In the recently released Disney film, Emma Watson’s character is wearing ensembles that are handcrafted by two Gujarati siblings, Kasam and Juma, writes Neha Pant.
When 26-year-old Emma Watson briefed her costume designer, Jacqueline Durran, for the live-action remake of Beauty and The Beast, she made it clear that she wouldn’t be promoting the, “corseted, impossible idea of female beauty.” Which could’ve been a challenge, considering how heavily Disney relies on these traditional stereotypes, but Durran stepped up her game by playing with silhouettes and textiles instead. While she kept the old colours of Belle’s wardrobe that we are all familiar with—like the dazzling yellow ball gown of the epic dance scene and the iconic blue and white dress, she also incorporated detailed elements that made the clothes stand out. Take the beautiful floral bodice of Durran’s take on the blue and white dress that uses “Aari” work, a type of sequined embroidery chain stitch that has its roots in Kutch, Gujarat.
Sinead O’Sullivan, the assistant costume designer on the film, is an active member of the #whomademyclothes campaign, which aims to promote supply-chain transparency and ethical sourcing in the textile industry globally. In an Instagram post for the campaign, Sullivan revealed that she reached out to two artisan brothers from Bhuj because she was seeking fair trade. The brothers Kasam and Juma Sangar practice their art form in Mandvi. Experts in the art of the aari, they used the technique to embroider 18th century French floral designs to the bodice of the costume worn by Watson in the library scene.
Sangar brothers have been practicing the fine needlework since their teenage years and the craft was passed onto them by their late father, Adam Sagar, a master craftsman. The art form is a family legacy, since the craft is a painstakingly slow process; theirs is one of the only families of the community who are still trained in the traditional fine needlework of the aari. The local demand for their product is poor, so most of their work is exported, some of it is even displayed in arts and crafts exhibits and museums.
Not only the bodice, but a lot of other textile materials for the movie were also sourced in India, including the fabric for the red cape of Belle. Sullivan said that in a bid to challenge themselves as designers by creating a head-to-toe fair trade garment, the team got in touch with Eco Age, “This specific costume required 12 different fabrics to make her cape, jacket, blouse, bodice, skirts and bloomers, with trims and ties, and we ensured that each element was certified organic and fair-trade. Our dyeing team took on the challenge of using natural and low impact dyes, and printing with traditional wood blocks, which the set carpenters helped make in the construction department, from redundant bits of the set.”
Even some of Watson’s red-carpet looks for Belle have been spun out of fabrics brought from fair-trade cooperatives in India. Jacqueline Durran in an interview to People said, “Because Emma is so interested in sustainability and fair trade, eco fabrics and eco fashion, we applied those criteria to making a costume from head to toe.”