In an age where cocktail gowns are ruling the runways, actress Sonam Kapoor decided to don a Masaba Gupta saree at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. It added a perfect Indian element to an international event full of gowns and carefully cut tuxedos. But there was something different; she wasn’t wearing the traditional chanderi or a maheshwari. It was a black and white polka dotted saree that upped the style quotient.
Indeed the snooty saree (never was it humble and humble it will never be) is in the process of rediscovering its sex quotient in designs and forms that were unimaginable in the pasttimes.
While most leading Indian designers have the saree on their menu, experimentation has taken on a new hue now. Aarti Vijay Gupta, a Mumbai-based fashion designer turned heads when she showcased her signature collection in the Lakme Fashion Week in 2012 comprising doodle print sarees inspired by her doodle book from her fashion school days. She recalls, “Many of my inspirations came from my doodle book. Also, doodles and drawings are something everyone can relate to. Most of us have doodled as kids when we were learning to draw. It’s always fun to add a little bit of your personality to your clothes. It makes a huge difference in any work of art.”
Her contemporary, Kallol Datta agrees to an extent lines but adds that the traditional Indian saree will never go out of vogue either. “I think it is easy to have simple non-risque prints on a saree and send it to the racks to be sold. But having said that, using slightly risque motifs allows me to inject humour into the garment and stay true to my design philosophy,” he explains.
The best thing about this nine-yard fabric is that it does not judge but actually transcends all shape, size and age barriers. So whether it is a formal evening, a sit-down dinner or a funky party, the saree has always been a woman’s secret jewel. Everything from the style of the drape to the way the ‘palla’ is placed, is often passed down through generations. Says Gupta, “The saree brings out the best in Indian women. It reveals and it hides, making it not just mysterious but an enormously sensuous piece of clothing. I find sarees very stylish and contemporary, functional and easy to look elegant in.”
One drawback the saree always had was the difficulty it posed novices, when they tried to wear it for the first time. Despite being one of the most admired style statements, the saree never really recorded huge sales in the West, since women in Europe and North America were sure it would fall off!
It was David Abraham and Rakesh Thakore who metamorphosed the saree with a jacket over it and a belt that kept the pallu in place. Recently the Victoria and Albert Museum in London showcased their signature sarees in their permanent collection. Says Abraham, “We were honoured to have the Victoria and Albert Museum select our sarees for their permanent collection. It is the finest design museum in the world.” But what makes their collection unique is that they have introduced avante-garde designs without making the saree lose its originality. Thakore explains, “The saree represents Indian textile and cultural history. We wanted to keep the originality of the fabric in our designs.”
But will such quirky stuff work with Indian buyers? Everybody is not comfortable with strange prints. It may take a little while to get used to. But Thakore thinks it is easier to carry off modern sarees. “We believe that the saree has to be treated as a contemporary fashion garment. One should style it with jackets, shirts, even a vest to make it look more edgy.”
Designer Kiran Uttam Ghosh who is known for her signature drapes and clean cuts, thinks that the modern saree is not about funky designs for the sake of being different. She says diverse renditions of the saree have been prevalent in India for a long rime. “The Saree is worn in several ways across our country. A saree over a jacket is not a new phenomenon. Even my grandmother wore a jacket over her saree. Improving accessibility to international audiences will further add to the global recognition of this unique silhouette. “