Talking Indian Inspiration With Banjanan’s Designer Caroline Weller

by Dena Silver

No late-August vacay plans? No problem. A peek at the latest Banjanan collection is like jetting off to India. Designed by Caroline Weller, a well-traveled designer who’s put in time at Calvin Klein, Armani, and J. Crew, this bohemian label is certainly a breath of fresh (…hand stamped, embroidered…) air. Fun fact: her entire business is located within a five-kilometer radius in Jaipur.
BY DENA SILVER

How did Banjanan come to fruition?
Banjanan was always a spirit I carried around with me. I love New York, but I’ve always needed to mix the city with a little adventure and travel, in a bohemian-chic kind of way. When we moved to Jaipur, I was living the perfect global lifestyle, and I wanted Banjanan to be the brand that represented that. The brand is for a strong, independent woman who loves the fantasy of travel and adventure. Everything is unique yet effortless, with discreet, thoughtful design details. And I love prints!

How has living in Jaipur influenced your designs?
There is a vibrancy here that influences my color and prints, particularly nature. I’ve discovered such crafts there, like block printing and embroidery, which are an integral part of my collections.

Are a lot of other fashion designers in Jaipur?
There are a lot of jewelry designers; Jaipur is a paradise for gemstones. I also have friends who design incredibly ornate and magical wedding saris!

And your collection is produced in a five-kilometer radius. How does that work?
First I work on the block prints with my printer who is a 10 minute drive in one direction, then I work on the silhouettes and the embroideries with a small factory, which is a 10 minute drive in the other direction! And I live in the middle of that all.

How long does it take to create one garment?
It depends on the garment, but my favorite top with a large-scale bird embroidery takes about two days to embroider. My hand-knit sweaters can take three or four days to make, all depending on how fast the lady is knitting on that day!

How hands-on are you in the process of creating a garment?
I’m in the factory or with the craftsmen pretty much every day. I love the process, and I need to oversee every little detail! A lot of the pieces have an element of collaboration. The printers have a real eye for color, and the embroiderers have such skill that I often give them the direction and then we shape the final piece together. It makes sense to leverage their skills.

How do you create and produce the prints on each piece?
I always start with my mood board and design prints from there. There are common themes that pop up; I often like to sneak birds into the prints, even though they have nothing to do with the inspiration at all! I think it’s because my office overlooks our garden so I see them all the time.

Which print is the most labor-intensive?
The block prints, as they are 100 percent printed by hand. Particularly if they have a lot of different colors, as each color of the design is carved into a block of wood, then soaked in oil and it needs to be printed separately from the other colors. Each block is a maximum of 8″ by 10″ in size , so just imagine how many times you have to place that small block onto the fabric to create yardage!

How did your previous gigs at the likes of Calvin Klein and Armani inform your design aesthetic?
I really appreciate clean, modern design, even when the print is highly decorative. I don’t like anything to be fussy. I like functional clothing, which can be emotional!

What’s next for Banjanan?
We’ve expanded our distribution in the U.S. with the support of incredible stores such as Barneys and now we’re gradually expanding to a full lifestyle brand. For Resort 2015 we launched denim and cashmere sweaters, which are incredible. I’ve been wearing them non-stop.

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