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Looking at designer Anjul Bhandari’s chikankari pieces is like seeing the past through a futuristic prism. A craft revivalist and self-taught designer, since 2012 Bhandari has been working on making chikankari relevant again. This she has done through her contemporary take on the craft interpreted in shararas, saris, and lehengas, making her designs a talking point among brides who want the traditional in their trousseau.

Bhandari’s museum-worthy lehengas take multiple man-hours to create and loop in elements like Japanese pearls and sequins along with, of course, delicate thread work. Bhandari’s couture is devoid of striking colourways and an overdose of bling. Signature chikankari pastel hues, intertwined chikankari embroideries like kamdani, and straight-cut kurtas define her oeuvre. With Bhandari’s latest bridal collection out, the couturier gives us a lowdown on what makes her recent line true bridal goals.

Tell us about the specific techniques/innovations employed in your latest collection

Chikankari is a traditional art, which was originally done with 32 stitches. A block of chikankari can be done in 20 different ways. Given the fact the every chikankari pattern is so intricate to create, replication is almost impossible. And further when there are separate craftsmen working, no two patterns can be similar. This is why this craft is unique. So if a bride is picking up a piece, creating a copy is not possible. Normally in today’s chikankari no one will experiment with more than 3-4 stitches – we try to give more than 16 in every garment we make. Most of our handwork happens in Awadh and we work with 1,300-1,400 people. 

What are some of the hero pieces from the latest collection?

We have refurbished the art of ‘Ek Taar’ sari and it took years to develop. We create it with 16-20 stitches, and it’s done with a single thread. Given the details such a sari involves, it can easily take upto two years to complete one piece. Our chikankari is purely authentic and is geo-tagged. We make sure that every detail has a personal touch ensuring all our pieces are handmade. Another important piece is a heavily embroidered gharara – we have contemporised it a bit using sequins, crystals, and Japanese beads. For traditional brides, we have a heavy chikankari and kamdani lehenga fit. 

What makes chikankari unique?

It was the understated style of chikankari that intrigued me. My association with the craft began due to my mother-in-law, who was a social worker and used to work with a cluster of young craftswomen. Chikankari for me makes a statement in the most unpretentious, effortless ways, You can wear it anywhere. It is an age-old craft that has taken to the changes of cultures and market requirements, adapting and reinventing itself for the good.

Anjul Bhandari

How can brides loop in chikankari in their look?

A simple salwaar kameez with a heavy chikankari dupatta works everywhere. In case if you want to go more traditional yet want to keep it edgy, think of a pre-stitched chikankari sari with a blouse. If you want to veer away from something very traditional, pick up a chikankari cape with a skirt or a dress.

Anjul Bhandari

On preserving chikankari pieces

It’s easy to preserve chikankari; we only use cotton thread so it’s easy to look after it. Besides that, just wrap them in muslin and you are good to go. You just need to take care of the fabric, and we will restore the embroideries whenever you feel they are tarnished. 

Anjul Bhandari

On the future of chikankari

The craft is here to stay. The way chikankari was perceived has changed. Today, a Christian bride who wants a church wedding can opt for a chikankari gown. In case you are bored of your chikankari lehenga, we will help you convert it into a shirt, a kurta, anything you want. As far as the traditional craft is concerned, it is being passed on to women now. Originally chikankari was done by men, but now they have moved out to cities and the handiwork is being carried on by women, so I look at it as a way of empowerment. 

Anjul Bhandari stocks out of Ogaan, Ensemble, Aashni London, and Ave New York

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.