The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
Conversations with the eccentric and the absurd about their dreams, desires and destinies...

"What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning." And with T.S.Eliot in our heads we wander into a wasteland where the lost and the forgotten are reinvented, so that nostalgia gives way to love, in the future perfect.
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By a woman of wonder and a radical of retro-fits, Shilpa Chavan.
Little Shilpa goes back to the past in order to remember. To remember, perhaps, if there were already signs of where she was Headed. She has done big things, like designed hats for Lady Gaga and small things like pop-up shops around Mumbai, and in this play of scale are her thoughts on what Suits her best.

TFT: How far back can you trace your radical style? Do you remember any particularly favorite costumes?
LS: I've always loved Gayatri Devi's pictures. I'm also very influenced by our 70's Bollywood films, and grew up in adoration of Zeenat Aman and her outfits. I remember Amitabh's song from Lavarish and Parveen Babi's black sequined gowns. Oh, and her golden jumpsuit in Namak Halal. I didn't have access to these sort of outfits. I grew up in a normal, middle class, Maharastrian family, and my mom would buy me regular clothes from the market. What I did do, was cut them up and transform them into what I wanted. She'd buy me a pair of paints, and I'd open them up and wear it as a skirt.

TFT: Skirts or Trousers?
LS: Trousers. These days I wear trousers to work and my husbands shirts. But then, in the evenings, for parties I wear vintage granny dresses. Don't know what's up with that!

TFT: 4 food items you could live on for the rest of your life.
LS: Chips, lamb chops, steamed fish, rice.  

TFT: 4 accessories that you could create an outfit with without needing the main clothing at all?
LS: Headpieces, headpieces, headpieces, headpieces.

TFT: Train or plane?
LS: Plane.

TFT: Europe or Asia?  
LS: Europe.

TFT: Really?
LS: Ya.

TFT: What's the seed of your inspirations?
LS: If it can be imagined, it can be done.  

TFT: Most valuable thing you have collected for the least price.
LS: My grandmother embroidered this beautiful piece on velvet. I eyed it my whole life, but she never gave it to me. Then, just before I went to London to study, she said I should have it. Six months later, I returned because she was sick, and she died three days later. It's the most precious piece I have. White sequins on velvet in a frame.

TFT: Big or small?
LS: Small, of course.  

TFT: Here or there?
LS: Here, always.

TFT: Botany or Astronomy?
LS: Botany. I'm a botany graduate, you know.

TFT: What are some of the most outrageous things you've used to create outfits?
LS: Slipper thongs. Bata slippers made into a headpiece. I've cut into mirrors. I've used bras, Mehendi patches, pretty much anything.   

TFT: If you had to title your philosophy of finding A and transforming it into B, what would you call it? Give your manifesto a tag line.
LS: I read this book called The Age of Wonder, and it really made me believe that we live in a time of wonder, on a bridge between romanticizing the past and imagining a wild future. My background is in science, but I like to treat it as a dream, a creative process. It needn't be mechanized and emotionless. Even as a student, I used to make really detailed diagrams. I'd like to call what I do 'Living in an Age of Wonder'.

Little Shilpa was born in 1974 and lives and grows pop-up shops in Mumbai.

Also in this issue

Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.