and our ability to handle low product multiples, were perfectly matched to the requirements of the specialist high-end retailer willing to pay higher prices for product exclusivity.

The design vocabulary of Abraham & Thakore is strongly shaped by the craft and textile traditions of the country. Starting with our NID education, which placed a tremendous emphasis on the study and understanding of the Indian textile tradition, the language of the brand developed in conjunction with the vocabulary of the traditional handloom resources, providing us not with not only our raw material and production base but design inspiration in many cases as well. As we developed new collections we looked at varying textile resources, from the Jamdani weavers of West Bengal to weavers from Maheshwar, block printers from Barmer and bandhini craftspeople from Bhuj. Simultaneously, as we increased our engagement with different textile traditions, craftspeople and weavers, our design vocabulary also became more diverse through the search to find ways to create contemporary expressions while using the traditional language of Indian craft in simple and direct ways. Our minimalistic design ethos also requires that we constantly seek out ways to evolve a design language that, while being reductive, does not lose the essential qualities of the traditional craft vocabulary we reference.

The following images are from various Abraham & Thakore fashion collections designed over the years. With each collection we try to develop a fashion language that addresses the particularity of India’s unique clothing sensibility. Coming from a tradition of unstitched clothing, we work with the sari in particular, searching for ways to contemporize the sari form and make a modern fashion statement. In every collection we combine both elements of tailoring and stitched construction with unstitched, draped garments, creating clothing that while relevant to contemporary living also engages with the traditions of Indian clothing. They are illustrative of the role traditional Indian textile has played in the development of our design concepts and how we are inspired by its vocabulary—the particular techniques germane to each craft tradition. We also borrow ideas and concepts from other sources when appropriate, and we also interpret different traditional dress languages by tweaking the vocabulary, by playing with proportions, and changing the context of specific elements. These images are organized roughly according to the different traditional Indian textile “groups”—by which I mean the clusters of different craft techniques and traditions that developed in different regions throughout India, with practitioners gathering in various villages, towns and cities—we focus on in our different collections. These are all living traditions and the fabrics are developed from the many different craft and textile centers spread across India.


Images 1–4
© Abraham & Thakore.

This is the name given to a cotton fabric handwoven by the handloom weavers in and around the village of Mangalagiri in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. This fabric is woven in different thread counts, producing different structures in tabby weave, using a simple two shaft structure (tabby is also known as “plain weave,” the simplest construction of cloth: by using threads of different thicknesses, the weaver introduces variations in surface textures). Images one, two, three and four show designs developed on the handlooms of the region. The fabric designs have simple contrast woven borders, referring to local desi gn conventions followed in sari and dhoti borders, used as graphic design elements in the garments. The silhouettes are designed both for men and women in a mix of Indian and Western shapes.


Images 5–7
© Abraham & Thakore.

Ikat refers to the process of yarn resist dyeing and weaving practiced in many textile production centers around India. A & T primarily works with the weavers in Puttapaka in the Golconda district of Telengana state.

In every collection our firm has released over the years, A&T has developed many innovative designs using this technique. We have mostly developed simple geometric forms in order to exploit and draw attention to the blurred right angle geometry of ikat, in which the resist dyed warp and weft yarns intertwine. Though the traditional language of pattern in Indian ikat is diverse, we have focused on the simpler geometric motifs to create designs that strongly express the precision of this exceptionally complex technique.

Image 8
© Abraham & Thakore.

Images five, six and seven show examples of our double ikat silk saris, woven in an enlarged houndstooth pattern in black, ivory and chartreuse. This particular sari design was developed for a collection where we inquired into the conventions of menswear clothing and menswear fabrics. Some of these conventions were viewed as a source of inspiration for womenswear garments designed for the Indian market. In this particular case, we looked at classic woven patterns for men’s suiting fabrics from the Western tradition such as houndstooth, Prince of Wales check, and so on, deriving a pattern language reinterpreted using traditional Indian textile techniques. The ensemble consists of a sari, a classic menswear-inspired shirt, and a belt. This ensemble is now part of the permanent archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum, displayed in The Fabric of India exhibition in 2015. It is now travelling through the United States.

Image eight shows the double ikat silk sari in black, ivory and red. Rather than patterning, this textile design uses the yarn resist technique to create solid geometric blocks of color. The fuzzy edges of each color block draw attention to the ikat technique. The sari is worn with a long sleeved choli made of industrial grade nylon, with sleeves in undyed khadi cotton.

The four designs shown in images nine, ten, eleven and twelve use double ikat to explore simple geometric forms in a variety of fabrics used in garments and accessories. Number five is handwoven silk, numbers six, seven and eight are handwoven cotton.

The four designs shown in images beneath use double ikat to explore simple geometric forms in a variety of fabrics used in garments and accessories. Number five is handwoven silk, numbers six, seven and eight are handwoven cotton.

Images 9–12
© Abraham & Thakore.


Images 13–15
© Abraham & Thakore.

Images thirteen, fourteen and fifteen depict complex jacquard-like fabrics of silk and gold wire woven in Benares in Uttar Pradesh using the jhala system, an indigenous version of the jacquard mechanism. This sari with a non-repeat leopard skin pattern was woven in Benares on a tussar ground. The leopard skin motifs were brocaded in black silk and gold zari, then ornamented with mother of pearl sequins. The construction graph for the brocaded patterns for the five-and-a-half meter sari extended across the full length of the sari, as it was a non-repeat design. Handloom weaving allows us to produce small multiples of a particular design, enabling us to change the design after weaving, say, four pieces, and then produce something new. Our intention with this collection was to explore the creative possibilities of non-repeat designs. For a brand like ours, which is aimed at the upper segment of the market, our ability to producing exclusive, limited edition products gives our labels a unique and intrinsically Indian kind of cachet.

Images 16–17
© Abraham & Thakore.

The large scale check patterning developed for this collection (Images sixteen and seventeen) was also woven in brocade in Benares, and is based on the patterns made by the warp and weft threads as they overlap in different weave structures, such as twills and tabby.

The brocades in images eighteen and nineteen display the complex patterning possible on the brocade loom. Also woven in Benares, the layout of the fabric consists of small checks, in each of which a different pattern is woven. The fashion collection explored the conventions of wrap and tie clothing which forms the basis of many Indian garments.

Images 18–19
© Abraham & Thakore.

Block Print

Images 20–21
© Abraham & Thakore.

Textiles are hand printed with hand carved wooden blocks. This technique is practiced in many textile manufacturing centers all over India. A&T works primarily with block printers based in and around Delhi and Jaipur.

Both the silk chiffon saris in images twenty and twenty-one were developed for a collection that explored both menswear silhouettes and menswear fabrics from derived from Indian womenswear. In one case the block print design refers to the Prince of Wales suiting check, with the same design block printed on the sari and well as the coordinating shirt. In the other, the block print design was derived from a menswear herringbone tweed.

Images 22–24
© Abraham & Thakore.

Images twenty-two, twenty-three and twenty-four all show block printed stripes. The design layout explores the small repeat size of a wooden block, emphasizing the irregularity of hand block printing, which is dependent on the manual exertion of pressure required by the block printer to create each impression.

In images twenty-five or twenty-six, a contemporary color block fashion collection, blocks without engraving were used to print solid blocks of color, engineered per garment shape. This is possible with the ease in maneuverability of these small wooden hand blocks.

Images 25–26
© Abraham & Thakore.


Images 27–29
© Abraham & Thakore.

The following images are from a collection that explored sustainable practices in fashion. We looked at the traditional Indian textile craft of Kantha. This technique of layering done in West Bengal uses hand-quilted fabrics to create stronger fabrics with warmth and stability. Traditionally done using old discarded saris, the kantha quilting technique recycles these discards into new fabrics, with old saris (or fabrics) layered and hand stitched together with a simple running stitch thereby creating sturdy quilted textiles used for blankets and shawls.

The garments in images in twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine and thirty, display Kantha-style layered and quilted fabric. We also use the technique to create color blocking and pattern through the layering technique. We have used both hand stitching, as well as the sewing machine, to quilt the fabrics together. In images thirty-one and thirty-two, alongside the kantha technique we explored the recycling of hospital waste—discarded X-rays—die-cut to create sequins or paillettes for further ornamentation.

Images 29–30
© Abraham & Thakore.

An important focus of the design process in our work is to investigate the materiality of our products. For every fashion collection we create, while developing our designs we always take as a starting point the techniques and languages of the different textile craft techniques we are exploring. Textile traditions are deeply rooted in India and we see our design interventions as suggesting possible alternative directions within a larger tradition. The nature of the contemporary fashion market in India allows us to search for an alternative relevance to traditional textile techniques.

By adding new designs to a traditional craft, the craftsperson reaches a wider market. New designs can also extend the design vocabulary in a particular tradition and help certain craft techniques maintain continuity whilst innovating.

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From Social Democratic Experiment to Postwar Avant-Gardism — Asger Jorn and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus

The project bauhaus imaginista would be negligent if it did not address the artist group referenced by its title, the Mouvement Internationale pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste (International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, or IMIB), founded in 1953 by Danish artist Asger Jorn together with a handful of French and Italian colleagues. Many of the theoretical and artistic positions advocated by the IMIB were developed dialectically in response both to the historical Bauhaus and the reconstitution of a Bauhaus-inspired pedagogical program at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm. → more

Letter from Asger Jorn to Max Bill — February 12, 1954

Asger Jorn read of Max Bill’s plans for the new Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (HfG), a school modeled after the Bauhaus, in the British Architects’ Yearbook 1953, where Bill had placed a promotional article to attract prospective students and teachers. Excited by the possibility of participating in a new democratic pedagogical experiment and in pursuing his interest in fusing art and architecture, he wrote to Bill, inquiring about the role of art at Ulm and expressing his desire to secure a teaching position.

This is a translation of one of the letters Jorn send to Bill. → more

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