The launch of the Lost City Silks collection is a fantasy fulfilled. Until now, all of our embroideries were executed on robust cotton grounds, almost all of them greigh or a neutral white color. This was a deliberate choice because we wanted our fabrics to be exquisite but also hardy, practical and of consistently superior quality. Standardising a neutral, versatile ground seemed like a sensible decision. Lost City artisans had to be trained to adapt their techniques to the thick cottons we used. But the ground they most enjoy working on is silk- the choice of the nawabs and royal families of India. We love silk- its poetic sheen and infinite potential as a canvas for experimentation. However, we denied ourselves the fantasy of creating a silk line until we were good and ready. There are a lot of fabrics out there and we have no desire to regurgitate anything.
Joseff Hoffman, a force behind the Weiner Werstatte workshops in Vienna, inspired our silk collection.
We had been saving inspirations- little scraps of paper, pixelated jpegs, stories read and sights seen on our travels abroad, particularly in Europe and India, snatches of songs we couldn’t forget. We began to catalog and discuss these preliminary ideas with the design and sampling team at Lost City Blue, our company in India. The unanimous feedback was to go for a no-holds-barred extravagant line, and for once give the artisans the embroidery equivalent of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde to work on.
Aftab Khan, one our master artisans, and an unlikely collaborator of Hoffman, executed our vision for the collection
Work on the collection started in the summer of 2005. The first challenge was to source ground fabric of the desired weight, width and color from a reliable source. After several failed attempts at identifying a supplier from the nearby silk center of Varanasi (the holy city of Benaras), we finally found a facility in Bangalore that wove several hundred yards to our specefication in the three colors we chose: a rich red, lustrous black and mughal gold. Next, over the course of six months and several 18 hour trans-Atlantic plane trips, train rides from New Delhi to Lucknow and back, in scorching Indian summer and frozen New York winter, we edited the several ideas we wanted to experiment with down to six or seven. We were aware that the American home furnishings market, even the top-end we catered to, was more conservative and risk-averse than Europe- afraid of color and reluctant to experiment. Emboldened by the commercial success of some of our trippier creations on cotton, we decided to listen to the feedback from our design team and not hold back.
Many frequent flyer miles were accumulated in bringing this collection to life
Sampling started in late 2006 right around the time our cotton-based collections were being shipped to various U.S showrooms and our artisans were itching to work on something new. We had been fans of the work done by Wiener Werkstatte Vienna workshops, and admired the philosophy of Joseff Hofmann, who opposed the mass-produced blandness of jewelry, fabric and furniture and instead promoted handcrafted excellence for the discerning few. Decades later, an unlikely collaborator- our master artisan, Aftab Khan, would breathtakingly execute some of Hofmann’s ideas as embroidery. The resulting designs- Vienna and Camille are based on some of WW’s early naturalistic textiles that are closer to art nouveau than their later more geometric work. Other influences included Ottoman robes (Cintamani), Mughal architecture (Mumtaz)- the tomb of Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal), Toile de Jouy (Toile) and ancient gold leaf prints from India (Roghan).
Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Avadh, was a patron of embroidery in Lucknow
By spring 2007 we had fifteen designs that could be put through the production process. Over the course of the next few months a few of them did not survive the final stages- washing and finishing. A couple seemed duplicative. In the end we decided to bring to market just 10 designs- every single one of them is stamped with the souls of Rashid, our manager, and Aftab, Haroon, Zeeshan, and Liaqat, our lead artisans, who we believe are the best in the world. In April 2008, we started shipping the display panels to our U.S. showrooms.
We have worked on hundreds of embroideries but none has inflamed our passions or imagination as the 10 designs that constitute the Lost City Silk Collection. We have poured our hearts into it. You be the judge of its beauty and craftsmanship.
A rough sketch for Vienna, inspired by an early Wiener Werstatte fabric
Vienna, above, fully embroidered by hand.
Camille, fully embroidered by hand, also based on a Weiner Werstatte fabric