Leah Singh is deeply inspired by the Bauhaus movement, Art Deco and traditional Indian crafts. And that’s obvious in her line of textiles. She initially started off with a line of bone jewelry, but soon the thought of reviving the age-old, traditional crafts of India caught on. Born to a Polish American father and an Indian mother, her childhood was divided between Delhi and New York. Apart from everything else, what enamours us is her quest to reinvent and revive traditional Indian craft in a contemporary context. We caught up with this designer for a brief tete-a-tete.
Take us through your creative journey. From starting off as jewellery designer to now working with textiles.
Leah Singh: I studied Industrial Design at the Parsons School of Design, and for my senior thesis I worked with artisans in India who made objects out of bone, and I created lighting that reduced wastage and pollution, making the process easier and safer for the artisans. Bone is a natural, environmentally sustainable material that is a by-product of other industries. So after graduating, I experimented with making sculptural bone jewelry from this material. While working on this collection, I was visiting a lot of craft exhibits and markets in Delhi and was drawn to the various traditional textiles of India. These textiles are handcrafted by artisans that live in different regions of the country and each region has its own unique style, technique, and combination of materials. I loved all the pattern and colour and texture and I wanted to transform these age-old textiles into modern objects that resonated with the current times. While at the same time, support the artisans to keep their craft alive.
Your inspiration – people, places, things?
LS: The Bauhaus movement, Art Deco, the 80’s. Traditional Indian crafts. Architecture and geometry. Colour.
Your thoughts on Indian arts and crafts?
LS: Collect them, support the artisan communities, and don’t let the arts and crafts die out!
How did the thought of working with Indian artisans come about?
LS: When I moved back to Delhi after graduating from the Parsons School of Design in New York, I was visiting a lot of craft fairs like Dastkar and was so inspired by and drawn to India’s traditional craft techniques because of their rich history and intricate handcrafting. I would speak to the artisans that were from different regions of the country and who work with different materials and techniques, and something I heard continuously was that many of the crafts are slowly dying out because the younger generation prefers more contemporary jobs. And I noticed that these crafts hadn’t evolved with the times- colours, product categories, and patterns have been the same for decades. I decided to start a line of textiles to support these artisan communities while also transforming select traditional crafts into modern objects to showcase the artisans’ work and the history of the craft to a new audience.
I find the juxtaposition of combining traditional crafts objects with modern, contemporary surroundings, very beautiful. I wanted to bring this unique perspective to my collection as well, by marrying traditional Indian craft techniques with a modern aesthetic. Taking something traditional and making it contemporary, makes it fresh again and there is an element of surprise and awe when people learn about the traditional aspect of the textiles.
How is it working in India and New York?
LS: I love going back and forth between the two. I just wish they were closer so that trips could be easier and more frequent! I spend most of my time in India as that is where everything is made, and I love being hands-on and a part of the process. The work culture is so different in each place and I appreciate that I have the ability to experience them both. One of my favourite parts of travelling back and forth is all the people I get to meet and work with.
Your dream collaboration?
LS: I’m already living my dream collaboration – working with the artisans to marry their craft with my designs.
What are you currently working on?
LS: Dog beds!