I grew up in a theatrical family, surrounded by laughter, colour and vibrancy. My mother and grandma had immense wardrobes and were passionate collectors of high neck blouses, floral chiffon dresses and anything in black velvet in case they came in useful for the stage. Their collections of hats, scarfs, faux fur collars and costume jewellery can only be described at epic! My grandma bought a Singer sewing machine for my mother when she a teenager so she could start making her costumes. As a 21st birthday the Singer got an electric foot pedal and there really was no stopping her!
I remember my grandma swishing along in a long black kaftan with giant red flowers stamped on it, and floaty cotton gauze dresses by Phool, Anokhi and Ritu Kumar with matching headscarves. Unsurprisingly I followed them into the theatre business, as much for the love of clothes if nothing else! A dress was a way to signal your character’s intentions before you have said a word.
In 2019 I went to India for the first time to see my partner’s family. The abundance of craft people was striking, in the little parades of shops one sees weaving, embroidering, block printing, tailoring. These crafts, handed down through the generations, are omnipresent. I had the joy of buying a whole new wardrobe to blend in (well that was my excuse!) whilst I was there. Many a blissful afternoon was spent perusing the rainbow coloured silks. There was even the option to have a dress tailor made! So not wanting to miss this exciting sartorial experience I handed the seamstress my mother’s Laura Ashley dress that I had worn on the journey and a burgundy red floral saree that Adithya’s mother had put out for the kabadiwala. The rag and bone man, or kabadiwala cycles around the residential neighbourhood calling for ‘old stuff’ and ‘paper.’ People keep the papers and old sarees bundled up by the door, and call down from the window to negotiate how many kitchen utensils they will receive in exchange. Waste is considered merely a resource in the wrong place!
The dress was a revelation! The seamstress had done a beautiful job. It was beautifully stitched and added a prayer bead for the neck fastening. Creating new from the old is satisfying. I came back from India laden with pure silk sarees of outstanding quality from the kabadiwala.
So when lockdown struck in March 2020 I drew a sketch of a mid length, high neck, frilly dress with balloon sleeves and asked mother if the Singer was up to it! So we drew up a pattern together and the ‘Amande Atelier’ came into existence! That dress became the Masala, named after my late, great ginger Maine Coone.
I love having my mother as the model, it feels nostalgic. Every one saree is unique, every dress is one of a kind. Our customers tend to be highly artistic, with a love of flowers and a strong sense of individuality. We receive orders from all around the world from women who value the unique, one of a kind nature of our dresses.
Bougainvillea the label is a family affair. Adithya’s parents lets me know what the kabadiwalas and saree sellers have to offer, they act as quality control, burning a thread from each saree to verify it is silk. They send them over and I cut the pieces then mother does the stitching. We have a hoot on our photo shoots, Cinnamon and Anise wonder why we aren’t actually walking in Battersea Park!
The Masala dress has a button fastening at the back of the neck. We have sourced hand cut mother of pearl buttons, crafted almost a century ago in Bengal. The black velvet sash is made from some 1950s French ribbon.