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The History of Indian Textile Art and Clothing

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In the international commerce of the pre-industrial era, spices and textiles were the principal commodities. India in particular was known for the quality of its textiles, and for centuries was involved in a brisk trade with Far and Southeast Asia. European companies worked their way into this commercial nexus in the early sixteenth century

The Portuguese were the first to arrive, having discovered a sea route from Europe to the East that allowed them to avoid the heavy taxes on goods sent overland through the Middle East. The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 and the Dutch East India Company was founded two years later. These agencies bought textiles in India for silver and gold, exchanged them for spices grown in the Malay Islands, and sold the spices in Europe and Asia. Soon Indian textiles were exported directly to Europe, where they became highly fashionable. The popularity of Indian textiles is evidenced in the number of words that have made their way into English: calico, pajama, gingham, dungaree, chintz, and khaki. The luxury textiles coveted for centuries are now collected in museums, where they are often grouped and studied on the basis of their patterns of production.

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As Ritu Kumar refers to the history and writes that the demand for Indian textiles had reached such heights in 17th century in the British and French culture which resulted in prohibition of anyone wearing or using any Indian textiles so as to promote their own silk and textiles. But these prohibitions were difficult to impose and failed and the trade continued. She also writes that, by the 18th century dresses made of Indian muslins and the woven shawls which were draped over them became fashionable. The Kashmir shawl was one of the most sought after luxuries in Europe by the end of the 18th century which was very expensive and was exported from northern India. Ritu Kumar stated that Forbes Watson acknowledged, that the intrinsic aesthetic refinement of India’s clothing required an understanding of oriental tastes which according to him would ensure a market in India for the same. His study advocated the sophistication of colour and form of India’s textiles in order that English manufacturers might achieve the sense of rhythm and harmony inherent in them. He explained that British manufacturers followed a rule of exporting or making things with an essence of British culture rather than taking its true Indian form which in turn failed as Indian manufacturers could do it best originally and the products value decreased when it lost its true essence. And thus realising the fact how a charm of an Indian product was with its true colour and not modified. According to Priyanka Arora, Since 1890 till the present world fashion has seen tremendous influences from the Indian culture in the British fashion resulting from the artists and designers renowned interest in Art Nouveau. She believes that Indian textiles and work can be seen in any store or designer line. Eastern inspired clothing like embroidered tunics, beaded necklines on dresses and shirts, jewelled handbags in Sari fabrics, reminiscing different characteristics from the East have been influencing British designers . Pashminas, for example, are now an everyday basic item for most British women

Around the 1940’s the Nehru jacket became a big trend and thanks to The Beatles and it is still an acclaimed collar style in shirts, coats and jackets. Even pagoda sleeves was an eastern trend which was incorporated in western fashion. The most noted designers according to her bidding on exotic eastern style in their creations are: Max Mara, exploring sexy necklines and strong fabrics ,Armani, Jean Paul Gautier and Versace are only some of the top names reaching out to their masculine lines by including eastern elements to their creations, like pants made with fabrics, necklines, printed belts and sandals with the use of heavy silk. She also argues that the Boho Chic look, on the other hand is a representation of western influence on eastern culture. Thus concluding by saying that its a unique style where one can appreciate the fusion of both worlds with the modern and contemporary side of the western fashion and just a hint of eastern flair in the jewels and beading. Season to season, we see fashion face some radical changes, but the east and west mixture is inescapable, resulting always in a beautiful, artistic and also commercial masterpiece representing a multicultural society of designers and consumers. Salvatore Ferragamo’s famous customers in the late 1930’s was Indira Devi, the maharani of Cooch Behar. Ferragamo had designed about 100 shoes for her which were adorned with pearls, rubies, emeralds and diamonds which were sent from India by the maharani. These were reproduced for his collection in the year 2003 for an opening of a new store. As Laura McLean -Ferris has written about KENZO a world famous designer who evolved in 1970’s that his designs are a combination of details which have been taken from all around the globe, creating a fusion of folklore styles that vibrate with a blend of fantasy and reality. Which brings out the importance of fusion of a cultures in her view of the designers work. It also talks about how KENZO used both east and west traditions together to create an aesthetic that is globally appealing.

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Furthermore the textile industry has been riddled with scandals of child and slave labour. The most affected counties being china and Cambodia which have numerous scattered sweatshops. Other impacts of the textile business are those of water pollution and soil degradation. Being a water intensive type of farming, farmers channel water to their farms from the rivers. This leaves some of the rivers with no way of supporting life. Some of the water also gets contaminated with the chemicals from the farms leaving the soils toxic and dangerous to human life. The world system theory suggests that the world economy has disparities in economic development. That development largely depends on the technological knowhow of a state. Making the United States at the top of this hierarchy followed by her counterparts in Europe. And the tasks or works that require higher levels of skill and capitalization are reserved for these regions making the third world a peripheral region and receiver of the remnants of the maldistribution of resources. Hence, current progress of the world economy tends to enlarge the economic and social gaps even further.Furthermore the textile industry has been riddled with scandals of child and slave labour. The most affected counties being china and Cambodia which have numerous scattered sweatshops. Other impacts of the textile business are those of water pollution and soil degradation. Being a water intensive type of farming, farmers channel water to their farms from the rivers. This leaves some of the rivers with no way of supporting life. Some of the water also gets contaminated with the chemicals from the farms leaving the soils toxic and dangerous to human life

The world system theory suggests that the world economy has disparities in economic development. That development largely depends on the technological knowhow of a state. Making the United States at the top of this hierarchy followed by her counterparts in Europe. And the tasks or works that require higher levels of skill and capitalization are reserved for these regions making the third world a peripheral region and receiver of the remnants of the maldistribution of resources. Hence, current progress of the world economy tends to enlarge the economic and social gaps even further.This leaves the third world a beggar of sorts (Chase-Dunn and Grimes, 1995). It would be safe to say that the world-systems theory is drawn from the dependency theory. This is further defined as a macro-sociological existence, where different states or regions depend on each other for the basic survival kits which include food, fuel, and perhaps protection. There is a presence of a power hierarchy. There are regions or states that exist in the core and are considered to dictate terms of business to the other regions that exist within the periphery. Technology seems to be a power weapon in the quest for domination. The peripheral countries are structurally disabled to pull themselves out of the murky situation and formulate policies that are development oriented. The core states maintain the system as well as try to pull out the peripheral states by offering their surplus (Goldfrank, 2000). Do I agree with this world-systems theory? It is quite evident that the third world countries have remained in the same status as they were economically; while the developed countries continue to rich themselves from the spoils they get from their exploits. Even though the developed world is offering help on one hand, the other hand seems to be taking. This makes me agree with wallerstein’s theory.

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All in all, Paithani is the costly high quality silk gold embroidered sari named after the Paithan town in Aurangabad. It is also known as ‘Mahavastra’ & is one of the most popular saris of Maharashtra. The art of weaving Paithani flourished in 200B.C., during Satvahana era. Production of Paithani soon spread in other places like Yeola, Pune, Nasik and Malegaon apart from Paithan. The traditional designs of paithani are mostly derived from old Mughal miniatures, Ajanta caves, Buddhist paintings, etc. Tapestry techniques of weaving patterns is applied with gold and silk threads to make paithani sarees

About 4 – 24 shuttles are employed to produce the design. It is a slow and laborious work. It may take up to 8 days to produce one sq. ft. of fabric by this technique. It takes months to upto 2 years to manufacture a paithani saree on traditional handlooms. A traditional Paithani has plain body and a pallu with tiny motifs called ‘buttis’. These buttis have various shapes like coin, flower, peas, star, etc. The main motifs of paithani are peacock, parrot, lotus, paisley, flowers, leaves, creepers & their variations.

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Chase-Dunn, & Grimes P., (1995) “World-Systems Analysis.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 21 p. 387-417.

Gathi H., (2001). The Evolution of Machines 1: Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the eighteenth Century. New York: Academic Press.

Goldfrank L., (2000). “Paradigm Regained? The Rules of Wallerstein’s World-System Method. Journal of World-Systems Research. Vol. 6. N. 2 pp. 150-195.

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