A sign of both moder­nity and tra­di­tion, in the hands of de­sign­ers to­day, the sari is be­com­ing an as­pi­ra­tional sym­bol too


Rein­vented by tal­ented de­sign­ers, the sari now be­comes an as­pi­ra­tional sym­bol

DELHI-BASED DE­SIGNER David Abra­ham, one half of the Abra­ham & Thakore la­bel, says he re­mem­bers his Syr­ian Chris­tian grand­mother chang­ing out of her white chatta munda into richly coloured Kan­jee­varams on spe­cial oc­ca­sions. “I re­mem­ber in par­tic­u­lar a beau­ti­ful sap­phire blue sari with a self bor­der that she would wear,” he says. It was the ques­tion of iden­tity that made him ex­per­i­ment with the sari—cut it, style it, rein­vent it. For Abra­ham & Thakore, who have made both stitched and un­stitched ver­sions of the sari, it is a long piece of un­touched fab­ric, which could rep­re­sent a re­gional cul­ture, could be a uni­form for work, or even a metaphor for steamy sex.

And as the fash­ion weeks en­ter an­other Au­tumn/ Win­ter cy­cle, more saris, draped in un­con­ven­tional ways, are ex­pected on the run­ways. Iden­tity is an im­por­tant ques­tion in to­day’s age where high-street fash­ion brands like Zara and H&M are mak­ing the world a place of ho­mogenised iden­ti­ties. So a cul­tur­ally sig­nif­i­cant cloth­ing like the sari is back in the ur­ban closet with a bang.

Re­cently, the sari’s emer­gence as the new fash­ion state­ment was un­fairly de­scribed as na­tion­al­is­tic pro­mo­tion in a piece by As­gar Qadri in The New York Times: “...the Ba­narasi sari, the tra­di­tional gar­ment known for its fine silk and op­u­lent em­broi­dery—and pri­mar­ily worn by Hindu women.” The ar­ti­cle, ‘In In­dia, Fash­ion Has Be­come a Na­tion­al­ist Cause’, took a my­opic view of a gar­ment that rep­re­sents cul­tures criss­cross­ing many re­li­gions and iden­ti­ties.

Yet, in the sari’s re­vival as an as­pi­ra­tional gar­ment, the force of nos­tal­gia is per­haps of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated. The past, with the pos­si­bil­i­ties it con­tains for the fu­ture, is what has made many de­sign­ers turn to the sari. They have ex­per­i­mented with drapes, styles and even the blouse, which is a par­al­lel nar­ra­tive and a state­ment piece in it­self, one that can be­come a game changer for the sari— like a bomber jacket, a cape or a cropped shirt.

The sari has a global par­al­lel. In 2015, Ja­panese mu­si­cian Yoshiki, in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised as the leader and co-founder of heavy metal group X Ja­pan, an­nounced his ki­mono brand, Yoshiki­mono. The first col­lec­tion fea­tured a range of ‘rock star ki­monos’, fea­tur­ing un­ortho­dox prints

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