“Like an old fashioned atelier, Madame Hall is the kind of designer you’d find discreetly tucked away off the high street. One with a bustling workroom full of trims, buttons, pins, tape measures; all in constant use. Cardboard patterns hang on the wall among fashion sketches’, photos that inspire and notes about her clients orders…..Madame herself, is, of course always there, advising her 2 assistants and discussing the best approach to every garment; showing how she like a button sewn or looking for the best thread colour for a particular garment. And when words fail, she knows exactly how she wants something done, and sits down at the sewing machine to demonstrate!
But this modern day atelier is not in Paris, New York or Melbourne….She’s Lisa Hall, an Australian designer who fell in love with the textiles and embroideries of Kutch in north west India.
Unlike most western designers who travel to India, Lisa was not content to just return to home with arm loads of Indian fabrics to make up in her former home town of Sydney….”
PITR : Tell us more about yourself .
Lisa : I’m an Australian designer who has lived in India for the past 4 years. Before this, I lived in Sydney where I created costumes for The Sydney Theatre Company’s leading ladies for period and contemporary productions. I like blending the elements of embellishment, whimsy and surprise to my designs….Being individual is more important to me than following fashion, but style, elegance, proportion and colour harmony are essential all ingredients I endeavor to bring to each and every Madame Hall creation!
As well as being a designer, I am also a professionally trained patternmaker and sewer. My passion has always been making beautiful clothes, beautifully!
PITR : How was ‘Madame Hall’ born?
Lisa : Madame Hall is slow fashion…It’s the complete the opposite of high street brands.
I buy the embroideries and materials I like, when I see them. Frequently I don’t have anything particular in mind for them, but…then suddenly, bingo! It could be 6 months or a year later that I find something and think Wow, this would look amazing with that!
When working with vintage and artisan made textiles a ‘one size fit’s all’ approach simply doesn’t work…The materials I use are always in limited quantity and unique variations, I simply love the challenge of interpreting textiles in unexpected and surprising ways!
Just as women in the past had clothes fashioned personally for them by a favourite atieler, I add my own nuance, and thereby form a connection with like minded, individual women….India has wealth of talent and centuries old craft traditions…..What I do is simply a design collaboration between the past, the present, my inspiration and the materials that present themselves within a given period of time! I endeavor to curate these different elements in a way I find visually stimulating, while still making ‘useful’ clothes that will compliment many classic pieces and prove a valuable addition to the modern womans’ wardrobe
PITR : How didiscover Bhuj, do share your journey to India and Bhuj and what inspired you to settle down and create such magnificent clothesd you
Lisa : I first visited India in early 2008 and went to the popular tourist destinations..I found the beauty of northen India inspiring, but I wanted my next visit much more focused on the textile arts and crafts.
Bhuj was recommended to me by Australian costume designer Jodie Fried. She had worked with artisans in Gujarat since the devastating earthquake in 2001 and was already running a highly successful business….So off to Bhuj I went! I immediately felt comfortable and at home here and the textiles were out of this world!
After many more visits and much consideration I decided to leave Sydney behind and move to Bhuj where the people of Kutch and their remarkable culture could be a constant source of inspiration to me
PITR : What are your other favorite Indian art forms apart from the Bhuj work you do ?
I love art forms that enhance everyday life! Luckily for me India has many, and Kutch in Gujarat has to be one of the most decorated districts….How beautiful it is to see a new born baby being rocked in a Lacquer work cradle, or hear the tinkle of hand made copper bells on a Rabari heardmans flock! Clay cooking pots and earthenware vessels hold so much more appeal than mass produced plastic ones….The white mud and mirror work traditionally used to decorate village homes in Kutch leaves one awestruck! And not to forget the beautiful harnesses, trappings and saddles made for camels and horses.
These are all art forms that are still alive and well, providing a visual tonic to the everyday activities of regular people going about their daily lives.
PITR : On your blog , I read about Sufiyan and Sukor. Tell us more about them.
Sufiyan was one of the first people I met when I came to Kutch. At that time he was busy establishing a new printing workshop in Ajrakhpur after the earthquake had damaged the underground water flow in his previous village…The success of Ajrakh printing relies heavily on water purity. It’s not something that can simply be done anywhere….So Ajrakhpur was chosen specifically because it had the best water quality to achieve the desired characteristic of luminous, clear colours, typical of Ajrakh printing
Sufiyan’s head printer is Sukor, a mute and deaf man who never allows his disability to isolate him! Sukor was not born in Kutch, but he lives here now with his wife and several children. The ease with which these men communicate and run a busy workroom is amazing!
Both have very vivacious and outgoing personalities and they simply love sharing their enthusiasm for Ajrakh block printing…
For me, meeting Sufiyan and Sukor opened up so many possibilities…I could create my own wood blocks of my own design, the colour combinations of the natural dyes were exciting and I could experiment with my own ‘weird’ ideas to make fabrics completely unique to Madame Hall!
PITR : How is it like to work with Indian artisans at the grassroot level.
Indian artisans are no different to working with any other artisans!
All collaborations bring together the qualities and skill set of each contributor. And as an Australian designer, I don’t consider it appropriate to impose my aesthetic sensibility on artists here in India. What I try to achieve is to present their existing work unusual and non traditional ways…a blending of different cultures, form and function in clothing that still possesses that what we all love in artisan made products, the unique and original as well as ‘something different!’
PITR :What advice would you give to budding designers from abroad who may want to settle in India and work with local craft and artisans
Oh goodness! Just be flexible and remain open to a world of creative discoveries…There is such a wealth of talent, sometimes hidden where you least expect it…
When you are lucky enough to find a great team to work with, treat them like family…pay them well because enthusiastic workers willing to embark on a new learning curve will become one of your greatest assets.
And lastly, any designer with firsthand knowledge of patternmaking and garment construction will be able to demonstrate the outcome of their desired vision and know how to achieve it. Which has to be a big plus!!! I believe training in this area this is essential for any clothing or fashion designer, anywhere in 2016!
PITR : Must have clothes from your product range in every woman’s wardrobe.
Lisa : Well, I’m very partial to my big Signature Skirts! I have achieved a very flattering shape using over 80 carefully aligned panels for the ultimate swishy skirt! Perfect for the hot weather, I wear these nearly everyday thru summer. With a singlet top and a great dupatta, it’s easy and fabulous to look amazing!
When it’s cooler, layering works well! So my Jat front embroidered dresses or tunics are great worn over leggings and with scarves and jackets…or not! The shape of my tunics is quite A line and works really well worn with churidar or other Indian style pants
Just now with the weather being cooler I’m crazy for the Rabari wool jackets I’ve made recently…They are so nice and colourful with a thick satin lining.
I make them from vintage ‘milkmans’ shawls and each is different! Some have mirror work, but all have lovely bright colours. Just add jeans and boots for a knockout winter look. Too easy!