“It took 24 months for the karigars to create this chikankari lehenga. Its design is enhanced with thousands of sequins and beads, dyed in red, and 27,000 Swarovski crystals in the same hue, imported directly from Austria,” explains ace couturier Anjul Bhandari, her love, passion, and enthusiasm for the traditional embroidery style of chikankari is infectious.
We’re at the Ensemble India store at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, with the fashion mastermind to attend the launch of her wedding-festive special collection ‘Surkh Lal’. She’s beaming with pride as she talks about this stunning red chikankari lehenga in front of which we’re standing. This creation is part of her newest collection ‘Surkh Lal’, which is 15-piece limited-edition. ‘Surkh Lal’ means ruby red in Urdu, and Anjul’s collection features an interesting array of sarees, lehengas, anarkalis, and shararas in deep and striking shades of red with exquisite chikankari, sequins, and bead work in the same tone. It’s a bold move, and a step away from the usual pastel shades that she works with.
This wedding-festive collection by Anjul’s decade-young eponymous label is inspired by the beautiful red roses she saw in Kannauj aka the perfume capital of India. The flowers were kept for drying and they would later be used to make ittar (perfume). This happened amid the pandemic, when she and her husband were travelling from Delhi to Lucknow by road.
While inspiration struck instantly, it did take Anjul and her team a lot of research to zero in on the perfect shade of red that suits all Indian skin tones, and how to make the chikankari embroidery to stand out on such a solid shade.
Enquire about the challenges she faced while making ‘Surkh Lal’ pieces, and she began her response with a heavy sigh. “As a brand, we’ve always worked with pastels, so working with a bold hue like this [red] was challenging for sure. From dying the sequins and beads to achieve the right shade of red to ensuring there’s enough spotlight on the chikankari work, which is the heart of this collection and our label, apart from Jamdani, of course. We’ve kept the collection limited, so only 15 pieces, and no 16th will be made.”
Our brief conversation came to a close with Anjul talking about who ‘Surkh Lal’ is dedicated to. “Overall, this is my tribute to the historic town of Kannauj as well as the modern-day Indian bride, who has embraced modernity but is still very rooted in tradition,” she signs off.
The self-taught couturier started the label ‘Anjul Bhandari’ in Lucknow in 2012, and ever since, it has been synonymous with chikankari and jamdani work. They work with over 2000 skilled artisans in Lucknow and around. And the designer and her label have carved a niche for themselves in the fashion industry of India by creating contemporary ensembles using these beautiful and delicate embroidery forms, and making it more approachable and accessible to the newer generations. Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, and Tara Sutaria are a few of the label’s patrons in Bollywood.
The ’Surkh Lal’ collection is available at Ensemble India until stocks last.