Pero's latest collection works with checkered fabrics from West Bengal, mashru stripes from Gujarat and handwoven linens from Bhagalpur
From creating collections inspired by Pippi Longstocking and Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s botanical watercolours to reinventing Adidas sneakers with crochet trinkets and driving an upcycling revolution in the fashion industry, Aneeth Arora of Péro has always had something interesting brewing in her New Delhi studio. Working with artisans peppered across Chanderi, Maheswar, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Karnataka among others, it is always among the age-old techniques harboured in the forgotten corners of the country that Aneeth has found the most moving strokes of inspiration.
For Péro's latest collection Ladybug Spotting, Aneeth went back to a trove of memories - a trunk full of fabrics gathered from across India to balmy afternoons spent in school learning how to stitch. Péro brings together the simplest, often-forgotten needlework techniques with a dizzying attention to detail. Working with checkered fabrics from West Bengal, mashru stripes from Gujarat and handwoven linens from Bhagalpur, she creates oversized laser-cut jackets and breezy dresses that come alive with Bullion roses and French-knotted daffodils.
Over a phone conversation, Aneeth walks us through Ladybug Spotting, and Péro’s growing design lexicon.
Péro's latest collection contemporarises old-school needlework techniques like Bullion and French Knot embroidery
It has been nine years since you launched your label. Has the Péro aesthetic changed over the years?
The brand philosophy remains unchanged. We take inspiration from indigenous cultures and textiles and create our own fabrics. For many years, we have been a champion of homemade and handcrafted design. However, with time, a certain complexity has seeped into our work. Now, our clothes are more layered; the number of fabrics and techniques used to develop one garment has multiplied. Initially, we adhered to the ‘less is more’ ideology. We still believe in it but with growing access to traditional crafts and an evolving aesthetic, there is more intricacy in the collections. We juxtapose different fabrics from various corners of India and blend in diverse surface embellishment techniques that add volume to our ensembles.
Take us through your latest collection Ladybug Spotting. Where did the early influences and inspiration come from?
This season is an ode to a lot of old-school embroidery techniques like Bullion, petit point and French knots. These are simple, counted-thread stitching patterns that are handed down through generations, from grandmothers to their daughters, or things that you would pick up in craft lessons in school. I learnt a lot of these stitching methods in an SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) class in school. They are simple enough for anybody to learn and master, even though we have taken these elementary techniques and imagined it on a larger scale. We wanted to take something that is so familiar and create a beautiful work of art by giving it our own spin.
We added a tiny ladybug embroidered in a corner of each garment, camouflaged amidst the Bullion roses and petit point borders. Ladybug Spotting is an attempt to make each piece a little more intimate and interactive by asking the wearer to look for the tiny, life-size ladybug. The brief shared with our Masterjis was to make the bug so lifelike that people would expect it to fly off the garment any moment. Hopefully, in this hunt to spot the ladybug, people will also discover other subtle details in the garments that we have put so much time and thought into.
The mascot of the collection camouflaged amongst Bullion roses
From samples of needlework found on ancient Maori costumes in New Zealand to small slanted stitches in Egyptian tents - you talk about diverse points of inspiration. What went into the research for the collection?
I first began reading about the petit point or needlepoint embroidery technique. Needlepoint was known as canvas work until the early 19th century. In needlepoint, the stitches are counted and worked with a needle over the threads or mesh of a canvas foundation. It creates a look similar to that of a tapestry but instead of being woven on a loom, it is stitched by hand.
The research led me to rediscover other methods and their historical significances, like the Bullion stitch, which is an embroidery technique that is worked by twisting a thread around a sewing needle several times before inserting the needle into the cloth. The collection developed as a revival of these subtle surface embellishment methods, put into a contemporary context.
Details of the French Knot embroidery technique where every knot becomes a pixel
For this collection, you worked with miniature artists from Udaipur who hand-painted dainty flower stalks onto the fabric. What were the various techniques you explored?
While working on this collection, I chanced upon a miniature artist who was looking for work. It made me wonder how I could incorporate his art within my work while keeping with the mood of the season. So he hand-painted these beautiful, petite flower stalks onto mulberry silk using fabric paint. It added a new dimension to the garments. For the motifs, I referred to a lot of vintage botanical illustrations from which we built the wispy flower shoots.
The entire development of the collection was labour-intensive. For the French Knot technique, we used hand-woven checkered fabrics from West Bengal. Each carefully graded French knot became a pixel, perfectly placed on each check that became extravagant tulips, sunflowers, roses and daffodils. The patterns were developed on a grid, and only after building it on colour-coded graphs were they translated into fabrics. We used a lot of daiphanous tulle, cotton silk mashru, linen denim and lace, often juxtaposing two or more of them together to create tactile contrasts.
Apart from these hand embroidery techniques, we also experimented with freehand machine illustrated foliage, which almost resembles line drawings of pressed dry flowers between the pages of our old journals.
Dainty flower stalks painted on mulberry silk by a miniature artist from Udaipur
The concept sketch for the collection is interesting - six housewives who met in an old abandoned house to spend quiet afternoons creating beautiful embroideries. Take me through the story.
At Péro, we believe in the power of storytelling. We wanted to present Ladybug Spotting as a four-part story that we’ve just begun sharing on our social media handles.
Once upon a time, there were six housewives who met every weekend in a dilapidated house to create beautiful embroideries. Each of them mastered a different embroidery technique, and the exquisitely crafted fabrics were sent to a doll factory. Each doll got its own hand-stitched dress, complete with a ceramic ladybug button and a life-like bug hidden somewhere in the dress. As soon as all the elements came together, the little dolls came to life and ran into the wild, looking for the ladybugs that had flown off their clothes.
With this story, we hope to engage the audience to look like at the finer details. For the first time, we introduced handcrafted ceramic buttons, developed by a local ceramic artist who meticulously and patiently moulded and painted each and every button that adds that dash of finesse that people have come to expect of Péro.
What was the one lesson you learnt through this experience that will always stay with you?
One impactful thing I learnt through building this collection was to believe in serendipity and the creative process. When I began working on it, I was sure of the technicalities but I didn’t know which way the theme was going. One day, at the workshop, a ladybug flew in and sat on a piece of fabric. That’s when the idea sparked of adding it to the collection. Something as simple as that became the mascot and helped the creative process flow organically. Sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and let the bigger picture serendipitously play itself out.
Ladybug Spotting uses daiphanous tulle, cotton silk mashru, linen denim and lace, often juxtaposing two or more of them together to create tactile contrasts
Where is Péro headed?
Over the years, as we’ve added new members to our team, I’ve made it a point to ensure that nobody approaches their work like a job they have to show up for. It’s important for me that every person in the team loves what they do, for it is this love that we bring to our work that is now synonymous with Péro. The details that make our garments so unique come from a special place because we choose to sit down and rework ideas, scrap what doesn’t work and start from scratch, putting in that extra dose of effort. We might not have a 10-year-plan to become a brand name that everybody knows but the larger goal is to be a label that people love for exactly what it is.
Design Log is a weekly design document logging every relevant art and design occurrence in India.