London Art Spot: Karishma Shahani

Brightly coloured designs marked Karishma Shahani’s award-winning catwalk collection for the London College of Fashion’s Graduate Runway Show 2010. She came away with an award for “Best Surface Textiles” to add to her CV alongside the “Nina De York Fashion Illustration” award and “Fashion Graduate of the Year award.

It’s no surprise her eye-catching work has caught the attention of staff at Vogue, Grazia, Elle and ID magazine alongside quite a few others around the world from France to Russia to Hong King and Japan.

Her values of longevity in clothing, ethical fair trade and using “upcycled” and organic materials match the values of the forward-thinking audience she will reach with her vibrant collections.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Karishma tells us how life in her native India plays a massive part in her work, shows off some photos of latest stunning collection and lets us in on the details of her collaboration with American artist Amy Sol.

LLO: Give us an overview of your latest collection, Yatra.
KS: The collection draws inspiration and elements from the multiple layers of India’s vibrant culture that continuously create colourful, vivid and eclectic experiences for the onlooker. The colours are picked from traditional paintings of Indian Gods, and recreated through natural methods of dyeing. The surface texture adds to the multi-dimensional feel enhancing the use of natural fabrics alongside upcyled packaging materials.

In its essence this collection is a reflection of the Indian lifestyle of re-interpretation of materials and their function at every step; always re-using and recycling; creating heirlooms that are passed down through generations. Each garment is made with beauty, simplicity and versatility as its core which lends it a multi-layered and personality-driven charm. The designs combine a fusion of two extremes, making the collection experimental and unconventional, while being hinged on modern functionality.

LLO: Which aspects of life in your native India most inspire your work? What about aspects of London life?
KS: A lot of aspects ranging from the people on the road, to our vast history, culture, architecture, crafts, travel, the list is endless. London’s cosmopolitan nature is very appealing. Being a melting pot for people from all around the world is quite inspiring. UK too has a comprehensive history and its ties with India are aspects I like exploring.

LLO: Tell us about some of the materials that have gone into your latest collection – the bright colours, the recycled concept, etc. What’s the most unusual material you used or the most difficult to obtain?
KS: The materials in the collection range from calico and cotton to pure silk and silk tulle and then over to High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). The last being a material used extensively in packaging in India hence lending to the upcycled nature of this collection as the patterns were cut from previously used sacks. All the material in the collection barring the HDPE have been hand dyed to suit the colour requirements that give enough homage to their source of inspiration. The accessories include secondhand hand-painted shoes and piece from chandeliers, cut away sneakers and blankets. The toughest material to obtain was the HDPE due to its varied sizes and quality control it required to obtain large pieces to create the garments.

LLO: Do you remember a precise moment that made you decide you wanted to have a career in fashion?
KS: Just the simple fact of creating new things. Consciously or without realising, clothing plays an important part in defining a person’s personality for the onlooker and I’ve always found this aspect really interesting. So I can’t pinpoint a precise moment.

LLO:Which signature elements of your designs make them unique to you?
KS: Colour, texture, contrast

LLO: Not only have you won some impressive awards (including “Best Surface Textiles 2010 LCF BA Graduate Show”, “Nina De York Illustration Award 2010” and “Fashion Graduate of the Year 2010 British Graduate 100 Award”) but you also started your own label. What has been your proudest moment so far in your fashion career?
KS: Receiving the “Best Surface Textile Award” at the London College of Fashion Graduate show 2010 was a great way to graduate, a fulfilling pat of encouragement.

LLO: Your bio includes a degree in economics, experience in at an NGO and a stint as a production manager. Does your career background have an impact on the way you approach fashion?
KS: Yes it does. I do think that one needs to know all the aspects of the industry they are a part of; it’s not about mastering all aspects but just simply about knowing how things work, because everything works hand-in-hand. All my previous work experiences have shaped my outlook towards design and its end result. The work has made me travel and live in various cities, that in itself is an enriching experience.


LLO: Where’s your favourite place in London to gather fashion inspiration – both in the shops and on the streets?
KS: Camden Town. One of my absolute favourites. I love how you can find ‘anything’ in the market and see ‘anyone’ on the streets. It always puts me in awe at the diversity that is around us.

LLO: Any other up-and-coming London-based designers we should keep an eye on?
KS: Felicity Brown, Manjit Deu, David Longshaw to name just a few.

LLO: What’s next for you?
KS: I am currently working on developing an AW 11 collection, alongside a brand that further promotes social responsibility and traditional techniques for a sustainable future of products and fashion; that continues to become more aware of its power to change and assist changes in lives of all those involved. Alongside this, I am working on a collaboration project with American artist Amy Sol, whose phantasmagorical paintings always depict girls in flowing dresses wandering through luscious landscapes. This project for a social eco-fashion enterprise called “Jhoole”, a non-profit business, designed to uplift female artisans based in a weaver’s village in rural Madhya Pradesh, India which will culminate in exhibitions and fashion shows in the summer of 2011. Another, being a textile development project for a textile producer based on recyclability and sustainability of fabrics combined with a base to provide further work for craftspeople in different regions of India.

Thanks Karishma!

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

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