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The queen of quirks
A jacket out of a kalamkari wall hanging, a Pichhwai painting crafted into a top, a chunky statement neck piece and her trademark blue kohl-lined eyes… not many in Chennai are unfamiliar with Prabha Narasimhan’s style statement. It’s this sensibility that she pours into her creations as well. Cushion covers, bed spreads, puppets, stoles… the queen of quirks derives ideas from everything and uses them in her creations. And if you see women in Chennai teaming up their saris with Kashmiri-embroidered jackets, you can credit her for it. At a recent party, that’s exactly what the designer wore, and came back with eight orders for the same. “Since none of the pieces I design are identical, each of these has different colours and patterns,” says Prabha.
After 31 years with a travel agency and an airline company, Prabha decided to start something she had an “innate passion” for — designing. And Amrita, her design studio, was started in 2003. It’s a busy place with a bunch of craftswomen working on various techniques — French knots, aari, zardozi, ribbon and Kashmiri embroidery, appliqué work. It’s all very meticulous. “I prefer one person working on a piece of garment. That way, the work remains uniform,” she adds. One of the women tries to place 11 gold coins on a sari, atop a massive, embroidered lotus. “The client had a specific pattern in mind and was particular about the coins falling right where the pallu in front is,” she explains and adds, “From indo-western outfits to fully embroidered saris and innovative blouses, we do everything here.”
Known for giving blouses unusual patterns, Prabha says she often has youngsters telling her they wear saris because of the blouses she designs. When she started 12 years back, it was the sari that was the statement piece and blouses were just the necessary accompaniment. Now it’s the blouses that have become centre pieces. High necks, zipper fronts, boat necks and combination of different textures… these are all in now. They even double up as crop tops. Clients were earlier apprehensive about deep-cut blouses, but now it’s not just the young, even the 40-year-olds want their blouses cut deep. “Sometimes, it’s even more expensive than a sari. For one of my clients, I made a zardozi blouse which cost Rs. 30,000. The blouse is a totally transformed garment today.”
“My latest is a line of linen saris. I recently made around 22 and showcased them at an exhibition. They sold out. Now I have repeat orders. I have used kalamkari, embroidery, three-dimensional flowers cut out and pasted and appliqué work on them,” she says, displaying a sea foam green sari with bright appliqué work on it. “The work you see is cut out of a stole I had picked up on a trip to Mumbai,” she smiles. Her works see a lot of different fabrics fused together, zaris and borders from dhotis and saris stitched onto blouses, a lot of mix and match, which is evident in her line of jewellery as well. Neckpieces made out of Japanese beads, zardozi pendants, traditional key chain lockets… each strikingly different. “People have graduated from gold and diamonds to wearing statement jewellery such as these,” she says. And to cater to their constantly changing tastes, Prabha is ready, reinventing every time.