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A Punjabi bride's trousseau is incomplete without it. At a time when weddings are perhaps the only occasions when women in Punjab have pulled out their heirloom pieces, the state's prized art, phulkari, is now making a mainstream fashion debut. Bollywood's go-to designer Manish Malhotra's Autumn-Winter 2013 collection is an ode to the craft and the designer has given it a contemporary makeover. Elsewhere, noted bags and accessories designer Malini Agarwalla has rolled out a collection of trendy clutches under her label Malaga incorporating phulkari designs. The traditional geometric patterns in quintessential phulkari colours such as saffron and parrot green are also noticeable in the latest collection of clutch bags by the Mumbai-based NGO, Umeed, being retailed on Pernia's Pop Up Shop. The traditional hand embroidery literally means "art of flower".
"What makes phulkari so appealing are the geometric designs and the vibrant colours," says veteran designer Ritu Kumar. One of the first designers to pull out the traditional floral motifs of phulkari and use them with other Indian embroideries, Kumar believes the contemporary look of phulkari has caught the fancy of designers. "It's quite similar to Mexican geometric patterns and the motifs lend themselves well to Western wear as well," says Kumar, whose Autumn-Winter 2012 collection had elements of phulkari as well.
After promoting Kashmiri thread and zari work as well as chikankari, Malhotra's phulkari collection called "Threads of Emotion" presents it as never before. "I was lucky to have a friend pass on his entire collection of phulkari to me and was inspired to work with this intense form of ancestral art," says Malhotra. The collection comprises fitted long jackets, angrakhas, floor-length anarkalis and saris. The colours are also true to the craft — such as mustard, navy blue, rust, olive and saffron. While phulkari rarely makes an appearance in men's wardrobes, it has found interpretation in Malhotra's collection appearing on bandhgalas and kurtas. "Aesthetic value apart, it's also a part of Punjab's history," says Malhotra, who showcased a short film on the craft during his show at Wills India Lifestyle Fashion Week in March this year.