Kurta Collaboration Exhibit: FIT and India’s Pearl Academy

Photo by Diana Nyman. Prof. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhibit

The current “Style Journey” exhibition in the Art and Design Gallery has an extensive section on contemporary kurtas, hand-embroidered and collaboratively designed by FIT Textile/Surface Design students and by Fashion Design students from Pearl Academy in India.

We asked Textile Surface Design Professor Susanne Goetz, who curated the kurta section, for details on how it came about and on what students gain from working across 10 time zones.

Photo by Diana Nyman of the kurta exhibit (designs by Jihyun Lim and Lianne Covington)

First, the basics. What makes a kurta a kurta?

Prof. Goetz: A kurta is a comfortable upper garment worn by men and women in India, with variations in length (shirt-length or longer) and by region. Traditionally it is worn with different types of pants by both women and men, or with a skirt by women.

Photo by Diana Nyman of the kurta exhibit

What distinguishes the kurtas on exhibit as “contemporary?”

Prof. Goetz: The core of the project was to create a garment that would appeal to consumers of all ages in both India and the US, bridging both traditional elements and more modern and international approaches to pattern, cut, and styling.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Prof. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhibit (design by Danielle Douglas, Rikita Bhutani, Neha Jain, Sanya Dahr)
Photo by Diana Nyman of the Kurta Exhibit (Design by Thomas McLaughlin, Priya Gautam, Urvashi Bharti, Chandra Tiwari)

What is your own experience with studying or wearing kurtas?

Prof. Goetz: I admire the skillfulness with which many kurtas are embellished, and the wide variety of styles they come in. I love wearing them. They’re very comfortable and can look really stylish.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Prof. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhbit (Design by Madeline McCarthy, Rahel D. Peter, Riya Bhatia, Vidhi Daswani)

Kurtas allow women a lot of freedom for everyday and formal wear. What are the different ways they can be worn, such as part of Punjabi suits or over jeans?

Prof. Goetz: Because kurtas come in many different styles and lengths there is really no limit to how they can be worn. Shorter styles can be worn just like a shirt or blouse, longer styles like dresses.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Detail from the Kurta Exhibit (Design by Stephanie Stickle, Anushree Jalan, Prerna Modi)

Was this a class project? If so, how long did students have to work on it?

Prof. Goetz: Yes, students from both colleges worked on this project as part of their classes. Integrated into TD 313 Advanced Photoshop and Illustrator, for instance, students were able to connect their digital design skills with traditional hand embroidery skills.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Detail from the kurta exhibit (Design by Seo Hye Lee, Urshia Fatima, Rashika Mittal, Simran Verma)
Photo by Diana Nyman. Detail from the kurta exhibit (Design by Seo Hye Lee, Urshia Fatima, Rashika Mittal, Simran Verma)

How did students put their projects into motion?

Prof. Goetz: Starting in September 2018, FIT students created digital mood boards inspired by World’s Global Style Network (WGSN) trend forecasts for Spring/Summer 2020 on the theme of ‘Designing Emotions.’ They consulted WGSN trend forecasting books available at the FIT library. They did additional research to help narrow the focus of their theme, and created visually stimulating and concise digital storyboards. Working in design teams, FIT and Pearl Academy students discussed the story boards, current style trends in both India and NYC, and their personal style preferences.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhibit

Did students weave their own fabric?

Prof. Goetz: Fabrics were sourced by the Pearl Academy students, who also designed the garments. Some teams dyed or digitally printed fabrics, and some worked with handwoven artisan fabrics.

Photo by Diana Nyman of the Kurta Exhibit (Design by Alexandra Krynyckyi and Riya Tulsyan)

How did the partnership with Pearl Academy come about?

Prof. Goetz: Since 2016 I have led a short-term study abroad program to India each January. We travel mainly in Rajasthan and work with local artisans to learn about their design and production process and the artisan industry. Pearl Academy has campuses in Jaipur, Delhi and elsewhere, and is also well established in distance learning.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Detail from the Kurta exhibit (Design by Stephanie Stickle, Anushree Jalan, Prerna Modi)

Prof. Goetz cont. In a meeting with Pearl Academy faculty, the idea of a collaborative project was born. We wanted our students to explore design in a cross-cultural and inclusive way, while working within a real-world production scenario. Requiring students to think outside the ‘comfort zone’ of their own major, we created a cultural and skill exchange that encourages innovative design thinking. We wanted students to assess trend preferences as a reflection of identity and their cultural background, and approach fashion with a global perspective.

Photo by Diana Nyman, detail from the Kurta Exhibit (Design by Isabelle Abbracciamento and Manogya Arora)
Photo by Diana Nyman, detail from the Kurta Exhibit (Design by Isabelle Abbracciamento and Manogya Arora)

What knowledge and experience did students share with fellow students in India?

Prof. Goetz:. As one of their most important experiences, students listed learning about different fashion styles, trends and markets from their peers. Because of the pandemic, we now know how to collaborate virtually, but video conferencing and exchanging ideas in writing was a new experience for our students in 2018. Everyone appreciated gaining real-life work experience with an international team across a 10-hour time difference.

Photo by Diana Nyman, Prof. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhibit
Photo by Diana Nyman, Prof. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhibit (Design by Klana King and Disha Ramrakhiani)

cont. Prof. Goetz: Students based in the US would normally find it difficult to get their designs hand embroidered by artisans without having a liaison there and without knowledge of the production process in India.

Photo by Diana Nyman. Detail from the Kurta exhibit (Design by Lianne Covington and Shubham Bohra)
Photo by Diana Nyman (Design by Jeanne Schrem and Ami Shah)

What other parts of the FIT curriculum does this cover?

Prof. Goetz: Aside from creating portfolio work and gaining life experience, the project integrated aspects of sustainability: Integrating traditional hand embroidery with computer-aided design and online collaboration offers a wider platform for incorporating artisan textile techniques in contemporary textiles. Protecting the livelihood of traditional craft communities is an important aspect of sustainability in our industry. From an environmental viewpoint, it’s beneficial to be able to work collaboratively without having to travel across the globe.

Photo by Diana Nyman of Prof. Susanne Goetz, curator of the kurta exhibit

The free exhibition runs until November 22 at the Art and Design Gallery, 27 St. and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. For more information go to: Style Journey Exhibtion.

To learn more about the Textile Surface Design AAS and BFA programs visit: Textile Surface Design at FIT.

Photos by Diana Nyman, Photography ’22. Follow her on IG: @diana.w.ny.photos.

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