The story of textile designer Peter D’Ascoli’s journey from Long Island to New Delhi reads as an inexorable matter of fate. Entwined with the paradoxes of cultural adoption, a passion for indigenous craft and a nomadic aura, he seems followed by a wisp of the merchant caravan-serai.
This fascination with the artisan heritage of the subcontinent has led Peter to collaborate with UNESCO India on the ongoing project, BEYOND HERITAGE, Handmade Indian Textiles In The Digital Age. Through an exhibition and a book, the aim is to highlight the often endangered regional crafts that make India such a unique gossamer web of creativity and tradition, passed down through countless generations.
Peter has spent three decades delving into and exploring these threads. He was first inspired by an undeniable coup de foudre encounter with the country while “staying in the pilgrim’s quarters of Amristar’s Golden Temple and eating in the communal dining hall.” He explains, “I was working with Diane von Fürstenberg in New York and all this seemed like an exotic wonderland to me. Unlike today, most people wore traditional clothes made from handcrafted textiles, and the old city was filled with façades made from carved wood, now mostly hidden.”
The second serendipity was meeting the late doyen of Indian craft heritage, Martand (Mapu) Singh. “An elegant Punjabi prince who was equally at home having tea at Buckingham Palace or with a weaver in his hut.”
After spending “two enchanting years traveling across India" learning about, and designing, handmade textiles, Peter explains: “I cannot forget the awe I felt when faced with these age-old techniques in pre-industrial landscapes where the harvesting and spinning of fibers into yarn, and the hand weaving, printing, and embroidery practices have existed as part of an ancient living heritage.”
It is this sense of respect that has fueled the founding of cult design studio, TALIANNA, whose eclectically patterned designs are loved by a devoted following from Palm Beach to Marrakech. Based with his French wife, Cécile, and two daughters at a rambling farmhouse outside Delhi, with interiors influenced by the likes of Umberto Pasti and Madeleine Castaing, Peter has established himself as a vibrant force in the burgeoning revival of Indian textiles.
“It is incredible how influential the textiles have been,” he recounts. “They have shaped the national textile design identities of countries as diverse as France, Japan, the US, and beyond. There is a clear arc across contemporary trade from village artisan weavers in India to the cotton mills of North Carolina and the printing factories of Como, Italy.
The next D’ASCOLI x UNESCO collaboration showcases some of the finest creators of handcrafted textiles. Each utilizes new and ancient technologies to create never-before-seen wonders featuring Indian artisanal expertise for the 21st century. Championing the often unseen and heroic is Peter’s vocation; his passion and dedication are extraordinary and will live on as a remarkable legacy.
A version of this article first appeared in Cabana Magazine, Issue 14