At the invitation of the Stòffa team, we decamped to the village of Bagru, outside of Jaipur, India, to collaborate with the local artisans who practice centuries-old printing techniques. Working closely with these master craftspeople, we produced a collection of scarves and pocket squares that have been meticulously hand block printed.
Michael Hill: Printing has always been a huge part of our identity as a brand. In the ‘70s and ‘80s we used to do a lot of printing down in Crayford in Kent, which was traditional hand block printing. Over time this craft died out, as it was slowly replaced by screen printing. Proper dye-and-discharge screen printing is still a terrific method of printing, which we use at every opportunity - it results in the rich, deep colours you find on our ties, scarves and pocket squares. However, part of me has always had a real fondness for hand block printing, and it was something I wanted to re-incorporate into the Drake’s identity – it was just a case of working out how. Agyesh and I have been friends for a number of years – I’ve always liked and admired what he does, we’ve collaborated in the past and he’s a Drake’s customer, too. Last year, he mentioned to me that he was travelling to the village of Bagru, outside of Jaipur, India – a village that is known for its peerless hand block printing. He suggested I join him on the trip and I jumped at the opportunity.
Agyesh Madan: Being from India, block printing and natural dyes have been a prolific part of my life. My interest in them got re-invigorated while researching natural dying techniques in 2014 inspiring me to take a sabbatical and live in the aforementioned village of Bagru for a month to truly understand the spirit behind the process. The experience was truly life changing. It brought me back to the act of painting with my hands as a child, watching energy and thought transfer from the hands of dye makers and printers onto a piece of cloth as an expression of culture and beauty.
The month was spent exploring the creation of every element: the mud resist, the natural dyes, the mordants, the printing blocks, the fabric preparation, and most importantly witnessing the natural and intuitive skill of the local artisans as they combined their elements. It was a start of something special and since then I go there as many times as possible, often with new colleagues and friends to share my joy with them. The natural energy of the people who work with their hands every day is infectious and I find this collaboration between different experiences and cultures a truly exciting way to preserve and evolve this craft. A few years back I remember sharing with Michael some of the work we had done there for Stòffa, by painting with the resist and dyes instead of block printing them and the colours really caught his eye. I shared further some of the other colours we had worked on and it didn’t take long to book the trip from there.
MH: That’s right – we did try to conceive of a few ideas beforehand, but in the end it felt much more natural just to respond to the environment around us, once we were there. We’d been driving around in Jaipur and I was transfixed by the city’s famous powder pink buildings. Many of the walls are painted with these large rectangular designs, so we decided to take that and put it on a scarf as a border. That felt like a very organic way of incorporating our surroundings into the project. It’s a simple but meaningful nod to where we were making the scarves.
It was incredibly rewarding to be drawing these influences that are so specific to the region, but also to be looking back to the earliest days of Drake’s. One of the designs, for example, is a paisley which is very close to the original Drake’s pine print from back in the ‘70s. That, along with the return to hand block printing, felt like Drake’s coming full circle.
AM: Absolutely, I feel in the end the collection encapsulates everything beautifully: our time learning from the master block-printers, the special city of Jaipur, the rich history of Drake's and a nod to the future filled with thoughtful design by Stòffa and Drake's.