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From Folk to Fashion World: Tribal Art Influencing Contemporary Fashion

“The exquisite art and cultural chaos of Jaipur is my inherited legacy and inspiration”, said the celebrated Fashion Designer Anita Dongre. A talented designer whose apparel brand speaks volumes about Indian art and craft. Her affinity for indigenous art and craft has influenced her work and helped bring traditional Indian art into the fashion world. And, like her, there have been several Indian and International designers who seamlessly merged Indian folk art into fashion. This blog will walk you through the journey of folk to fashion fashion and show how tribal art has been influencing contemporary fashion.

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Fashion is a dynamic and evolving industry that constantly seeks inspiration from diverse sources. One of the most intriguing and enduring influences on contemporary fashion is tribal art. Rooted in the traditions and cultures of indigenous communities worldwide, tribal art brings a rich tapestry of history, symbolism, and craftsmanship to modern design. This blog explores how tribal art has made its way from remote villages to high fashion runways, influencing contemporary fashion in profound and unexpected ways.

The Roots of Tribal Art

Tribal art encompasses the creative expressions of indigenous peoples from various regions, including Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Oceania. These artworks often hold deep cultural significance, serving as mediums for storytelling, religious rituals, and social functions. Characteristics of tribal art include:

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Geometric Patterns – Often inspired by nature, these patterns are symbolic and carry meanings specific to the community. For example, the dots and dashes of Gond art represent the mythological tale of the Gond deity, Naga Baigin. Similarly, the triangles and circles of the Warli art symbolise nature and celestial bodies. 

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Natural Dyes – The use of organic materials like wood, bone, clay and natural dyes enhances the beauty and rawness of Indian art. Indian art is a potpourri of mythology, reverence and love towards nature and affinity for traditions. Hence each colour used in the process of painting folk art symbolises emotions, virtues and connection with the Almighty. The influence of this theory in the fashion industry plays a major role in choosing a colour palette for the apparel collection.

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Craftsmanship – India is widely known for its craftsmanship. The emphasis on detail and traditional techniques draws the attention of fashion designers. Folk art has been passed down from generation to generation and hence the finesse adds beauty to the designs.

The Folk to Fashion World Journey

Early Influences

The incorporation of tribal art into fashion can be traced back to the early 20th century when Western artists and designers began to take an interest in non-Western cultures. The fascination with Indian aesthetics led to the incorporation tribal motifs and materials into fashion and Art Deco movements.

Modern Adoption

In recent decades, the globalization of culture and the rise of ethical fashion have paved the way for a deeper appreciation of tribal art. Designers are not only borrowing aesthetic elements but also collaborating directly with indigenous artisans. This shift is driven by a growing trend towards sustainable and ethical fashion practices, distinct and unique aesthetics of tribal art and a deep desire to preserve and honour the folk art of India.

Tribal Art into Contemporary Fashion – The Designers

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Monica Shah and Karishma Swali have always advocated and promoted Indian folk art. One of their iconic apparel collection was inspired by Gondwana art. Their couture brand JADE collaborated with The Craft and Community Development Foundation  (CCDF). They turned their flagship store window into an art gallery sorts with an installation of Gond art along with Bhil and Warli

Sabyasachi Mukherjee is renowned for his luxurious and opulent designs that heavily draw from Indian art and culture. He often incorporates elements of traditional Indian textiles, embroidery, and motifs inspired by folk art forms such as Kantha embroidery and Pattachitra.

Anita Dongre is a champion of sustainable and artisanal fashion, frequently collaborating with rural artisans to incorporate folk art into her designs. Her label, Grassroot, is dedicated to reviving traditional crafts such as Bandhani and Warli art

Ritu Kumar is a pioneer in Indian fashion, known for her extensive use of traditional prints, weaves, and embroideries. She has played a significant role in reviving several dying arts, including block printing and Gond art

Elements of Tribal Art in Contemporary Fashion

Patterns and Prints

One of the most visible influences of tribal art in fashion is the use of bold, geometric patterns. Designers like Diane von Furstenberg, Stella McCartney, and Dries Van Noten have incorporated tribal prints into their collections, transforming traditional motifs into modern, wearable art.

Textile Techniques

Traditional weaving, dyeing, and embroidery techniques from communities worldwide have entered contemporary fashion. Techniques such as ikat, batik, and beadwork add a unique touch to garments, offering a blend of tradition and innovation

Ethical Considerations 

As the fashion industry increasingly turns to tribal art for inspiration, it raises important questions about cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation. Ethical considerations include 

  • fair trade that ensures artisans are fairly compensated for their work
  • Collaborative nature to ensure Indigenous communities are involved in the process to maintain the authenticity of the art.
  • Upholding cultural sensitivities that acknowledge the cultural significance of folk art and use them in a manner that honours them.

In Conclusion 

The influence of tribal art on contemporary fashion is a testament to the enduring power of traditional cultures in a globalized world. By bridging the gap between folk art and high fashion, designers can create pieces that are not only aesthetically striking but also culturally meaningful. As the fashion industry continues to evolve, the integration of tribal art serves as a reminder of the rich, diverse tapestry of human creativity and the importance of preserving and respecting cultural heritage.

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