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    Benarasi textiles take centre stage in Shalini James’ Jahanara.

    Jahanara — a princess whose life was fraught with mishaps, injustices and sadness — forms the inspiration for Shalini James’ latest couture line. Launched in Collage Shop India last week, the collection, also titled Jahanara is built around James’ reimagining of the sartorial choices of the princess after tragedy struck. An odd choice to make, one would think, but James begs to differ. “Despite being the daughter of Shah Jahan, her life was not easy. When she was young, she survived a fire which left her scarred both mentally and physically. She had a lover, whom she never married because of a rule that prevented Mughal princesses from getting hitched. But she was extremely talented — a poet, painter and writer. And after I read Indu Sundaresan’s The Shadow Princess, her story somehow stayed with me,” reveals Kochi-based James, whose ready-to-wear label, Mantra has a huge fan following across the country.

    Luxe life
    Quite naturally, the textile that James has chosen for this line is handwoven Benarasi. However, heavy silks have been passed up for a lightweight fabric that’s a mix of cotton and silk. “I enjoy working with contrasting fabrics and techniques. For the character (Jahanara) I had in mind, the elegance and subtlety of cotton silk seemed apt,” she explains. In keeping with this, the hues that have been employed include, in James’s own words, cardamon green, sandstone pink, marble white, old rose, amber yellow, scented ash, mineral blue and sandalwood. The soft pastel hues form the perfect backdrop for techniques like quilting, and rose gold and silver zari work. Satin silk trimmings add to the opulence, while organza dupattas lend a delicate touch.

    “In a sense, it’s minimalistic as embellishments have been used sparingly,” shares James. Though dramatic anarkalis, ruffled maxi skirts and striking A-line kurtas make up most of the collection, there’s a sense of restraint and sophistication that makes it all the more appealing. “The fabric itself is an embellishment. They have been woven in such a way that they resemble miniature paintings from the Mughal period,” she adds.

    Apart from releasing a fresh batch of garments for Mantra every month, next year, James plans to work on a couture line with Indo-Chinese influences.
    Rs 15,000 upwards. At Collage Shop India, Wood Street. Details: 25566819
    — Rashmi Rajagopal Lobo

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