the printed imagination/ concept and technology

At the beginning of my journey, in 2014-15, I was looking to find fresh ways to explore fabrics and surface techniques. The aim was to produce new surface designs. Something that could stick out, perhaps even in a somewhat eccentric way, while appealing to the rich traditions of sensibility already available in Indian fashions. I thought, instead of embroidery work on the surface, it would be best to paint directly on the fabric. But then I realized it would be quite time consuming and difficult to scale up at the time. So I went on to explore different printing techniques and discovered the new aesthetic avenues opening up through screen printing and digital printing of the kind of designs I really wanted to see on the garments. Instead of hand painting on the garment, therefore, we did it on paper and then transferred it onto the computer. Then we processed and edited it (without adding extraneous elements to the hand painted design), and prepared to print it digitally to create the impression of an original painting on fabric. And that was that! I decided then that we would plan at least one original print for every collection. It was less cumbersome and quicker to scale, even if the process did involve a few closely worked stages; so once we opened up to the intervention of new technologies of planning and production, it became simpler to come up logically with a new way of doing a collection too. 
It became our aim then to tell the diverse stories hidden in the textures of print and Indian fabrics. There is of course no dearth of inspiration in historical cultures of the past that are still with us- so we borrowed liberally from architectural styles, poetry, painting and sculpture- ranging across the worlds of Europe and India. There is a desire to find new echoes from the past and a creative will to use them for new forms and patterns that are fun and feminine, using the broad surfaces that are available in Indian fabrics, and making something that will catch your eye. So we create a print- or two!- every season for our collections since the very beginning and these new surface designs eventually became our style signature.

collections: a brief journey

For my first print collection, The Midnight Bloom, since we had figured out the digital process already we decided to design something for a fashion week that was just around the corner.  I sketched a silhouette style print in about an hour, got it processed and printed- all in time for the event. Inspired by the silhouette of a floral and twine pattern, seen through the murk of midnight, I wanted to create the impression of passing through a cold, dark and overgrown wood relieved by streaks of orange light. The cool midnight theme of this collection featured floral prints that were digitally rendered on the fabric, making their surfaces feel alive even in the depths of darkness. Morbid and life-giving at the same time, it is a collection that is close to my heart. 

 Koela, our next collection, was themed around the capricious but soulful image of the koel singing a melodious strain in a summer orchard. Dense green plantations and wild colourful flowers are its natural habitat- so that inspired the prints we came up with for this collection. The look of this collection is meant to encourage a classical approach that is luxurious as well as contemporary, while putting forth an energetic combination of printed colour and pattern. 

 

The theme of journeys, and the joy of passing through inspiring landscapes, is central to our vision; so for our next collection, Meenakshi, we based it around a road trip that started at the magnificent Meenakshi Temple and ended at Mahabalipuram. My love for the details used in the rich architectural styles of these temples drove the collection: from the intricate, carved pillars around the central pond of the Meenakshi Temple, the earthy gopuram of the Brihadeeshwara Temple at Thanjavur, the elaborate architecture of Sri Rangam’s Ranganathaswamy temple to the monolithic shore temple at Mahabalipuram, the sacred geography of this landscape determined the mood and look of the collection. Some of the prints were bespoke but the colour palette for the collection stuck to earthy tones that were inspired by the structures. 

For Brook, our following Spring Summer collection, we took the sprightly spirit at the heart of Tennyson’s eponymous poem as an inspiration. It is an irrepressible expression of adventure and curiosity, reflecting our own attitudes about the Swinging Sixties, which further bestowed a radical freedom upon the garments. Hand painted flora and fauna- which were rendered into digital prints- were a mainstay of this collection along with other prints that capitalized on the look of that period: full of flares with soft pastels, reds and foliage prints. The collection was meant to remind us that fabrics can be used creatively to embody the free spirited sensibilities of our time.

Our winter collection Calantha was another direct attempt to organize a collection around floral motifs. The word means ‘lovely blossom’ in Greek and our work was to distil as much as possible of the true essence of my favourite flowers like cherry blossoms and carnations. These were hand painted by an artist from Hyderabad and details from the paintings were used to select the colour schemes and to create new surface designs digitally. With printed silhouettes, bright and pastel colours, the collection became a beautiful bouquet that I had always wanted to offer through my label.

I was struck with the impulse to create a Bohemian summer in India, inspired by their silhouettes which use understated floral prints, greys, tans, earthy shades and fun braids. So I dreamed up my muse Alice, who is a Bohemian lady, and based the look of the collection around her. We called it Alice in Bohemia, and committed to our sense of adventure once again. We tried to balance our approach between Bohemian and local styles, keeping Indian bridal wear within our vision, but the fun surfaces we ended up creating took us further down the rabbit hole of invention and colour. “Curiouser and curiouser,” as we can imagine Alice describing it to us.

Bougainvillea, our next collection, is inspired by my childhood memory of looking at some entwined crimson petals drooping down from a roof in front of an earthy wall. This image inspired the look and forms of this collection, turning hand painted flowers and twines into prints and creating a vintage look that can evoke the past. Bright, flary and fun- the collection uses pastel to dark colours, and tries to remind you that the past always stays with you, wherever you go.

For Utpala, our next Summer collection- we took the lotus as a source of inspiration for serenity in colour, pattern and design. I took its calm, ethereal beauty and tried to transform it into abstract works of art while sticking to the palette offered by that flower and its natural surroundings. The collection features hand painted prints in colours like purple, pink, yellow and green, giving it a beautiful sheen. While it is themed around the calm, meditative image of the lotus, the collection is also meant to encourage you to develop a closer relationship with nature and your surroundings.    

Mrunalini Rao Designer Dresses collection 2021
Mrunalini Rao Traditional & Ethnic Designer Dresses Online

Chitra, which means image or ‘bright’ in Sanskrit, was the central idea of our next collection. Looking at the fabric of chintz and its suggestion of a vintage past, I came up with an image in my head- that of a Victorian royal lady lounging in a Hyderabadi bistro! This paradoxical image drove this collection which used several print techniques to convey the impressions of flowers, leaves and stalks. Full of curvy lines, bright colours and the shapes of butterflies and flowers- this collection is meant to inspire brides with a sense of playfulness. Capitalizing on the idea of an image, this collection is also a part of my process to think of ways in which bridal fashion can be given that personal touch.