Cocooned in luxury: Samant Chauhan’s wild silk couture

I first meet Samant Chauhan at his apartment in South Delhi’s fashionable Hauz Khas district. He hands me the look book from his latest AW/ 09 collection: models recline across the sculptural forms of massive looms, machine, model and dress shown together collapse distance created between the production and consumption cycles of the garment. This image underscores Samant’s vision which is to bring handwoven textiles and wild silk together in a fusion of high value-added contemporary luxury fashion whilst creating a distinct brand identity for the Bhagulpuri handwoven silk which is produced in his native Bihar (If you don’t know what this silk looks and feels like, think of a soft Chanel bouclé ). Chauhan is leading the way in innovating on wild silks and in particular has stamped his unique style on the textured, more roughly graded peace silk.

As awareness surrounding the social and environmental impacts of textile production, in particular cotton, has grown, there has been increasing interest in alternatives and the potential for “eco-textiles”. As part of this, wild silk and peace silk have gained attention, the latter in particular for its claims to be cruelty free. Sustainable textile expert Kate Fletcher notes that wild silk is grown in open forests, meaning no use of hazardous chemicals and a ready food supply, in theory this means that “…its production can encourage forest preservation (as an integral part of the forest ecosystem) and provide a major year-round income for millions of tribal people in India” (Kate Fletcher, 2008, Sustainable fashion and textiles: Design journeys, p. 27).

Peace silk (also known as Ahimsa or Tussah silk) so-called since the silk worms are allowed to hatch out of the cocoon they spin around themselves, thus breaking the otherwise continuous thread. Due to this, peace silk results in short, broken fibers which then have to be woven, producing a grainy, uneven texture with rich graduations in colour. Peace silk is generally cultivated in the same way as non-wild silk, therefore it may not necessarily be wild or pesticide free, Samant notes it’s important to continuously check with producers he sources from to ensure how the silk is cultivated.

AW/09- undyed silk and headpieces made from up-cycled elements

AW/ 09 collection- upcycled cocoons and reels of yarn adorn model’s head-dresses

Samant has adapted the grainy, tactile peace silk to high end couture and pret, producing stylish shervanis, boucle-like jackets and ethereal dresses.  Making a virtue out of every element of the raw material, designs from his latest catwalk collection included whole cocoons which he says were featured like single jewels to highlight the origins of the fabric. Up-cycling is a key feature of how Samant thinks about the production process. For example the Continue reading