The origin of the crepe lehenga choli in India is a very recent one. It starts with the introduction of crepe fabric into the long standing heritage of the lehenga. This can effectively be broken down in to two parts of two separate pasts; the first being that of crepe fabric and the second of the lehenga.
Crepe or Crape as a fabric dates back to 19th Century Europe. The immediate popularity of the fabric was credited to its unique look and texture. The properties of crepe are that of crisp, crimped or wrinkled and can be made from silk, wool or synthetic fibred fabric. As the reach of crepe fabric began to spread across the world, different countries came up with their own adaption and usages for it.
From India, China, Japan, England, France and Russia, the differentiating factor of Crepe was mainly in its weight, luster of texture and the techniques used to weave it. Even today, including the traditional methods, there are four ways crepe can be weaved to achieve 2 distinct types of fabric; the hard weave which was handmade and weaved with twisted silk yarn and dyed black to be worn in periods of mourning. And the second was soft, which is more popular presently and also referred to as the Canton or Oriental.
These softer fabrics are, in many cases, created with a flat texture first and then crimped for texture. In essence, Georgette is a sheer, crisp flat crepe. China and Japan excel in methods of the soft woven crepe. The material they produce has a crisp, elastic nature which is not produced through a weave, unlike the other weft techniques, but rather the way the gauze passes through after it has been woven. With modernity, the techniques have become faster and cheaper but in many places still prided on the secrecy of the small method changes that can totally change the nature of crepe fabric.
Lehengas for every occasion
Lehengas are traditional grments worn at festivals, parties and weddings in India and consist of 3 pieces to complete the attire; a lehenga (long skirt), a choli (blouse) and dupatta (scarf/ stole).The lehenga, in contrast, is a fabric that far predates the origins of crepe. Its introduction is accredited to the Moghul Empire, who brought it to India from Persia in the 17th Century.
Even though before that some form of a skirt existed as a wrap and girdle, it was very different to the stitched fabric of the lehenga as we know it today. Women of royalty of the Mughal court were known to wear this long, floor-length “skirt” that was tied at the waist and had a wide A-line circumference at its base.
This garment was adopted throughout North India in particular, with each region making their unique tweaks to its shape and design aesthetics. The fashion industry has also played a significant part, with particular focus on the various shapes a crepe lehenga can adopt. Whether that is A-line, circular, mermaid or straight cut; each one has peaked in current and seasonal trends at some point in time. The only cut restricted to a lehenga because of crepe is the fish tail shape as it requires stiffer fabric.
While the first lehengas were made of silk, which is still the most preferred material, they now extend to a wide range of art silks, cotton, khadi, georgette, net, satin, brocade, chiffon and of course, crepe. The advantage of crepe has over many other fabrics are they various blends that can be achieved with it. Crepe silk lehengas, for instance, are very popular at weddings and festivals as they are something of a novelty and can imbibe various styles of embroidery.
Crepe bridal lehengas that and usually a blend of silk can be found with patchwork, zari work and weaves, sequins, resham, beads, stone work, cutdana work, dori, gota patti, mirror work , kalamkari and even Zardozi style embroidery. For slightly less formal occasions, though the subtly of work on the crepe lehengas would depend on the artisan, bandhej, block prints, aari work and screen prints are also highly popular and have their place in the Indian fashion arena.
The range of crepe lehenga designs can seem endless and overwhelming as the fashion market is flooded with modern innovative combinations of embroidery and other techniques to fit all occasions in various price brackets. The novelty of a crepe lehenga, however, is still mostly restricted to parties and events where one can get dressed up.
For weddings and festivals, most affluent, middle-aged people still choose the traditional cuts of silk-crepe lehengas with heavy zari or zardosi work whereas the younger crowd may select a screen printed crepe lehenga with a contemporary screen print and pair it with modern ethnic styled earrings, necklaces or bracelets.