Kashmir’s famed pashmina shawls, known for centuries for their signature intricate buta or paisley patterns, got a French touch this week. Artist Maximilien Pellet turned the fabric into a canvas for contemporary art forms at a Parisian exhibition, in a rare bid to cater to Western sensibilities.
Mujtaba Qadri, owner of the label Me&K, introduced the pashmina shawls with modern art during the Maison & Objet exhibition held in Paris between January 19-23. Mr. Qadri termed the move a bid to widen the reach of the Kashmiri shawl industry.
“Pashmina — or cashmere as it’s called in the West — is a fabric loved and respected the world over. That said, very few people are aware of the role Kashmir played in this legacy. Instead of restricting its usage and aesthetics within small elite circles, I wanted to give pashmina a more global flavour, infusing modernity and minimalism through the artist’s signature,” Mr. Qadri said.
The transformation, where Kashmiri shawls were adorned with abstract paintings rather than intricate embroidery, has re-introduced the fabric with new-age aesthetics. “The effort was one of a kind, taking art into utility and beyond,” said Mr. Qadri, whose new-age shawls evoked curiosity among fashion aficionados and locals.
The French artist Mr. Pellet, given the world’s finest and most delicate fabric for a canvas, described the art fusion with the Kashmir industry as an “honour” for his designs.
“I am more and more interested in the variation of my work with different techniques and different supports in order to break the border between art and design. When I have the opportunity to work in collaboration with quality craftsmen, it is an honour for my designs,” Mr. Pellet, who earlier worked on a hand-woven rug in Morocco said.
Mr. Pellet said that the challenge, while painting and drawing, was to find the quick gestures which would be like a few brush strokes on paper. “It is very important for me to include questions of tradition in my work, that of images but also of techniques,” he said.
Mr. Pellet has been tracking the craft industry of Kashmir by virtue of online videos and photos. “I was able to understand all the different stages of the work done by hand. It represents a real fascination. I have the impression that it is another relationship to time,” Mr. Pellet said.
It was the 18th century French empress Josephine — gifted a Kashmiri Kani shawl by her husband, the Emperor Napoleon — who helped revive a dying craft in Kashmir by becoming its style icon in Europe. It remains to be seen if the new French touch proves to be another Josephine moment for the Kashmiri shawl industry.