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Amrit Shah of Shanti Banaras on giving Benarasi weaves a millennial makeover

For anyone intrigued by India’s vibrant culture, heritage textiles have always been a strong point of reference. Be it interesting motifs, intricate weaving techniques or usage of striking colours, decadent benarasi saris have been a perfect insignia of weaving traditions. However, with the evolving fashionscape, many designers are re-imaging them via a contemporary frame, and Amrit Shah, creative director of Shanti Banaras, is one of them. 

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras
Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

A third-generation entrepreneur, hailing from a family that has been in the business for 70 years, for Shah it is all about design interventions. He along with Nilesh and Ghanshyam Das of the storied Yashri Ghanshyam Nilesh Silks, launched Shanti Benaras, the retail wing of the Varanasi-based textile brand in 2019. 

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

From fusing Egyptian, Persian, and Indian weaves to developing 3D designs on saris and experiments on the traditional zari with a millennial makeover, Shah is seamlessly bridging tradition and modernity. For instance, their latest collection Navrasa depicting nine emotions with the underlying themes of Kilim, Pichwai, and Egyptian pharaohs. The collection comprises of saris featuring herringbone weaves in white, ancient scriptures done in orange and brown, linear designs in red, and more. 

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

Even though Shah aims to re-imagine benarasi weaves for the discerning textile enthusiasts of today, he credits the army of weavers and craftsmen working behind the scenes. The brand directly works with weavers and master weavers, skipping the middleman. Post-COVID-19, he envisions a modern Indian textile label that is open to experiments and evolution. 

Amrit Shah gave us a complete lowdown on his vision for Shanti Banaras and how has COVID-19 impacted the textile industry.

On their design interventions

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

We are strong on our resham geometricals. These are a combination of dampaj and satin weaves where the shuttle is pressed only to its half capacity and multiple wefts are pushed through it at once, creating a painting like an impact on the sari. It is fascinating to see what you can do with a weave; it almost feels like painting on a saree. And if you can think of the right concepts, you can do a handful. Besides this, our brand is proud of is the use of various styles of zari. We have oxidized our zari, blackened it, and polished it to an extent that we have thrown a load of zari in a boiling drum of chai and have had it woven.

On their hero pieces

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

Our hero pieces have always been our Jamdanis. We have taken inspirations from trees and flowers, pichwai paintings, flower vases and bouquets. And the beauty of it is that every motif and piece of the design is woven individually, so you can put it in numerous colours as every piece finishes or how we like it to do it, match it naturally with the flower! Our latest concepts include jamdanis on all kinds of fabrics, woven intricately – these are masterpieces that need to be curated in a museum.

On catering to the needs of a millennial market

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

Our concept for the millennial market is majorly simplistic in nature. The idea of less is more fits very well into this market, with vibrant colours and designs that mean something rather than woven for the sake of it. A statement saree needs to be made rather than just seen as an aspect of banarasi. 

Sari shopping tips for textile enthusiasts

Look for Saris with revivalist design elements. Always buy a traditional banarasi with a nice selvedge. A bright selvedge to a light body is perfect! Saris with printed backing on the other side add to a twist. Look for unconventional design elements, merge the art of benarasi with dyes and prints on it.

On textile industry post-COVID-19

Image: Courtesy Shanti Banaras

There is nothing worse our industry has ever seen, and at such a scale. The element of fashion is going to be selective and restricted, which will directly affect our products, making it more refined and sorted. The client needs may be restricted for a long time before they can truly be free, but we shall have to wait and sustain until that time so that we are ready for it. These are times to prepare and reflect, and I believe we shall still look at all this and smile when a beautiful flower is born out of all this.

Anupam Dabral
Sr. Associate Editor
It was while studying fashion journalism at London College of Fashion that Anupam developed a keen interest in the anthropological aspect of the discipline; for him, fashion only makes sense when seen in the context of its environment. He is always on the hunt for great stories, and in his spare time binge-watches films/shows starring Whoopi Goldberg, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.