India Tour: Reading Recommendations

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We've compiled a list of reading suggestions to provide you with extra insight into some of the people and places we'll be visiting on our tour Classic India: Spectacular Forts, Magical Palaces and Artisanal Textiles (February 13-26, 2019). This is by no means an exhaustive list but just a handful of articles and books we've enjoyed recently.  

Deborah Needleman's article The Ancient Art of Jaipur Block Printing, and What It Means to India describes the history of block-printing in Bagru, a town outside Jaipur where the Chippa caste has been practicing the craft for over three centuries. On our tour, we'll visit Bagru to participate in a block-printing workshop and we'll have a chance to walk through town to see artisans involved in the process, including dyers, printers and woodblock carvers. For an in-depth look at the whole process we also recommend The Kindcraft's excellent article.  

Shivani Vora's article For Indian Weavers in Varanasi, Help for an Endangered Craft describes the history of weaving in Varanasi and highlights Loom to Luxury, which weaves silk for high-end international fashion labels such as Maiyet and The Row. We’ll visit a village outside Varanasi to meet Jitendra Kumar, the organization’s founder, who will introduce us to their weavers who weave on 19th-century jacquard looms with old punch-card technology.  

There are several excellent books on Indian textiles but one of our recent favorites is the catalog for the V&A's 2015 exhibition The Fabric of India. The exhibition captured the richness of Indian textiles past and present and the catalog highlights some designers we'll visit on our tour, including Kashmir Loom and Brigitte Singh. We're also looking forward to reading Brigitte Singh: Printress of the Mughal Garden, which was just published in the US, and explores Brigitte Singh's remarkable life and career.

In her book Fashion India, author Phyllida Jay highlights several contemporary fashion designers whose work is textile-driven. These designers are committed to working with artisans from throughout India to reinvigorate age-old motifs and techniques. This book will get you excited to explore Indian fashion, a sample of which we'll see on a guided shopping experience with a buyer from India's leading fashion boutique Ogaan. Maggie Baxter's Unfolding: Contemporary Indian Textiles also highlights some designers we'll visit on our tour, including Péro and 11.11.

In 2017, Border & Fall launched The Sari Series: An Anthology of Drape, an extensive video documentation of the various regional styles of sari draping. We'll meet textile scholar Rta Kapur Chishti—one of the contributors to the project—who is considered the leading expert on saris and is the author of Saris: Tradition and Beyond. Border & Fall founder Malika Verma Kashyap, who conceived The Sari Series, was interviewed in The Kindcraft.

Click here for more information about our tour in February 2019.

Mexico's Moment

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Mexico is having a moment as people start exploring the country beyond the beach. Last month the New York Times featured Oaxaca in its "36 Hours" section. In another travel article, novelist Francine Prose described Oaxaca as an  "immersion course in Mexican delights." Mexico City topped the Times "52 Places to Go" list in 2016, declaring it a destination for "travelers seeking some of the world’s best cuisine, museums and forward-thinking design" and Elle Decor backed this up with their list of reasons to visit Mexico City following the City's designation as World Design Capital 2018.

Major international museums are also turning the spotlight on Mexico with exhibitions focused on Mexican art, crafts and design. LACMA's Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985, which just closed on April 1, explored "design dialogues between California and Mexico" and is accompanied by an excellent catalog. Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up opens in London this June at the V&A. The exhibition will feature the artist's clothing and personal belongings, seen for the first time outside Mexico. In New York, the Guggenheim Museum (where I used to work!) is presenting Joseph Albers in Mexico, exploring how the artist's visits to Mexico influenced his work.

Introducing Ana Paula Fuentes

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I'm excited to introduce you to Ana Paula Fuentes, who will guide our upcoming tour Mexico City & Oaxaca / Designers & Artisans. Ana Paula was born in Mexico City and now lives in Oaxaca. She was the founding director of the Textile Museum of Oaxaca and has worked for several artisan collectives and organizations throughout her career. Not only is she deeply immersed in the design and artisan world in Mexico, she is a wonderful storyteller who will captivate you with her love for Mexico and her deep knowledge of Mexican textiles and design. This is a special opportunity to experience Mexico in a meaningful way and we hope you'll join us!

Spotlight on Mexican Design

 Rugs and ceramics made in Oaxaca by M.A. as seen at Caravana Americana

Rugs and ceramics made in Oaxaca by M.A. as seen at Caravana Americana

This article was originally published in Hand/Eye magazine, 22 March 2018

Mexico is emerging as an exciting place for home-grown design. Mexico City was declared World Design Capital in 2018 and events are planned throughout the year to highlight the country’s design sector. As consumers globally become more interested in handcrafted products, a new generation of Mexican designers is looking to the country’s indigenous and mestizo cultural traditions and craft-based skills for inspiration. In collaboration with artisans from throughout the country they are reinvigorating old traditions to create products with a contemporary, modern aesthetic that are also distinctly Mexican. 

I recently visited Caravana Americana, a twice-yearly event showcasing design from Latin America, with a focus on Mexico, which took place in Mexico City in March. It presented an exciting line-up of designers, nearly all of whom are committed to supporting artisans in their home countries. There were some well-established brands such as Onora, which produces a luxurious range of textiles, homewares and accessories in collaboration with craftspeople from across Mexico, and El Camino de los Altos, a Chiapas-based organization comprised of 130 weavers from 10 indigenous communities, which makes a sophisticated range of home textiles. Both Onora and El Camino de los Altos create distinctive designs that are thoroughly rooted in traditional practices and motifs. Also featured at Caravana Americana were younger, emerging designers such as Amor & Rosas, which produces a line of clothing with hand-embroidered embellishments and M.A. (pictured above), which makes tapestries and ceramics in Oaxaca with playful designs and rich colors, among many others.

I stayed at a new hotel in Mexico City's Condesa neighborhoood that reflects this new spirit of modern Mexican design. Hotel Nuevo Leon is fitted out by Lagos del Mundo, with handmade rugs, baskets, prints and pottery. I spent a few extra days exploring Mexico City and meeting other designers, including Phigmento and BiYuu, both of whom work with weavers in Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca to make rugs with modern, geometric designs that still retain a Mexican design sensibility. I also met a brand called Anudando, which works with recycled plastic bags to create a range of hand-woven and crocheted baskets and textiles, and Fabrica Social, which updates the traditional Mexican huipile to suit contemporary tastes.

This fall, I'm excited to lead a tour to Mexico City and Oaxaca to explore traditional and present-day textiles and design. Our guide, Ana Paula Fuentes, was the founding director of the Textile Museum in Oaxaca and she is deeply immersed in the design/artisan sector in Mexico.

Discovering Japanese Textiles

 Stunning indigo-dyed sashiko-stitched textile at iconic Tokyo store Blue & White 

Stunning indigo-dyed sashiko-stitched textile at iconic Tokyo store Blue & White 

This article was originally published in Hand/Eye magazine, 19 October 2016

When I lived in Tokyo I was excited to learn about traditional Japanese textiles and to discover contemporary Japanese designers making fresh, new designs rooted in these old traditions. I had previously lived in New York and most of what I knew about Japanese textile design came from the catalogue for “Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles,” an exhibition presented at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998.

Through this catalogue I was aware of NUNO, an innovative textile company based in Tokyo, and I immediately sought them out. At that time they had two locations—their main showroom in Roppongi and a small shop in Aoyama for NUNO Works, their line of printed fabrics. I took a couple of classes at NUNO Works, where I learned about some of the processes behind their fabrics, one of which involved sewing fabric scraps onto a dissolvable base to produce a lace-like textile. Another process involved poking fabric through holes in a sheet of paper before pressing it flat and heat setting with dye to create a cutting-edge-looking shibori. Some of NUNO’s innovative ways of re-purposing fabrics and other materials are currently featured in Scraps: Fashion, Textiles and Creative Reuse at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum through April 2017.

During my time in Tokyo I was also excited to discover younger brands, such as Sou Sou, Kyototo, and Hirocoledge, among others, who were reinventing traditional Japanese garments and accessories with contemporary—and often playful—patterns and designs. Sou Sou, for example, employs traditional, Kyoto-based textile artisans and manufacturers to produce bold, vibrant fabrics. These fabrics are used to create a range of traditional garments and accessories that look youthful and edgy. They are perhaps best known for redesigning the split-toe shoe—traditionally worn by workmen—with their signature fabrics. They are committed to using “Ise” cotton, a soft, gauzy fabric, which dates back to the 14th-century, and for which demand declined in the 19th century as Japanese people started wearing Western clothing and textile production went offshore.

Similarly, textile designer Takahashi Hiroko designs contemporary yukata and kimono with geometric, architectural patterns. Some of her patterns are applied using a traditional paste-resist method called yuzen while other patterns are applied with inkjet dyeing. Kyototo is another brand committed to employing traditional manufacturers and artisans to produce their contemporary range of accessories. For example, they have a range of scarves inspired by Kyoto architectural landmarks, which are shibori-dyed in Kyoto with pared-back minimalist designs not instantly recognizable as shibori.

After my experience living in Tokyo for a year, I knew I wanted to share my discoveries with other textile enthusiasts and in 2013 I took a group of women from the US on a trip to explore Japanese textiles both old and new. In Spring 2017 I am organizing another small-group trip. We will spend time in Tokyo meeting contemporary designers on private studio visits before traveling to a small village outside the city for an intensive indigo dyeing workshop where we will learn the fundamentals of traditional shibori and katazome with host and teacher Bryan Whitehead. 

Bryan is a Canadian expat who has lived in Japan for over 25 years and is an expert in Japanese textiles who grows his own indigo and breeds silk worms. We will stay at his 150-year-old silk-farming house, which is where the workshops take place. A highlight of our time there will be a day-trip to visit to the home and workshop of a seventh-generation katazome master. This experience will give us a hands-on appreciation for traditional Japanese textiles, providing a backdrop to the contemporary textiles we will have explored in Tokyo.