FashionThe Phoenix Series

Manila Jain Reinventing the ancient craft of Phulkari to suit the modern sensibility.


Manila aims to bring the old world and universal charm of the Phulkari into our everyday lives. This longtime cherished family heirloom is exceptionally versatile, so why shouldn’t it be paired with western as well as Indian wear? Experimenting with fresh color combinations and juxtaposing these with old world motifs, Manila creates only one of a kind pieces that her brand Trinjann is synonymous with.

What inspired you to revive the ancient art of Phulkari?

I feel I have this incredible connection with the Phulkari that goes much deeper than my genuine love and admiration for this form of embroidery. I am from a Punjabi family and am married into a Marwari family. Within the Rajasthani culture, I am sure you’re aware, women mostly wear saris. The womenfolk from my husband’s side of the family were very keen on Phulkari saris which didn’t seem to exist. I wanted to bridge this massive gap and that’s where the idea of starting my own brand came from.

Tell us a little bit more about your personal connection with Phulkari work.

I remember visiting my mom once and we got talking about Phulkaris. She showed me a really old, stunningly crafted piece that belonged to my grandmom. It was her wedding Phulkari. My grandmom then told me about how she had been married only three months when the Partition of India took place. In their ancestral home in Pakistan, everything was looted by the mobs. Only this family heirloom remained. All the ladies of the house were sent to India first while the men stayed behind to wrap up all their affairs. My Nanu too stayed back and there was no news of him until he finally crossed the border six months later. They were reunited at a refugee camp in Ambala. During those long agonizing months of  awaiting his return, it was her wedding Phulkari that helped her keep her hope alive. So it seems I have this very strong connection with the Phulkari that transcends generations in our family.

What sets your brand Trinjann apart from all the other Phulkaris available today?

I’ve done some very thorough research work on the ancient, old school Phulkari motifs. After exploring and scrutinizing the older designs, I realized that much of what is being passed on as Phulkari work these days is so far from its genuine tradition.

That old school craftsmanship is incredibly intricate and all the stitching is done by hand. Similarly at Trinjann, we don’t touch machines for embroidery.

Where all do you draw your inspiration from for your designs?

There are some great resources I found online that helped me look into old archived designs. I bring my own creativity into the process by experimenting with different, fresher color combinations. I’ve studied an array of old pieces on display at museums too. I like to juxtapose old techniques of this embroidery with various motifs to create original pieces that remain true to this old world craft.

What has been your goal in terms of working with Phulkaris?

My aim essentially has been to reinvent this beautiful craft to suit the modern sensibility. Phulkaris are super versatile. They can so easily and effectively be paired with western as well as Indian wear. Their old world charm makes them universally appealing. Through Trinjann, I want people to be able to incorporate Phulkaris in their everyday wear. Why should Phulkaris be brought out only to be worn on Baisakhi, Lohri or weddings? Of course a big part of the plan has always been to bring forth the true essence of old world motifs and the original craft.

Tell us about your collection

I don’t mass produce any of our pieces. Each piece is very unique and only one of a kind. So in that sense, my collection is very exclusive. I do dupattas which are only hand embroidered. There are full ensembles, kurta sets, velvet shawls and I will soon be foraying into doing Phulkari saris.

What according to you are some of the most stark differences when you compare Phulkaris made these days to the ones made traditionally in the olden times?

There can’t possibly be any substitute for the tremendous love, heart and soul that went into creating Phulkaris back in the day! It breaks my heart when I see machine embroidered work. Most machine made Phulkaris are being passed off as handmade. That is so far from the true essence of the Phulkari. Originally Phulkaris are embroidered on the wrong side for the designs to show up on the right side. The motifs these days also are very generic. Earlier the designs were far more diverse.


Tulika Heer

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