By Hand From The Heart is a curated Makers Market event in South India. Upcoming Events: 22nd Edition: 2nd – 3rd February '18 in Coimbatore | 23rd Edition: 16th – 17th – February '18 in Chennai.
Sonali Raman is the principal fashion and jewelry designer at SR by Sonali Raman. She is also a fashion consultant and faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University of Qatar. We catch up with the designer about her showcase at the By Hand From The Heart Makers Market event in Chennai. Let’s find out more…
A bit about yourself.
I have been in the fashion business for over 26 years with diverse experiences spanning client side, retail, consultancy, interacting with manufacturers, sourcing and designing both in India and the Middle East. I worked for nearly two decades with a fashion buying house in India representing European retail brands, sourcing textiles, developing sample lines and finding the right sources to manufacture them. Being an alumnus of NIFT, New Delhi, I have been associated as jury member and guest faculty to the fashion students at NIFT, Chennai for ten years.
I moved to live in Doha, Qatar around eleven years ago and since have worked as a Fashion Consultant on several prestigious design projects related to fashion and garments like the Qatar Armed Forces Military Uniforms Project amongst others. I have also covered fashion trends for magazines in Doha like Glam and Woman Today. I did a stint as a Retail Buyer, buying worldwide for several brands for the stores in Doha. I have been teaching in the Fashion Department of the Virginia Commonwealth University of Qatar as Adjunct Faculty for the last seven years.
How would you describe what you do; and how long have you been making and creating?
I launched my own fashion brand over a year and a half ago. I had been toying with the idea for a while and wanted to have the freedom to create and work with certain crafts and textiles and this seemed the logical way to do it. I have always wanted to find a way to sustain dyeing craft and textile traditions of our country. I had my own brand of apparel when I was just a student and continued it for a few years until my day job started to take up all my time. So after several years, I decided to do something that I truly love and am passionate about, for myself!
My brand carries a line of fashion jewelry handcrafted, using traditional craft techniques in contemporary designs. The line of fashion ready-to- wear is a blend of modern silhouettes with natural fabrics and traditional embroidery techniques. This is an effort to keep the traditional crafts sustainable and yet relevant to the times. I work with craftpersons and artisans to create these products. You could say that I have been doing this kind of work since I was in high school…
Why is making important to you?
My love for the traditional crafts and textiles of India and the world is what makes me want to share it with everyone! Creating these pieces using an ancient form of embroidery or using special textiles in contemporary styles makes it more appealing to today’s audience and its important for me that people appreciate the work and effort that goes into it and begin to love it like I do. I believe that this is a sustainable way forward if we don’t want to lose our traditional techniques of crafts and weaving.
What’s your most challenging work so far.
I once did a kids wear collection for the luxury brand “Dior Kids”. It was for baby girls between the ages of 1 and 4 years, made in jersey and the most difficult part was that each piece had a border made by hand using the traditional Tye & dye technique of our country. The challenge for me was to explain to the folks at Dior Kids that the beauty was in the irregularities and imperfections that the Tye & dye produced – which they were unable to understand until they came and saw how it is done! The other challenge for me was to ensure the quality standards required were maintained and that every piece had some level of similarity to the other!
Our artisans still need to understand the high standards required by luxury brands and clients worldwide. This was a learning experience for everyone involved!
Tell us about your recent works and your proposed showcase at the By Hand, From The Heart.
The most recent collection in the jewelry line is the “Art Deco Meets Beygum” collection. This collection reflects the exuberance and decorative finishes of the early 20 th century art style popularly known as Art Deco combined with the queenly grace of rich textures of gold and silver threads, wires, and beads to create one- of-a- kind stunning necklaces and earrings that are wearable artworks! An art form that was primarily seen in architecture and interiors has been used to create a lavish piece of jewelry that is reminiscent of royalty with the use of traditional zardosi embroidery and techniques that was a privilege that only the Mughal royalty enjoyed in India. The necklaces and earrings pay homage to the Royalty of Hollywood of the era: Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Stanwyck, and Claudette Colbert.
I will be showcasing this line and the previous Classic line of jewelry at the By Hand, From The Heart event. I will also be showing my fashion clothing lines – “Summer Reshams” – a line of silk blouses and “Chevrons and Kantha” – a line of maxi dresses. Summer Reshams has been Inspired by India’s urban villages and nature and is made up of elegant resham (silk) blouses reflecting the colours of Indian summers and are embellished with the signature chevron hand embroidery.
The relaxed silhouettes are a take on traditional Indian menswear with subtle tone-on- tone chevron, zigzag lines of embroidery that are a metaphor for the timeless shifting sand dunes of the desert. The custom-dyed colours of the collection are drawn from nature’s palette.
The brand has always been guilty of chevron-fever and the madness over zigzags ontinues in the Chevrons and Kantha collection of minimalist free-flowing dresses that channel urban-boho chic.
The Chevron dates as far back as 1800 B.C. in Greek pottery. It is both a trendy and traditional pattern. To us at SR, its our signature motif and exists in our logo. It enhances each collection and provides the subtle accent that makes it special.
Kantha is an ancient form of folk embroidery from Bengal, India. The simple running stitch was used originally to make blankets or quilts using old saris and layering them. In this collection of easy-fit dresses in cotton, linen and silk gauze, the chevrons and Kantha hand embroidery come together to add the perfect accent yet maintaining the minimalism of the look.
Describe your work premises.
I design from my home studio and make some of the prototypes by myself in the studio. My studio is filled with vintage and antique textiles and new fabrics – and almost all of them are natural fibres with some element of the ‘handmade’ aspect in them – either in the dyeing, printing or weaving. I collect antique bits and bobs related to jewelry and sewing and my sewing table is an antique one too. There are many books on fashion and art and history, fashion magazines and a lot of colour!!
One entire wall has been painted deep purple to match the logo colour and it has a special texturing done on it by hand. I also have a coffee table to match in the same vibrant hue! The studio is a place where I can be myself surrounded by things I love which inspire me to create.
The final jewelry pieces are made by a group of artisans who work together in a small unit in north India outside of Delhi. The fashion line is also made from a small unit that I partner with.
What is a typical day at SR by Sonali Raman, like.
A typical workday at SR by Sonali Raman would begin with time devoted to answering emails from sources and clients alike, updating social media sites. Then onto the exciting part, which includes designing and prototyping – the creative part of the business.
A large part of the day is given to any design projects that I may be working on currently for other clients and meetings related to it. On some days I go into the university to teach a class and then it gets really busy with preparing for the class, and setting assignments and correcting them. I do love interacting with the young creative minds of my students as it refreshes my thinking and makes me come back to the studio with renewed energy to work on SR! The day ends pretty much the same way as it starts, emails and updating social media! Travel and participating in events is an intrinsic part of most days for the brand. So it’s quite a juggle!
What is your favorite SR by Sonali Raman pick right now? And why?
Right now – for me the Beygum collection of neckpieces and earrings are a top favourite – each of these pieces are so contemporary and yet reminiscent of the swinging twenties era, every piece makes a statement when worn and represents true luxury as its entirely hand-made and hand finished.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten along the way in building your business?
The best piece of advice – “take it slow and steady”… am not in a rush and I know eventually I will be able to reach a larger audience to tell my story and for people to appreciate and love the craft as much as I do will take its time.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?
The biggest lesson is that – not everyone really knows and understands the effort, energy and passion that goes into our traditional crafts and why there is a high price tag to the end products. The general premise is that if its Indian and hand-made – it should be cheap… the need to educate people has been an eye opener for me.
Chennai or rather Madras as I still like to refer to it, has been a second home to me; the first being Calcutta where I was born. Madras took its time to accept me just as I did too and then it became the place where I discovered myself as a designer. The people and their culture and traditions are an inspiration to me and I do believe that it’s far ahead in these terms of all the other cities. The women of Chennai have a lovely sense of style marrying the traditional with the contemporary, which they do with such grace.
Sonali Raman of SR by Sonali Raman, Doha (Qatar), will be at the By Hand From The Heart: MAKERS MARKET – 18th Edition
Friday – Saturday, 5th – 6th August, 2016
10:00 a.m – 8:00 p.m
Crowne Plaza Chennai Adyar Park
132, T.T.K Road, Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018, Tamil Nadu. India