9 celebrated designers reveal the story behind their favourite motifs

FEB 22, 2019 | By Meenakshi Shankar
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT Keri - Malavika Shivakumar; Chintz - David Abraham & Rakesh Thakore; Lotus - Sangita Kathiawada.
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT Anaar - Pavitra Rajaram; Tree of Life - Peter D’ascoli; Daana - Raghavendra Rathore.
CLOCKWISE, FROM LEFT Jali - Paul Mathieu; Buta - Nilofer Suleman; Elephant - Srila Chatterjee.

Resting on mysticism and ancient lores, being the raison d’ etre for flamboyant and exotic notes, the doyens of design essay their thoughts over their favourite motifsDavid Abraham & Rakesh Thakore“Travelling back to the 18th Century, chintz has been a popular motif describing the Indian art to people across the globe. It was originally woodblock printed and used mostly for bed covers, quilts and draperies. With time, the motif became more popular and was used in most of the household furniture. Given our love for heritage textiles, we adapted this motif in our own way and added more charm.”Malavika Shivakumar“For me, the delicate ‘Keri’ is a motif on which my inspiration rests – it was the leitmotif of an India-inspired collection we did over a decade ago. I saw it come alive from a very simple, flat chain stitch with just two colours of cotton threads that we interchanged between the outline and the filling.”Nilofer Suleman“In Urdu, ‘buta’ means a flower. There is something soft and lilting about the motif. As an artist, it drew me into its folds – taking me back into time where it was one of the most important ornamental motifs of Mughal Indian Art. Gradually, it travelled to India and became an integral element of design. History does dwell over the origins of this early design,but the general consensus is that it is Persian in origin. Fused with the artistic themes of Mughal art, by the 18th Century the motif took on a richer decorative and ornate design.”Paul Mathieu“Of the many inspirations I have found in India, carved stone Jali screens are particularly special to me and remain a strong influence. Chisthi’s tomb at Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur’s Palace of the Winds — the beauty and intelligence embodied in these masterworks of light and air inspire me. Channelling familiar motifs like ogee and quatrefoil, or echoing the simple elegance of damask wood block prints, jali is a lesson in eternal style.”Pavitra Rajaram“The pomegranate or ‘Anaar’ is a motif that has had an enduring impact across cultures. History traces its journey from ancient Persia, where they were smeared on weapons for protection, to Greece, where the pomegranate calyx crown design went on to become the iconic shape for royal hair accessories. Finding its foothold in textiles, the motif, much like the Persian Paisley and otherfloral patterns, the stylised pomegranate pattern made its way to both East and West through the trade routes of the ancient Silk Road.”Peter D’ascoli“The Tree Of Life motif is an ancient design found in many cultures and containssacred symbolism including fertility, abundance and our cosmic origins. I first encountered it as a 21-yearold, on assignment for the Indian government in Srinagar, Kashmir. Some months later, I visited Rajasthan, a much different landscape, where again I saw the tree of life motif painted or carved on the walls of forts and palaces – sometimes inlaid with semiprecious stones, and block printed on cotton to be used in interiors or as clothing.”Raghavendra Rathore“Many patterns become inherently associated with certain brands, adding a signature mood board. For me, conceptualising various motifs from scratch allows me to represent the ethos of the designs that my creations rest on. An inspired motif, Daana, finds its notes resting on the regalia of all my creations. The inspiration stems from the historic architectural detailing of Jodhpur’s heritage buildings. As one flips back the pages of history and dives in to take a look at various snapshots of the blue city, multiple references of this motif appear.”Sangita Kathiawada“India’s nuanced history has witnessed innumerable motifs passed down the generations as an essential cornerstone of our creative legacy. The one prominent symbol of holiness that still holds court is the aquatic lotus plant. The traditional pattern has served as the muse for Indian textile industry for decades, serving as a beautiful emblem to cinch together varied art forms and traditional embroidery styles. The lotus flower has not only been used for aesthetic purposes, but also symbolises and depicts the timeless allure of the cosmos and the simplistic beauty of things and people.”Srila Chatterjee“I dream of a house in a forest with miles of open space, my dogs and an elephant — an elephant that would be a part of my life and home just like the dogs have always been. The pachyderm fantasy has been a part of my life in so many ways. As a design, it helps me bring the tenderness and the grandeur of this amazing creature into everyday life. It’s a motif that I have loved for a long time and, over the years, I have found ways to bring the gentle giant back repeatedly, each time on a different canvas.”Read more in the February-March issue of Elle Decor India