Photography / Editorial / Print

As featured in Unfolded Magazine Issue 10

The story of Ahilya Bai Holkar, an eighteenth century queen of the Malwa kingdom provides the namesake for ahilya, a fashion label that fuses ancient artisan weaving traditions with contemporary technical aesthetics. Founded by designer Manuela Moollan, she tells us that she "started ahilya because first I fell in love with a product, which is hundreds of years old: hand spun and hand woven cashmere that is pure genuine "pashmina". I found out that it was very hard to find original cashmere in its finest form in Europe because very few weavers use the traditional materials to make them nowadays. I also set up ahilya because I was seduced by the region of Kashmir, a beautiful land with a complex history and my interest in the people behind this inspiring ancient weaving tradition."  Moollan tells us her personal style is very Parisian and through "our exploration of new techniques and embellishments on scarves and our research, ahilya became a fashion label following seasons, and I incidentally started to “design” collections."

Moollan describes fashion as "Insatiable inspiration to create and short-lived appetite to wear clothes," and her latest SS13 Scarf collection is all about "California and Palm Spring, colours of Azurine blue, Calypso pink and Aqua green set into simplified laces of mesh and polka dots to give a very geometric feel for mainline." For the couture range, "the contrasts are softer. Our key piece is a palm tree lace and detailed sharp white floral embroidery."

The label has diverged into capes, born from clients wanting more. "They loved the ahilya luxury fibres mixed with beautiful embellishments. We thought that capes could complement the range well, as they are versatile like scarves and as elegant. The same philosophy goes behind the design of our capes which are made with luxurious and fine merino wool."

She has come far from the Easter Egg hunts of her childhood she fondly remembers as a child, but having found the label "it has not been black and white", she says "I am sure other fashion designers will agree – that production is usually the most frustrating part of the job as it is a part where one has the least control." However the "best experiences are success in seducing new people with our products and seeing the collection worn and sold in many different places."

In describing a typical design process for a collection,  Moollan tells us "we experiment with new techniques in the weave or the embellishment and shapes. Looking at different weights of woven fibres, we develop refined embellishments to complement the scarf.  All of our scarves are functional, i.e. they are extremely soft to the skin, very fine but also very warm – lighter than silk scarves but much warmer and breathable. All of our work on embellishment ensures that the softness, light weight and warmth are preserved."

With a passion for new cultures and an active interest in how communities and people keep their traditions in a changing world, for ahilya couture, most of the scarves are hand-spun and hand-woven in Kashmir. For the main line, all scarves, capes and draped shapes are made in Italy using specially selected wool from New Zealand and Australia. Moollan tells us that "it is important that a label is aware of the use and waste of resources as well as the social impact and tries to address issues at its level as much as possible. It is difficult to be ethical on all fronts especially when big players are those who can bring out change. At our level, our most powerful tool is to communicate on our values and also to educate people on our luxury fibres."

In 2010, ahilya won the Ethical Fashion Forum’s Innovation Award which rewards innovation in design and social and environmental sustainability. ahilya is also a member of the Centre of Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion and is available from the shop at the Dorchester, Avenue 32, and from their own e-shop They are also available from One and Only Resorts Worldwide. A capsule cashmere and merino knitwear range will launch this Autumn, transposing embellishments onto a selected range of jumpers and tops.

Interview by Nardip Singh
Image description
Image description