Riding high on the success of Dior’s spectacular show, in association with her Chanakya Group, changemaker Karishma Swali shares the joy of taking India to the world.
As Managing Director and Creative Director of Chanakya International and the Chanakya School of Craft (their Devi Series was displayed at our 2023 HELLO! India Art Awards!), Karishma Swali is at the heart of India’s efforts to promote and preserve its traditional textiles and crafts, reinterpreting our surface ornamentation techniques for modern designs. Her most recent achievement was one that was broadcast the world over — Chankaya’s showcase of the Dior Retrospective and a show at Mumbai’s Gateway of India that left the world of fashion in awe of its scale and extravagance.
HELLO! speaks with the mind spearheading the revival of India’s finest with her Mumbai-based export atelier.
HELLO!: Congratulations on the supreme success of the Dior show! How does it feel to have drawn the focus of global fashion on India?
Karishma Swali: “Thank you for your kind words! The Dior show was a momentous coming together of our shared values, reverence for craft and commitment to women’s emancipation. For years, we’ve taken parts of Mumbai to Paris, and it was truly special for Paris to come to Mumbai. I’m filled with great joy and deep gratitude for Maria Grazia Chiuri and the House of Dior for bringing this vision to life. To be able to share this with the rest of the world makes this experience truly special.”
H!: From where did your interest in India’s craft traditions stem?
KS: “Growing up, our home was filled with conversation around art, culture and India’s artisanal legacy. When my father founded Chanakya in the early 1980s, his vision was to share India’s finest craftsmanship with the world. He did so by bringing together 13th- and 14th-generation master craftsmen to Mumbai to form a craft collective. We’re lucky to work closely with them to innovate across different genres of craft to design a unique offering each season across couture, ready-to-wear, accessories and fine art. In my 25-year journey exploring craft, I’ve had the pleasure of working with artists, conservationists and advocates to highlight India’s diverse traditions.”
H!: How did Chanakya’s association with Dior come about? How’s your experience been working with Maria?
KS: “Expanding on the rich legacy of Dior and India’s timeless craft traditions with Maria has been a joy and an honour. It enables us to build on Monsieur Dior’s endeavours by taking from the history of fashion, reinventing it for global audiences and preserving its underlying heritage through craft.
Maria and I met over 25 years ago and immediately forged a special bond over an appreciation and respect for indigenous craft communities, hand-craftsmanship and its infinite possibilities. Not only has she been a long-time mentor, she’s also a very dear friend. I remain in awe of her ability to champion, foster and preserve master crafts from around the world. It’s a privilege and honour to learn from her every day.”
H!: Tell us about the masters behind the intricate work that emerges from the Chanakya Atelier.
KS: “The driving force behind Chanakya are the people. Our close-knit team traverses the length and breadth of far-flung territories to source the finest embroidery techniques. Chanakya’s research and design endeavours are also supported by sourcing experts, who help create exclusive bespoke raw materials. Our master artisans work closely with the principal designers, merchandisers and ingenious researchers to meticulously bring the client’s vision to life. Our client servicing divisions in Italy and America offer inspiration and help us stay connected with our buyers across the globe. This is the journey of every masterpiece created at Chanakya.”
H!: What’s an achievement you’re most proud of and your most significant learning experience?
KS: “An achievement I’m most proud of is co-founding the Chanakya School of Craft in 2016, inspired by India’s innate nature of non-violence and universal compassion. A first of its kind, the non-profit school and foundation is dedicated to craft, culture and creating new autonomy for women. The school has educated over 1,000 women till date, teaching over 300 hand embroidery, hand weaving and macramé techniques through a holistic curriculum anchored through the voices and lives of historical female figures. I’m endlessly inspired by the creative spirit of our artisans. Embroidery is a form of meditation, an expression of devotion for them. Every day, they teach me the importance of living a deliberate life while engaging my head, hands and heart.”
H!: What are your interests outside of fashion. How do you enjoy spending your free time?
KS: “I have a long-standing love for art and travel. I’m ever-curious and inspired by indigenous communities across the world and their way of living. Alone time is also essential, when time permits, for which I head to the mountains.”
H!: Which are your favourite labels and places to shop from?
KS: “Maria and I share the same ideals of beauty. So naturally, Christian Dior holds a special place in my heart. I also admire Coco Chanel and her sensibilities when designing for women. I’m not much of a shopper, to be honest. I prefer to spend my time travelling.”
This has been adapted for the web from a story originally published in the April 2023 issue of HELLO! India. Get our copy of the latest issue right here!