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Closed Exhibition - The Fabric of India

The Fabric of India: At the Cutting Edge

Gamcha Jacket, designed by Rajesh Pratap Singh, silk, cotton and linen, Delhi, India, 2009. Museum no. IS.25, 29-2012, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The thriving culture of India’s major cities is now nurturing a new generation of cosmopolitan designers, artists, consumers and patrons. From spectacular fashion to provocative art installations, makers continue to explore and experiment with hand-made textiles. They live in an environment of new technologies and fast global connections which affect how they interpret, use and interact with their heritage. Though fashion and art offer fresh ways of appreciating the hand-made, they also challenge our expectations. How can the possibilities of craft skills be extended to new areas? What is the relationship between artisan, artist and designer? International in their reach and inspiring in their creativity, today’s contemporary Indian designers are exploring these questions, reflecting the very latest concepts of textile-making and use.

Textile Art

Prosthor Pokshi (Stone Bird), by Ajit Kumar Das, natural dye on painted cotton, Kolkata, West Bengal, 2012-2013. Courtesy of Dr Jenny Balfour Paul, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Contemporary textiles used purely as art are a relatively new phenomenon. Installed in smart urban homes and gallery spaces, they offer new ways of experiencing textiles. Using natural dyes, hand-painting or embroidery to express themselves, artists are stretching the possibilities of those techniques. They are removing them from their traditional uses to create works that are beautiful as well as thought-provoking. Collaborative pieces between artists and artisans are also a way of sharing skills and learning from each other. Experimentation becomes a driving force for preserving the old and forging the new.


Jamdani dress (detail), designed by Aneeth Arora for Péro, cotton woven in West Bengal, tailored in Delhi, 2010. Museum no. IS. 10-2014, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fashion emerged in India as a major creative force in the 1990s with many designers championing the value of traditional skills. Today, city-based designers routinely work with artisans across India while in their workshops they experiment with new materials and techniques. Exciting textures, a fresh aesthetic and western silhouettes have a national and international appeal. Craftsmanship in Indian fashion spans fine machine-stitching to the labour-intensive handwork needed for elaborate and often unconventional embellishments. It is this inspiring dexterity of the human hand which imparts a unique Indian identity to the final product.

Video: Manish Arora’s Studio

Renowned contemporary fashion design Manish Arora welcomes the V&A into his studio, and offers exclusive insight into his work and inspirations in the film below.

The New Sari

Moon sari (detail), designed and made by Aziz Khatri and Suleman Khatri with NorBlack NorWhite, clamp dyed tasar silk, Bhadli, Kutch, Gujarat, India, 2015. Museum no. IS. 3-2015, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Unstitched and elegantly draped, the sari is the most iconic item of Indian dress. It has been common for young women to replace it with the more versatile shalwar kameez (trouser and tunic) combination. In recent years, however, designers have generated new interest in the sari by giving it a more contemporary look, experimenting with styling and making it more fashionable and fun to wear.


Beyond the catwalk, the stylishness of ordinary people in everyday clothes is captured by the discerning eye of the photographer Manou. Taking images across India, his work shows the continued use of hand-made textiles in a regionally and socially diverse society. A selection of photographs taken from Manou’s streetstyle blog, Wearabout, closes the exhibition with a final reflection on the pervasive, and persistent, nature of hand-made Indian textiles. 

Supported by

 Good Earth

With thanks to

Experion      Nirav Modi

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