An Ode To Bengal

Designer Pranay Baidya recounts a nostalgic, artistic childhood in Kolkata, using the colourful and motif-laden tant weave to create his own design narrative, supporting the weavers – guardians of our textile heritage, and why “2020 is not cancelled”.

An Ode To Bengal Designer Pranay Baidya

While it’s the glitz and glimmer of heavy, embellished fabrics that find favour among those in celebratory mood – be it nuptials or festivals – it’s the elegant simplicity of the Bengal handloom that attracts those who revere Indian handloom textiles. Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had a penchant for tant saris, that she paired simply with a jacket or sweater blouse. Bengal, with its rich legacy of textiles and craftsmanship, is a source of never-ending inspiration for designers such as Pranay Baidya.

Pranay, anyone can see that you wear Kolkata with pride on your sleeve - what is the essence of Kolkata that permeates your design story, and your aesthetic?

Growing up in Calcutta, my interests in the arts and fashion started early on, thanks to my Dida (maternal grandmother). The lady had impeccable taste in music, cinema, saris, and jewellery. Between her and my mother, I had quite an education on style and grace which comes so naturally to Bengali women. While other boys would be busy playing sports after school hours, on scorching summer afternoons, I could hardly wait to get home! In no time one would find me happily tucked in under hand embroidered silk 'kantha' lying next to my grandmother on a day bed. We spent many languid afternoons listening to sublime music by Hemanta Mukherjee on the cassette player or watching one of Satyajit Ray's classics on television. I can say without an iota of doubt that my love for fashion, art, and beauty blossomed then. On one such rain swept mid-summer afternoon, I distinctly remember being bewitched by the sights, sounds and costumes of Charulata and being inspired to fashion my own. It's a memory I will forever cherish and celebrate.

An Ode To Bengal A Pranay Baidya creation

My decision of returning back to Bengal, in pursuit of establishing a fashion business in India, after studying and working in New Zealand, was treated with much scepticism by loved ones. After all, I was leaving behind a prestigious high paying job as creative director, for the unchartered trials and tribulations of setting up shop. The arduous months that lead up to this decision were also the most insightful and pointed me to the direction of my purpose in this effervescent industry. While the business of fashion and how to market it remained a beguiling interest, my true inspiration lay back home in India amidst our age-old rituals and crafts. I kept going back to those memories of childhood, the joy of going sari shopping with my mother, the smell of old books and textiles at Calcutta markets, or painting alpona across the floors of our family home before pujos and celebrations. I knew then, I had to return home. That was my calling.

You recently hosted the Bengali soiree at Rooh with eminent Bengali personalities and Bengali cuisine - and installations of your creations. pls could you tell me about why it's so important for you to recreate the splendour of Kolkata and Bengal in the Capital...

In 2020 Take on Art and Latitude 28, founded by my dear friend Bhavna Kakar, completed 10 glorious years. I was delighted to co-host this joyous landmark celebration with Bhavna and Chef Sujan Sarkar of Rooh Chicago & New Delhi. The evening was dedicated to Bengal with the launch of the Take Bengal magazine issue; Bengal-inspired cuisine and cocktails conceptualized by chef Sujan Sarkar and Samrat Banerjee. Attended by lovers of art, fashion, cuisine and gallerists, collectors, curators visiting from all over the world, the rain soaked January evening also formed the perfect setting and opportune moment to launch Tant, my Bengal handloom sari and textile revival foundation.

An Ode To Bengal Bengali-themed dinner at Rooh, New Delhi

Atelier Pranay Baidya located in an Art Deco bungalow in Delhi, is an outpost of the designer's Kolkata flagship. The label is built on the vision of fusing the old with the new, blending tradition and innovation while deeply embodying the cultural values of this splendid nation. The garments celebrate Bengal's multifaceted and rich heritage in handloom textile, printmaking and artisanal embroideries.

An Ode To Bengal Pranay Baidya Atelier in New Delhi

You have spoken about the need to help handloom weavers during these difficult times of the Covid pandemic - you have said the weavers are as much designers as a trained designer like you - please can you elaborate.

At Atelier Pranay Baidya, we have always worked on heritage weaves, with a focus on saris and textiles from Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and Benaras. We launched the TANT Saree & Textile Foundation in Jan 2020, with an aim to give India and Bengal’s handlooms its due place in the spotlight. The hands that weave magic, need to be celebrated. Tant is a sustainable, homegrown initiative with an unclouded dedication to our indigenous crafts-people and weavers. I am a trained fashion designer (Design & Arts College of New Zealand, followed by appointment as Creative Director of NZ Wool Growers Marketing Ltd.) and that is my design identity. However the tant master weavers who weave their artistry into textiles are designers too, in their own right, often times learning practical skills at a very early age from their parents or grandparents, considering both men and women carry forward weaving traditions in these communities. Through unwavering dedication and practice, living in adverse conditions, they pursue vocation and aesthetic. They are the backbone and true makers of our fashion conglomerate in India.

An Ode To Bengal Weaver working on a tant loom

My foundation is engaged in working with several such master weavers across districts in West Bengal, who in turn bring together hundreds from their provincial fraternity. It's a huge cicle of weavers from all these districts along with old school sari shops that make up our supply chain.

How are you supporting the tant weavers today, and what is the situation right now. The tant saris - how can we support them? Where do we purchase your creations?

With the ongoing threat of Covid-19, and subsequent quarantine measures followed by the national lockdown, shops and markets retailing handloom saris have been closed for over three months. As a result, the weaving communities have incurred insurmountable losses, considering the month of March and April (Chaitra Sale) are some of the busiest months of the year, leading up to Bengali New Year (on April 14). The need of the hour is to mobilize retail for existing stock and e-commerce support with an aim to boost business and revive endangered weaves and communities. In the coming months, I will be hosting regular workshops with the weavers (currently through WhatsApp video calls), offering creative direction and textile design expertise in developing an ongoing collection of modern day tant saris and textiles that can be procured by yardage. Tant textile is a versatile fabric and can find usage in several product categories including soft furnishings and home linen. The collection of saris starting for little as Rs 1,000 and yardage Rs 250, will be warehoused and catalogued in Kolkata and retail through leading multi-designer stores across the country supported by a nationwide calendar of experiential pop-ups and e-commerce portals to the Indian diaspora living overseas, with monies from sales going back directly to the weavers. One can follow the journey and shop online on Tant & Atelier Pranay Baidya Instagram Pages (@tantbengal) and (@pranay_baidya).

An Ode To Bengal The tant weave on a loom

Earlier this month on June 5, we have resumed operations at our Kolkata and Delhi Ateliers following strict health and safety guidelines as suggested by WHO. ‘Live Home Shopping’ is also offered, where in clients are welcome to book appointments on video call and the retail team will assist them to shop from the comforts of their home. Aligned with virtual technology, with real care and personal recommendations.

What is unique about tant weaves?

Every tant sari has a story to tell, representative of the finest and most ancient form of weaving that originated in Bengal in the 15th century, arising from an exotic concoction of Mughal patronage with ancient Hindu traditions and a Bengali flair for design. Some of the finest cotton muslin textiles were created during this time with joyous floral and intricate figured motifs. A quintessential six yard (???? ???) tant sari is characterized by thick two-to-four inch borders and a decorative pallu. Woven using fine cotton yarn in a variety of floral, paisley, and other artistic motifs, each sari takes 7-10 days to come alive. Some of the most traditional motifs are: Bhomra (bumble-bee), Tabij (amulet), Rajmahal (royal palace), Ardha-Chandra (half moon), Chandmala (garland of moons), Ansh (fish scale), Hathi (elephant), Nilambari (blue sky), Ratan Chokh (gem-eyed), Benki (spiral),Tara (star), Kalka (paisley), and Phool (flower).

An Ode To Bengal The beauty of the tant handloom comes to life

My grandmother had an expansive collection of handloom saris from across India, and for a curious young boy, they were quite an education in the manifold textile heritage of our motherland. Over the years, I found myself particularly attached to Bengal tant saris. Especially, the tant jamdani from Shantipur are sensually lightweight, characterized by intricately designed motifs that seem to float on the surface of a translucent ultra-fine textile, giving it a mystical charm that is hard to find elsewhere.

How can we wear tant saris today - what are some of the colours and creations that you make with your weavers and how should one wear a Pranay Baidya tant sari?

Tant saris are authentically woven in locally procured Bengal cotton or Murshidabad silk. The fine handspun yarn, resulted in soft, feather light, valuable muslin and mulmul textiles which were globally traded through the ages. Today, modern versions of tant are still predominantly woven in local cotton. Depending on the yarn quality, the saris are fine (combed cotton) or slightly coarser (regular cotton). Textile innovations pave the way for new weaves and finishes. We are working on several improvisations of mercerized cotton and silk interweaves to impart the saris and textiles with a lustrous finish and nimble drape. This is in tune with widespread demand for soft and flowy fabrics in fashion retail across markets.

Fresh, easy-to-wear, and celebrating a relaxed attitude, the collection of tant sarees delivers a refreshing look at traditional Indian fashion, in effortless #PranayBaidya style. Reimagined in new eye-catching colours like amaltas yellow, gulmohar red, bougainvillea pink, and innovative textile finishes, infusing a modern edge to traditional Bengali sari style. They pair up with vintage Calcutta-style handcrafted crochet blouses.

An Ode To Bengal A Pranay Baidya sari

Everyone is talking about sustainable and Make in India - how does tant achieve both goals?

Like many other things, people in India look to influencers for their fashion inspiration and direction. Celebrities, designers, stylists, and other influential personalities hold tremendous power to sway popular opinion and need to be the crusaders for the survival and resurgence of traditional art forms. We need to indomitably use our voice to educate and expose people to the beauty and value of handloom textiles, the intricacies of these age-old crafts, and the unerring skills of our traditional artisans creating timeless pieces of art that last decades and become priceless heirlooms to pass onto your loved ones.

Let's consider the multi-billion dollar Indian wedding market - when looking for high-quality, high-value items for your wedding, luxury need not only mean international labels, foreign-made fabrics or crystal embellishments from Swarovski. What could be more precious than fine silks woven with pure gold zari or encrusted with Jaipur-cut gemstones for your big day! Worn by women of all ages for daily wear as well as special occasions, handloom or tant saris can be an incredible addition to your wedding wardrobe. Consider a fine muslin-silk jamdani with pure zari work, or exquisite fabric with intricate work for your sari, blouse, or even a veil. Embrace the gilded glow of a swarna baluchari crafted in pure gold for your ceremony, whose luxurious feel is fit for royalty. Exquisite saris with tales of mythology and history woven into the fabric make a statement like nothing else. You can make your wardrobe more versatile by using yardage of handloom fabrics to create other outfits or incorporate it into your decor, invites, or even wedding favours.

Rejuvenating regional and rural economy, post the Covid-19 pandemic, is the only way of resurrection. Fostering crafts, handloom, and local enterprise continues to be the most viable option. They are sustainable, affordable to many, and have a low carbon footprint. One ticks all boxes that are a prerequisite for an ethical trade paradigm, all the while strengthening rural hands who are the backbone of our industry.

An Ode To Bengal Colourful yarns for tant textiles

What is your forecast for fashion in the near future - what kind of clothes will be the focus of not only millennials but of people who want to be part of a kinder world?

I strongly believe fashion needs to go back to its honest form and intention, creating designs with the end consumer in mind, less trend-driven which often makes it disposable and creates waste, with minimal excess, classic, and timeless. That is both my wish and mood board for fashion in the near future. We need to celebrate design. Fashion is a product designed for people, not a form of popular culture entertainment. A fashion item which eventually became timeless and iconic has always been well designed, honest, methodical, skilful, and committed to excellence in quality.

For me personally, luxury means enjoying everyday mindful living through the richness, culture, and unmatched artisanal skills of our Indian craftspeople. Experiencing the timelessness and design excellence of India through its crafts.

An Ode To Bengal Artisans working on a tant sari

In keeping with this ethos, Pranay Baidya is pivoting into a label not only immersed in fashion but a holistic and mindful brand. Our lifestyle label, ‘India Through Craft’ is a boutique design atelier celebrating handcrafted objects, art, jewellery, and textiles. It celebrates #handmadeinindia, handcrafted everyday objets d'art for modern spaces. Celebrating stories and legends dating back to thousands of years, delivering unique handmade pieces, offering timelessness in a fast paced world. Supporting artisanal communities across regional India.

An Ode To Bengal Pranay Baidya jewellery

In your latest campaign - you said 2020 is not cancelled, that it's a year of change and a year of love - what keeps you optimistic about the future and how can we get through this?

Atelier Pranay Baidya, from its very inception has been a fashion house built on the preamble of culture, experience and celebration. Our wanderlust menswear collection of printed chanderi kurtas is a range of contemporary ethnicwear separates celebrating equal Love, and the belief that in the end Love always wins. Kurtas are definitely the champion silhouettes and a symbolic Indian garment. Through this collection crafted in handwoven chanderi and muslin silks, brought alive in artistic Mughal botanical prints, I presented a range of kurta, patiala and dhoti pants that reach out to a wide spectrum of young Indians living in India and abroad. The idea is to curate a collection which is impactful to many, easy to wear, and sparks a dialogue. The year 2020, in the wake of this global pandemic, is one of reset, refresh, and change. Each one in our communities across the world, also have an underlying obligation to come together, accept racial and sexual diversity, celebrate love, and be inclusive. 2020 is not cancelled.

An Ode To Bengal Kalyani Saha in a Pranay Baidya sari

Pranay Baidya; tant; Pranay Baidya Atelier; Bengal; Calcutta; Kolkata; handloom; weavers; Rooh; Chef Sujan Sarkar; tant saris


Priya Kumari Rana

Lifestyle Insider is a kind of junction point, connecting people with diverse interests that touch on the more luxurious aspects of lifestyle – fashion, design, travel, food and spirits, art, watches and jewellery, cars, yachts, and aviation, and technology. People today don’t fit into boxes and categories. In our individual ways, we are interested in diverse themes, products, and the challenges that face our world today. You will judge how well this effort of mine caters to your passions and proclivities.

Lifestyle Insider is a showcase of all that is beautiful and luxe. Behind every creation, is a designer, chef, entrepreneur, or a design maison. I have delved into my own appreciation for objetsde luxe that I have admired over the years – be it a love of fashion from the world’s top Parisian and Italian fashion maisons and their ’90s muses, or the care that goes into sari and Indian textile collections in my own family. Growing up on four continents, as the daughter of a former Indian Ambassador, I’ve seen a remarkable array of historic places and met a myriad people. My aim is to bring my world view into this website, a curation of what I find particularly stunning, unique, and newsworthy.

It’s an exciting time for brands all over the world. With change comes opportunity. With the global ‘reset’ and uncertainty on many fronts, there is a chance to write a new script. Let’s be those pioneers.

A bit about me:
A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.

Priya Kumari Rana

Founder and Editor

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