History is witness that kings and queens are meant to look a certain way; ornate clothing styles, heavy embellished jewellery, you know, the usual. Indian royal families however, took things a few notches higher when it came to acing over-the-top looks. Indian royalty pretty much invented being "extra" when it came to fashion. However lest we forget we're also the carriers of some of the most unique textiles in the world that carries generations worth of culture and a sense of belonging. So is the case with the Patola saree that hails from Gujarat - the distinctively vibrant saree that stands out each time a lady gracefully adorns it. Patola is rightfully coined the term "Queen of Silks", not just for its regal appearance but also that a woman looks just as regal wearing one.
Patola is the most complex textile in India and understanding the complexity of this beautiful and unique fabric is as difficult as a toddler trying to tie a shoe lace. Like Ikat, Patola too uses a resist-dye method to achieve the distinctive patterns on the fabric. The difference being that Patola is essentially made using a double Ikat method with the warp and weft threads woven in different patterns before resist dying them. This tying of the threads is repeated for each colour; we repeat - for each colour. Unlike many other fabrics, dying of the threads is done before the fabric is woven in turn called the double Ikat technique. This technique is used for Patola that is made in Gujarat and is a closely-guarded family tradition that is passed down to future generations.
It is believed that the Salvi caste from Maharashtra settled in Gujarat and began practicing the art of Patola. After the decline of the Solankis in the region, people from the Salvi caste founded a rich trade in the Patola sarees in Gujarat. Soon these vibrant sarees became a sign of social status among Gujarati women and girls. The main motifs that are seen on the sarees are floral and geometric patterns interlocked with each other that is woven with so much distinction that it usually hard to distinguish the front from the back. The idea of stridhan is an old one, where girls are given wealthy gifts for them to inherit and these precious sarees were often part of it. Designer Gaurang Shah's collection, Stridhan falls under the same ideology of Patola being timeless heirloom pieces that invariably celebrates womanhood in all its vibrant glory.
What is the difference between Rajkot and Patan Patola?
Gaurang Shah: The difference is very subtle, and what differentiates both is the exquisiteness and the allure, which Patan Patola scores over Rajkot.
Technically, Rajkot Patola is just another form of ikat (dyeing technique used to pattern textiles). In this single Ikat process sarees are resist dyed vertically, and it too has its own subtle beauty, whereas, in Patola both the warp and weft are first tied, then resist dyed. It is also a modified version of the double ikat.
How can one differentiate between a genuine and a not so genuine Patola saree?
Gaurang Shah: To the connoisseur of Patola it is not difficult to make out the difference, while there are not glaring differences, the biggest difference is the weave technique. The jamdani weave is very intricate, unlike print, and power loom made Patola.
The big differentiator to watch out for is the colour, in Patola, every colour has a distinctive place in the design; which are carefully aligned while weaving it, which is only possible in handcrafted weave. Another element is the yarn, while weaving even a shift of one single yarn will make it jaded, un-authentic.
Also, in a genuine Patola the colour and the intensity, the feel and the look, are alike on both sides creating a distinctive characteristic altogether.
Since there aren't many who specialise in Patola sarees you must also face instances of plagiarism. How does your Patola saree stand out from the rest of makers in the market in such a case?
Gaurang Shah: Our Patan Patola, offers unseen, unusual geometric patterns. It takes more than a year to create a piece of our Patola. The biggest differentiator is that our design is not repetitive. Our approach to the tie and dye are a long-drawn process, which gives our creations a timeless appeal.
Our reversible Patola, with lasting bright colours, and the way we imbibe the rich history of authentic Patola gives our creation a timeless appeal. Only a genuine Patola will last for generations.
What is the significance of a Patola saree for a bride today? Why do you think Patola sarees make for great heirloom pieces?
Gaurang Shah: What makes a Patola Saree unique is its weaving technique, an authentic Patola is elaborate and brings impacting grandeur. Today, it is not only social status in the State of Gujarat for its royalty and ancient heritage, it has moved beyond the states to different parts of the world for its exceptional appeal.
Patola has witnessed a huge revival in the modern era. The most desirable designs are the nari kunjar bhat (women and elephant patterns), paan bhat (peepal leaf motif) navratna bhat (square-shaped pattern), voharagaji (inspired by the Vohra community), fulvali bhatt (floral) and rattanchowk bhat (geometric). These design elements give tremendous choices for the brides and grooms.
In Gujarat, patolas are given to brides as a part of her trousseau, and it is an auspicious heirloom in bridal and festive ceremonies - as a symbol of prosperity and good luck.
How can one make this traditional drape super contemporary?
Gaurang Shah: Detailed anarkalis, lehengas and ghararas with ten-to-twelve meters of flair, and sarees draped in maharani, or traditional styles, with your own draping twists, makes them look drop-dead gorgeous on any occasion you wear them. They radiate a lot of vibrance.
In our Stridhan collection, we amalgamated this exotic fabric with our signature fabric - khadi - I wanted to give a whole new dimension to the Patola. So, we accentuated it with Parsi gara embroidery, Kanjeevaram borders, gota work and fabric textures.
How sustainable is a Patola saree considering its super expensive price tag?
Gaurang Shah: It is how you take care of them that will determine the life of the fabric. Every authentic Patola is timeless pieces of textile that can last for generations.
Fold them with care, wrap them carefully, if you can get a saree bag that will add to its life and sustainability.
Patola holds a very special place for not just Gujarati women but all women alike. A Patola saree may cost you a lifetime worth of savings but the timelessness of these pieces are priceless in every sense of the way.
We wouldn't be doing enough justice to the craft by calling it just an art form. By all means this is in fact heritage, that has woven stories of a generation long gone that still breathes life through the drapes of this gorgeous saree time and again.