Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bérénice Ellena >India Sutra

Bérénice Ellena

"India Sutra, on the magic trail of Indian textiles" is both an illustrated book for art lovers, adventurous aesthetes, as well as a reference book and a tool indeed for textile and decorative arts professionals. Presenting all types of weaves and decorative techniques, it leads the reader from the material and reality towards myth and ritual. Yet it presents the advantages of a practical guidebook. It includes reliable maps, a comprehensive address book, and as such is an excellent repertoire for adventures from outside up to all around India.

A tribute to the skills of Indian craftsmen, the book offers a discovery of textile routes in today’s India. In remote villages, ancestral techniques help create countless varieties of fabrics adorned with symbolic designs, embroidery or by precious vegetable dyes. In this universe where all embellishment techniques continue to exist side by side, beauty itself lies in the heart of the workshops where day after day the canvas of the future is woven with fervour.

Bérénice Ellena has worked as a clothes and costume designer in Paris, Venice, Delhi and Srinagar. Designing costumes for cinema and theatre, she prefered to work for theatre creations and festivals, in Paris and outside. The slow maturing work in collaboration with theatre directors, diving deep into a text, searching the essence of the caracters and therefore the ideal outfit in which the caracters would hide or expose themselves appeared more interesting to her than the imediate fabrication of a costume for a film or even the designing of some prêt à porter ensemble. She had the pleasure to work for memorable creations in the court of Popes’ Palace for Avignon festival
During her years in Venice, she collaborated with painters with whom she was friend with, inspiring them with her most original outfits. Modeling intensively for one of them, she kept on creating special looks for him and got more and more intuitive, self teaching herself the keys to symbolism, all the metaphysic of outfits, ornaments and poses. As long with observing how he would capture the light and translate contrasts of colours, light and shade, she would imbibe the geometry of frame. All this would be usefull to her later on, when going around India and taking pictures for her book on textiles, in difficult conditions of light, not having learned photography. The Venitian background would then automaticly guide her, without her even being aware of it.

Since 76, she had been visiting India, between every assignement as a costumes designer, at least one or twice a year. She was fascinated by its colours and fabrics, as well as by the natural elegance of its simplest inhabitants. She was very much attracted as well by khadi, its image of non violence and its quality as sustainability conductor. Having selected, manipulated textiles for many years, she, as most of her fellows costumes and fashion designers in France, had a very poor idea of how all these beautiful traditional textiles were being made and embellished. She was feeling that knowing more, exchanging more with the craftpeople would lead to more understanding and open new niches of creativity, collaboration, away from heavy industrial production.

In 88, she was offered to conduct a development project for production of finely embroieded garments for a french company founded by a french actress friend of hers and designer Michel Klein. Kashmir was to be the location for this romantic project. She was to conduct the whole project, from a house-boat on Dal Lake, picking up her master tailor every morning on the shore, rowing the shikara as Mustak, his tiffin on his lap, would hum a gazal of his composition, praizing his female boss with a genuine sense of humour.

She has taught the history of costume, and has also organised various exhibitions in French museums as designer and curator. Supported by Hermès, she spent some years researching textiles all around India. Her writings and photos originate from her meetings with craftspeople, textile technicians, poets and Indian scholars. Her work depicts a living art endangered by modernity. When meeting late Krishna Ribou, famous and very knowledgeable collector of anciant Indian fabrics in Paris, whose collection was given to Musée Guimet Paris, she would argue with her : Krishna would say that such marvellous fabrics could not be made today, Ellena would say that all the technics are knowned and available today, though time consuming, and that such unique weaves could be made on order, as long as the buyer would agree to pay the fees for the weavers, when it takes nine month to weave a jamewar, or a few months less for a poetic jamdani sari, not more than one would pay for a label product from some Haute Couture house.

Working with the craftsmen in Kashmir, introducing new designs and colour combinations, very succesfully, led her to be persuaded that India was « the spot » where to create new collections, small quantities unique collections. She decided she would make a guide book for people working with textiles in Europe : through this book they would to get to know more about the technics and therefore, the conditions of production, an dit would help them to reach the production villages and experiment with the craftpeople, cooperative societies, women’s development societies, they would be able to design new products adapted to the requirements and ethics of foreign market.

She knew that any fashion or decorative art related visitor in India would be interested in investigating, for knowledge or for business, this hudge field, spread all around India.
Hermès was to be her sponsor for this vast enterprise (adventure). It took her about three years around India, visiting remote villages, taking photographs, interviewing the weavers and dyers. Altogether, with research and editing, seven years.

In the meanwhile, she conducted two kalamkari projects in Andhra and introduced two hudge contemporary kalamkaris in french museums’collection, contradicting Krishna Ribou’statesments on the poor quality of today’s products.

Very concerned by environment, she explored and tried to promote the natural dyes field, gave her contribution to works on this field and had her photographs exhibited in various museums, as Musée des Arts Premiers in Paris.

She is aware that India owns a treasure that she does not sherish enough, and a hudge field of employment and export that still needs to be exploited.

When in Venice, she had curated the italian Haute Couture Alta Moda Italiana collections shootings, matching accessories and choosing the models for each ensemble what Italians would call a stylista work.

For Nice Museum of Asian Arts, she curated an exhibition on Indian women’s image(s) through arts and cinema. From mother goddesses of the Indus valley up to the rebellous heroïnes of today’s and cinema, the exhibition was going through the form/shape, the external and inner aspects, the symbols of fertility…

For the golden Jubilee in Alliance Française Delhi, she wanted to show some of the best know-how France has, ie, haute couture, the way a dress falls, the perfection of a cut along the body, the righness of choice of fabric for a special cut, the perfection of a sleeve and how it is attached to the body of the dress without pulling or grining. To show in fact and ancestral art of cuting and matching. She wanted to show it through the ages, along history, throuth french painting. With the new generation of Indian fashion Designer, the rising of Haute Couture in India, the new skills in cuting here, she wanted in this fashion show to depict the actual landscape of a recently born and very succesful art of dressing women, acording to today’s requirements. THe selection of designers, some very new and talented, some others whose talent had already been confirmed was to show the variety and vitality of Indian fashion design, its creativity that makes it deserve to figure in the courts of the great. Some of the yound designers like Ekta Kaul, Koga and Mayank Kaul will probably do, they have all the capacity. It was a thrilling experience to have them all on the ramp, to organise this show with a very restricted amount iof money, with Alliance studients instead of professionals, to give it a more risky, daring, intellectual and artistic touch, hosting it in this very modern and minimalist architecture of the Alliance Française building, to respect the architecture in not overdoing the show decoration, all of it a great thrill. And all these designers were darlings. The response also has been overwhelming.


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