Story behind Indian masks worn by King Charles and Queen Camilla

Designed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the accessories are an ode to the designer's Bengali culture and heritage

King Charles III and Queen Camilla with their shola masks at The Animal Ball in London. Getty Images
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King Charles III and Queen Camilla recently turned heads at the Animal Ball in London where they appeared matching in masquerade.

The wildlife charity fundraising event took place on Thursday at Lancaster House after a three-year hiatus. It marked the 20th anniversary of the Elephant Family, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the Asian elephant from extinction in the wild, founded by the queen's brother Mark Shand.

For the event, King Charles was dressed in a sharp blue suit, while the queen chose a palazzo-kurta in a lighter shade of blue. But the highlight of their look, however, was the white elephant shola mask they each chose.

What are shola masks?

King Charles and Queen Camilla lead celebrations at conservation charity's Animal Ball

King Charles and Queen Camilla lead celebrations at conservation charity's Animal Ball

The king and queen's masks were made by Indian designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who is known for creating modern fashion pieces using traditional craftsmanship. They were an homage to Mukherjee's Bengali heritage and culture.

Shola is a milky-white spongy cork derived from aquatic plants that grow in the marshlands of Bengal, the designer explained in an Instagram post. The material has long been used by craftsmen.

Shola crafts are widely showcased during Durga Puja celebrations, which is recognised on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

“I like to tell hyper-local stories to the world in an attempt to create economic sustainability for heritage crafts and craftspeople,” Mukherjee said.

"The shola masks have been made by hand using age-old artisanal techniques and materials, as a collaboration between the artists from the Sabyasachi Art Foundation and the master craftspeople of Bengal. The masks celebrate the continuity of one of Bengal’s most treasured heritage crafts that is practised by about 5,000 artisans.

Spotlight on Indian artistry

Aside from the masks, Mukherjee also showcased exclusive jewellery at the event. The piece features colourful gemstones, and were made "in homage to endangered animals".

"The Bengal tiger necklace is crafted in 18-karat gold with a 109.95-carat Zambian emerald and a 5.06-carat old mine-cut diamond with multicoloured and organic gemstones, and brilliant-cut diamonds," he explained.

Other Indian designers were also represented at the event, such as Manish Malhotra and Anita Dongre, while the director of the Oscar-winning documentary The Elephant Whisperers, Kartiki Gonsalves, was presented with an award.

Updated: July 03, 2023, 2:29 PM