Art, Not Fashion

The first spiritual want of a barbarous man is decoration.

Thomas Carlyle

Clothes came later. Even before the rudimentary forms of clothing emerged, researchers suggest, humans were decorating themselves with brilliantly colored body paints and tattoos. As far back as 200,000 years, the Neanderthals were using pigments for decorative purposes like cave art and body painting. While most would assume that the original purpose of clothing was utilitarian, awarding the wearer with either comfort or protection against the elements, scholars have concluded otherwise: The original purpose of clothing was rather social, symbolic, or decorative. In fact, throughout history we often come across clothing that was not only impractical but also injurious. Adoption of various elements of dress have thus been used to exhibit one’s social class or occupation, to attract, to protest and challenge the social order or traditions, or to express love of the exotic or foreign.

It is safe to then presume that in places where clothing did become essential for warmth, decency, or protection from extreme climates, the decoration once on the body was transferred on to the clothes. And with each passing generation the art became increasingly complex and sophisticated. Such is man’s yearning for beauty and finery that up until now despite the advances in manufacturing technology, hours and months are spent by artisans on embellishing a single piece of clothing that serves no function other than projecting beauty and prestige.

To this end, across cultures and regions, embroidery evolved to beautify garments. At the foot of the Himalayas in the Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent, Kashidakari (Hindi and Persian for needlework) evolved as a distinct form of fabric embellishment. It was originally taken up by young men who had to spend years mastering a craft that requires precision and patience to ensure uniformity in every stitch before they could exhibit their talent. This extremely delicate work is still used to enhance cashmere/pashmina shawls, silk saris and even cotton garments with silk thread, beads and sometimes sequins using a needle or aari. Kashidakari patterns boast a range of traditionally Indian nature inspired motifs, oriental landscapes, and Persian and European inspired floral or botanical motifs.

In the same region, down in the south where the city of Mohenjo-Daro once thrived around 2500 BC, another craft was being developed to serve the same purpose—ornamentation. The craftsmen over generations, developed artistry in carving teak wooden blocks, creating and stabilizing dyes from natural products like turmeric, indigo, copper, madder and alum, and perfecting the dyeing process utilizing both printing and resist dyeing techniques. The beautiful ajrakh is born as the fabric goes through fourteen stages of dyeing and washing over a period of three weeks. The appeal of this block printed fabric is known to have to travelled beyond the borders of Sindh as far as the ancient Mesopotamia to the land of the Pharos.

So, no matter through which medium—embroidery, block printing, weaving, or dyeing—since ancient times, man has sought to adorn himself, his surroundings, and his attire. And responding to this inherent human longing for the sublime, Abréshmi offers enduring art not fashion—in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci “only things that may be admired for their dignity and beauty.”