A love for India emerges in the heart of many Europeans who are otherwise uninitiated into its culture by birth or geographical orientation. However, their heart is helplessly in love, possessed by a pressing desire to belong, to feel the Indian sun on their skin, live amongst the heat and dust and, if possible, never go back. It is this ‘Indophile romance’ that brings many design professionals to India, especially from the fashion capital of the world, France. Beader Jean Francois Lesage, his father, the late Francois Lesage, chandelier restorer Regis Mathier, textile expert Peter Ascoli and luxury consultant Veronique Poles lead this list.
I met Veronique at my own platform, Royal Fables, along with a dear mutual friend, Jasmine, who had actually brought her there. To begin with, she passed off as yet another European soaking in the most romantic of the Indian bastion: princely India. But after one conversation with her, I realized this was an Indian soul who was also blessed with French instincts towards art and design, an evolved design addict who has ‘been there, done that, only in the end to realise that God is in the small things.’
Veronique Poles, the brain behind Poles Luxury Consultant, is also the voice of the Paris-based Federation of French Custom Couture Creations in India. To her credit goes the initiation of many cross-cultural promotions between India and France, the collaboration with Ekaya being the latest one, in which French couture creators worked with the master weaves of Benaras, each inch of the silk and brocade custom-crafted for these couturiers in various shades of gold and ivory.
She laughs as she recalls, “I’ve always been enamoured with India since I was a young lady in Toulouse. Looking back I wonder if in my past life I was actually an Indian. Well, in those days I could have passed off as a Kashmiri belle, given the outfit that had become my fashion statement by default. Except at that time I did not have the faintest idea that what I wore looked like a French version of the kurta and shalwar.”
The best part is that it was all put together by her. “My grandmother got me a vintage sewing machine that also had a foot paddle. She gifted me two metres of very fine black silk to stitch. What I created from my subconscious was almost the silhouette of a shalwar. With that I would add a gilet kind of a slip in soft white textile which women wore those days more as inners. From the curio shop I would pick up silver anklets and earrings which I wore with chappals to the university!” And there she would be, Veronique Poles, a stunningly beautiful Frenchwoman born in Toulouse, looking like she had just returned from Srinagar.
Veronique started her career working with Louis Vuitton in the training department. “While I was in Paris, I got the chance to work very closely with Michael Burke (now the CEO of Louis Vuitton) and Patrick Vuitton, the great great grandson of Louis Vuitton. I was asked to work on a project, to create a document that traced all the discontinued products of the brand for better aftersales services.” And it is here that she discovered the many commissions by the Maharajas of India and, as her awe for India got cemented further, her need to go to India grew. “I knew that I would reach these shores for sure at some point,” she shares.
After Paris, she went to work in the US, with not a word of spoken English in her vocabulary. “That was a terrifying experience that I lived to share.” To make it easier for herself, she created a catalogue with prices for each product, “that helped me make sales quickly, leading to the best turnover on the east coast that year.” “I also worked at Hermès for a few months,” she adds. She then returned to Paris and started working with a design agent. “That was the year 2000, when India was still regarded as an IT destination or a country which was ready to consume European luxury much like China.”
Veronique came to the country thinking that Indians would want to consume luxury made in France. However, once here, she was in for a surprise. India had so much to offer! It was a reversal of her theory. “India and its people are totally consumed by their own indigenous treasure trove of luxury. They in reverse have so much to offer to the world with their handmade creations.”
However, her first experience working here was not the most charming. In fact, it was disheartening and an experience “that hurt but was also a big learning for me.” For the first few years all she did was pick up design consultations, but she also travelled to the most indigenous of Indian destinations: From regal Udaipur to earthy Mahabalipuram, from enchanting Jaisalmer to breathtaking Coorg. “The country also holds a great history of rich and refined princely design from which emerges a unique luxury that is handmade, steeped in culture, and linked to the roots in the most subliminal manner,” she says.
“Many luxury brands go to India for inspiration, particularly for embroidery. India has as much potential as the French do, if not more. India needs more support and needs to provide greater value to its own brands instead of looking towards the West. My role then was to convince French designers and buyers to turn their attention to India, telling them about the Indian luxury market. I was among the first to start this conversation back then. I spent three years as a speaker at conferences trying to ready them for India.”
And now when so many platforms of exchange have opened up, the Poles Luxe Consulting is not just busy pursuing design assignments but also pottering with craft, creating collectibles like spectacular masks that Veronique crafted during the pandemic. The first set was designed for her own use. “I feel blessed to be in a country like India where I think we have handled the pandemic quite responsibly. And then I started designing for friends and associates. I wanted to de-dramatise the situation, and stay classy and elegant while wearing a mask. I started the process with elaborating three hand-embroidered masks with my own personal style and French touch!”
Her jewel-masks are an absolute must-have fashion accessory. It uses the know-how of skilled karigars, revisits some techniques of embroidery and focuses on the high quality of the components used. “Each mask is an art which touches the soul,” she says.
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‘THE SARKARI KARYALAY’ ACTOR OPENS UP ABOUT HIS LIFE, WORK AND MORE
Relatable content is always enthralling to the audience. Binge’s The Sarkari Karyalay is one such affair, where, taking a jibe at the challenges government officials make you go through for something as simple as updating one’s Aadhaar card, makers and cast of the show take you on a bittersweet journey with them.
Vaibhav Shukla, the male lead who plays Rohan in the show, in an interaction with The Sunday Guardian, shared insights from his personal and professional life.
Being an NIT graduate with a decent job, Vaibhav decided to pay heed to his calling, which was, of course, acting. “I left my job and enrolled myself into a theatre group in Delhi and started to work towards my dreams, without ever looking back at what I left behind,” he said.
Hailing from Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur, Vaibhav has had his share of hardships but he makes it all sound like a cakewalk. “Things finally started to fall in place after I got a job as a writer at The Viral Fever, after having served as an intern for a period of three months.”
According to Vaibhav, the first time he ever acted was for a Nukkad Natak in his college on a friend’s advice. After coming to Delhi, he faced countless auditions, rejections, ups and downs but what remained stuck in his head was the determination and eagerness to live up to his dreams. For his fanbase which is flourishing already, Vaibhav is currently working on a number of projects, one among them is his new show, Teen Tigaada.
As a fan of Shah Rukh Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput, Vaibhav believes that content is the king for a show. On the quick decisions he took in his life, he said that he never contemplated or gave second thoughts to his desires. “I just worked towards them as no matter how intense a situation gets, it still passes,” he said.
AGE OF SAMURAI SERVES AS A VERITABLE PRIMER ON THE MOST TURBULENT PERIOD IN JAPANESE HISTORY
Samurai cinema, also called “chanbara” or “chambara”, is the Japanese equivalent of the Western genre and it mostly deals with epic period dramas and swashbuckler films generally set during the Edo period or Tokugawa era (1600–1868 AD). Now, it was the Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa who first introduced the genre to the western audiences through a series of swashbuckling movies such as Seven Samurai (1954), The Hidden Fortress (1958), Yojimbo (1961), and Sanjuro (1962). Kurosawa’s samurai movies usually celebrated and glamorized the samurai tradition (pride, honor, and sacrifice as laid down by the code of Bushido) which basically made the samurai look cool. But there’s a flip side to every coin. Another master Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi presented a darker, grimmer, and perhaps a more realistic picture. His chanbara masterworks Harakiri (1962) and Samurai Rebellion (1967) are perhaps the earliest examples of realistic portrayal of samurai’s life in feudal Japan. Later on, however, Kurosawa did correct his course by making two of his finest masterworks—Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). Both these films are evidently much closer to Kobayashi’s bleaker interpretation.
For most of the world, these films are an entry point to what it meant to be a samurai and there is hardly anything known beyond the scope of these films as well as others subsequently made by filmmakers like Yôji Yamada, Takashi Miike, and Takeshi Kitano. But what if someone wants to get into the intricacies beyond the scope of these films? What it really meant to be a samurai? What did it take to become one? Where did they come from? Well, if you too are looking for answers then you needn’t look any further than the six-part documentary series by Netflix titled “Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan”. Relying on graphic re-enactments, voiceover narration, and interviews of historians, the series tells the story of the bloodiest period in Japanese history when the country was facing a civil war with several powerful daimyo (warlords) vying for supremacy during the final phase of the Sengoku period in feudal Japan from 1551 to 1616.
Some of the key historical figures that the series brings to life include the unpredictable and bloodthirsty Oda Nobunaga who becomes head of the Oda clan upon the death of his father Oda Nobuhide in 1551. Nobunaga launches a war against other daimyo with the aim of unifying Japan. Ruling with an iron fist and showing zero tolerance for those who dared defy his authority, Nobunaga ingeniously devises an uninterrupted infantry fire (called the volley fire) by shooting arquebuses (an early type of portable gun) in rotating ranks. The ploy proves to be decisive for Nobunaga at the Battle of Nagashino (the battle and the resulting carnage forms the chilling climax of Kurosawa’s Kagemusha) in 1575 where his men decimate the formidable army of Takeda Katsuyori (the son of Japan’s pre-eminent daimyo Takeda Shingen, portrayed by the legendary Tatsuya Nakadai in Kagemusha). But, at the height of his glory, Nobunaga is eliminated by his own samurai general Akechi Mitsuhide in 1582. Mitsuhide in turn is killed by Nobunaga’s loyal retainer Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the Battle of Yamazaki, only a couple of weeks later.
Age of Samurai then follows Hideyoshi’s quest for supremacy. A peasant with no traceable samurai lineage, Hideyoshi had risen in stature under Nobunaga who unlike other warlords put merit about lineage. After Nobunaga’s death, Hideyoshi kills Mitsuhide and goes on to fulfill Nobunaga’s dream of unifying Japan. But soon he is consumed by power and in the year 1592 he sends his forces to invade Korea with the ultimate aim of conquering China. But after tasting some early success, his forces are unable to overcome the local Korean resistance and the invasion ultimately proves to be a suicidal mission. Unable to come to terms with the reality, Hideyoshi grows more and more delirious, refusing to call his troops back. When he breathes his last in 1598, his council finally withdraws the forces from Korea.
Hideyoshi’s death provides an easy passage to power to the cunning and calculative Tokugawa Ieyasu who has been waiting in the ranks for his turn to finally claim the throne for himself. After the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Ieyasu slowly begins to destroy all the opposing factions. In 1603, Ieyasu is conferred with the title of shogun, having outlived all the other great warlords of his times. The Sengoku period ends when Toyotomi loyalists get defeated at the siege of Osaka in 1615. The Tokugawa shogunate would rule Japan for the next 250 years until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
Age of Samurai has been criticized for leaving out some important events as well as for its several other minor inconsistencies such as inaccurate depiction of samurai hairstyles, armor, etc. Also, unlike some of the other documentary series relying on re-enactments, Age of Samurai provides little dialog to the actors portraying the various warlords and relies mostly on the voiceover and the interviews which somewhere distances us from these characters. However, despite the shortcomings, it serves as a veritable primer on the most turbulent period in Japanese history.
Velvet Duck: Get ready for fun, frolic and frock
The name itself prepares you for its quaintness. Velvet Duck, a newest kid on the online fashion blog, is getting inundated with young girls queuing up for its peasant blousons and pinafore dresses. Not to forget easy to lounge in jumpsuits in the finest cotton.
Chic yet comfortable, stylish yet casual, well detailed yet understated, www.velvetduck.in emerges as the newest online fashion tale, launching with an endearingly beautiful collection of Western wear for women. Tailored and designed by Neetu Juneja, a fashion designer and entrepreneur, it makes available a range of silhouettes that one chooses from sitting in the comfort of their home. Fashionistas can click away, hand picking a smart shirt, combining with it a straight-lined skirt and adding cotton dress to their cart.
A quaint and chic fashion brand enriched by the evolved sensibility of Neetu Juneja, Velvet Duck is an ode to the comfy, chic, trending yet affordable clothing. Surprisingly well received from the word go, it has topped the charts in the visibility quotient, opening the floodgates of orders. Neetu attributes this acceptance to the fact that work from home culture has radically transformed fashion preferences across the world.
Over the last few months, as people were stuck to their homes, the need for comfortable apparel snowballed. “Work from home has removed all boundaries of formal and semi-formal attire. The office has moved from a chair to a couch to a bean bag and thus the shift to comfort clothing. Consumers’ preferences started gravitating towards apparel that were comfortable to work in yet presentable enough for virtual meetings and social-media appearances. Each of our ensembles meets this parameter,” shares Neetu Juneja, founder of Velvet Duck.
Sustainability too is at the core of this brand. “Fashion has emerged as a popular choice amongst new customers due to low-entry price points and rising popularity of social commerce.
We continue to expand our value fashion portfolio offering trending styles at affordable price points,” shares co-founder Manpreet Juneja.
Comfort is on top of consumers’ minds more than ever before. Consumers today are shifting focus from technicalities and performance to comfort-oriented silhouettes that promise versatility and utility. With an eye to fashion and an ear to history, Velvet Duck as a brand is constantly on a lookout for gems from Indian craft and culture.
IS YOGA AN EFFECTIVE MEDIUM FOR OVERALL FITNESS?
Yoga has been our country’s preferred medium of attaining fitness since times immemorial. However, with new and more exciting fitness fads entering the market through Western channels, yoga is increasingly battling the perception of being an ‘easy’ and relaxing form of exercise—not one geared towards weight loss or achieving fitness goals. Paloma, a yoga teacher based in Mumbai, dispels these notions clearly.
Claiming that yoga is the universal answer to holistic well-being, she believes it is the ideal medium to promote physical agility while also enhancing mental wellness. Especially when it comes to women, yoga plays an essential role in keeping them healthy in the long run. And if women are healthy, it bodes well for global health both for present as well as future generations. Paloma claims, “Today, women are coming forth in every walk of life as a strong force to reckon with. At Paloma Yoga, we focus particularly on women’s health while looking at the effective reversal of many women related issues like breast cancer and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). My work is targeted towards the well-being of all my students, by building a balance between the body and mind in the most natural and organic way possible.” Yoga is a great way to remove stress, resulting in overall peace, harmony and a feeling of deep detoxification.
Paloma goes on to stress that yoga is a practise of emotional, physical and spiritual transformation. The physical part might take a long time to manifest, but it is a process, as with everything in life. Just as sculptors cannot create beautiful works of art in a day, yoga needs time and patience to allow you to look your physical best. When done correctly, yoga is the ideal medium to address both weight loss as well as adequate toning of the muscles of the body. Classical and hatha yoga practises require very agile movements from the body. These strong, even masculine, yoga postures work well on reducing body fat, burning them down with effective strength and movement. Further, the hatha and vinyasa yoga series are also aimed at weight loss—to get the body in shape while allowing it to build strength and stamina. These practices are especially known to do wonders for the core.
While explaining the effectiveness of the movements, Paloma says, “Anything that is methodical, technical, and result-oriented is slow and gradual by its very nature. Yoga is a subject that falls under this category. It is an alternative science that positively affects each and every bone joint, ligament and tendon simultaneously. We must remember that the body is made of millions and billions of particles and multiple organs, hence the practise of yoga takes a certain amount of time to show the desired result, but rest assured that throughout the process, you will feel a positive impact on your body.”
When asked about yoga’s efficacy at building one’s immunity, Paloma wholeheartedly affirms that as a practice, yoga was created entirely for that purpose. Whether through asanas or meditation—yoga is designed to work on the body’s immunity levels. In particular, surya namaskar or the traditional sun salutation, the practice of breath control through anulom-vilom, the cleansing breath work known as bhastrika; along with postures like trikonasana, camel pose, vajrasana and utkatasana work really well to increase the human body’s immunity. Ultimately, yoga is a healing science, and has been used traditionally and effectively for centuries to heal the human body and ensure overall fitness and wellness of the human body and mind.
For Paloma, yoga is a scientific method of healing the mind, body and soul all at once. Through her methodology and practice, she teaches postures with scientific precision and imparts an emotional understanding of the human mind and spirit. Specifically, she teaches medical yoga, which she believes is the need of the hour. This is done by identifying the source of physical pain and solving the problem pragmatically through yoga.
One can reach out to Paloma for a better understanding of their yoga-related doubts, or to learn the art of classical hatha yoga for overall wellness. She can be reached on email at email@example.com or through her social media pages.
The writer is a lawyer who pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
A MAGNIFICENT ODE TO BANARASI TEXTILES
By offering fine Banarasi handloom saris, dupattas and lehengas, woven in pure silk, cotton, koras, georgettes and more, Tilfi has quickly become a name to reckon with.
India’s rich cultural heritage has always been a strong influence on the clothes we wear, despite the advent of Western trends. The success of Tilfi, an indigenous brand born in Banaras in 2016, personifies this idea to the core. By offering fine Banarasi handloom saris, dupattas and lehengas, woven in pure silk, cotton, koras, georgettes and more, Tilfi has quickly become a name to reckon with.
Aditi Chand, co-founder & CEO, Tilfi Banaras.
Aditi Chand, co-founder and CEO of the brand, is committed to highlighting and investing in Banaras’ rich past to ensure its exquisite handicrafts are valued by future generations. With the vision of establishing the concept of ‘Banarasi’ as the epitome of luxury handloom—the brand swears by its promise of purity, craftsmanship, artistry and durability.
Its signature piece Kashi, is a pure Katan silk Banarasi handloom saree. Made with the classic handwoven Banarasi technique passed down through generations of weavers, on pure Katan silk described as being ‘soft as butter’, it is their most hot-selling item. The glorious outline of Varanasi’s ghats are handwoven on to the borders of these resplendent silk sarees, with Roopa Sona or Gold and Silver zari work. The detailed designs mirror the splendour of Banaras viewed from the river Ganga. Additionally, the brand offers a multitude of sarees, suits, lehengas, jackets, dresses and off-beat ensembles through the wide selection on its website.
Having lived in various cities of India and abroad, Chand returned to India to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams. She claims that her years of professional experience of leading multicultural teams in high-performing environments, and her MBA degree from INSEAD, equipped her with the skills and expertise required to build an Indian artisanal brand. Her experience and desire were shared by her spouse Udit Khanna and his brother Ujjwal Khanna, who came from a family that had worked with Banarsi textiles for over 100 years. As wholesalers of handwoven textiles across Northern India, the Khanna family was firmly entrenched in this business, when things changed drastically in the late 2000s. Changing consumer preferences, the proliferation of creations made in power-looms and the gradual decline of weaving traditions in artisan families, resulted in a steady contraction of the business.
However, a chance conversation with a weaver inspired their journey back to their roots.
Chand says, “as the weaver lamented the unwillingness of his sons to follow in his footsteps, we suggested ideas to motivate them to pursue their “hunar”. Ironically, the old man asked us why we chose not to join our father and grandfather’s trade? A moment’s self-reflection made the inherent hypocrisy of our stance clear. How could they hope to preserve and further the cause of this beautiful art and persuade others to join the trade, if we would not do it ourselves?”
Soon after, Tilfi was born with a new vision. Modelled on modern business practices, the idea was not merely to encourage the survival of Banarasi handloom, but to have it grow and thrive. One of the biggest changes was the decision to go direct-to-consumer through online retail, bypassing traditional channels of sale that had long alienated consumers from the craft. The founders proudly declare that Tilfi was the first to adopt a digital strategy in the traditional space of luxury textiles.
Chand explains tacitly, “The brand was begun to fix the broken system that prevailed. Traditionally, the textiles were sold through multiple layers of intermediaries—this resulted in loss of value at every stage, with poor quality standards, a disconnect with the end consumer and a general lack of trust. In addition to this, competition from machine made alternatives and the absence of innovation had led to the craft losing its premium appeal. Unfortunately, the most impacted were artisans, especially during economic downturns.”
The founders of Tilfi attempted to address each of these issues. By going direct to consumers, they maintain complete control over the make and sale of textiles, ensuring impeccable quality and technically accurate communication. Shorter feedback loops help in keeping a finger on the pulse of the consumers. By investing in design and innovation, they are able to push the craft forward and create more demand.
Chand and her fellow founders, started the business with the belief that a small home-grown brand had the potential to introduce Banaras and its beautiful crafts to the world. Five years on, Tilfi has managed to do so. The conviction that local talent makes some of the finest textiles available in the world today, backed with operational efficiency, quality standards and a considered business model, has ensured the brand’s success.
Having lived in various cities of India and abroad, Chand returned to India to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams. She claims that her years of professional experience of leading multicultural teams in high-performing environments, and her MBA degree from INSEAD, equipped her with the skills and expertise required to build an Indian artisanal brand.
KATRINA KAIF TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19, UNDER HOME QUARANTINE
Katrina Kaif on Tuesday informed that she has tested positive for Covid-19 and is currently ‘under home quarantine’. The ‘Namaste London’ star confirmed the news on her Instagram story. “I have tested positive for Covid-19. Have immediately isolated myself and will be under home quarantine. I’m following all safety protocols under the advice of my doctors,” read Katrina’s statement. “Requesting everyone who came in contact with me to get tested immediately too. Grateful for all your love & support.” Urging fans to be safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, the ‘Humko Deewana Kar Gaye’ star added, “Please stay safe and take care.”
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