India’s oldest drape, the saree is all set for a revival of sorts. The six yards of stunning elegance, which lay forgotten under heaps of mass produced dresses, shirts and pants has suddenly begun to evoke a warm response from the young and middle aged women of the country. Even though they would proudly bring out their handloom or designer sarees during celebratory occasions, the role of the saree in their lives was somewhat diminished as regular or daily wear clothing.
Why bother with a drape when you can easily pull a pair of pants and button up a shirt and get to work? This is perhaps where the saree’s narrative hit the speed bump - in it not being the most comfortable of outfits for women stepping out to work. Also, with the global media inundating the internet with pictures of women dressed in smart dresses and chic suits to work, western outfits became the de-facto outfits of choice for formal and daily wear.
But thanks to the influence of a few women for whom the saree is an integral part of their everyday fashion, we’ve seen a revived interest in the six yards of unstitched fabric. It has gone from being a ‘behenji’ (middle aged woman, in Hindi) ensemble to an outfit that is coming to be considered as chic and sophisticated.
Today, we take a look at six such women who’ve donned the saree as their fashion uniform. The saree is not a costume for these women but a way of life. And through a life like that, they’ve done their bit to inspire Indian women to go back to their roots and rediscover their love for the saree and rekindle their relationship with it.
Rekha made it stylish to grace the red carpet in a saree. Her quintessential style when she steps out to make a public appearance is an opulent Kanjeevaram saree teamed with a bold lip, kohl lined eyes and traditional gold jewellery. Despite the predictability of her attire, she continues to wow us with every outing of hers, each making us drool over the zari soaked Kanjeevarams.
While gold is her go to colour while choosing her designer sarees, she cleverly mixes it with jewel tones that complement the Indian skin tone like no other.
Despite being overtly extravagant, these designer sarees are in keeping with Rekha’s brand of charisma and evoke a sense of awe each time we catch a glimpse of her in them. She makes it to the top of our list for singularly being responsible for keeping the Kanjeevaram saree in our memories and our festive shopping list and for being such an ardent endorser of the temple town weave.
Her trademark 'public appearance' look has cemented the position of this silken weave as a stunner and led to many youngsters raiding their mothers’ and grandmothers’ closets for heirloom weaves. What’s more, she has also inspired actors like Vidya Balan (she even gifted Balan an all-gold Kanjeevaram for the latter’s wedding) to flaunt their love for the Kanji in public, doing a world of good for the weavers of Kajeevaram and for the saree in general.
BJP Spokesperson Shaina NC is a popular face on the television, known for her articulate speech and magnetic personality. But did you know that this feisty lady also holds a Guinness world record for the fastest saree drape? Shaina’s unequivocal love for sarees began when she started off as a designer in Mumbai at the age of 18. Her designer sarees in chiffon, Chanderi, cotton and silks have adorned beauties like Aishwarya Rai, Karisma Kapoor and Juhi Chawla to name a few. The feather in her cap, however, comes through her innovative drapes - she has devised 54 ways of draping the saree - rightfully earning her the title of the ‘Queen of Drapes’.
Making a strong case for the saree, Shaina says that the saree is the most flattering garment ever, which can help a skinny person look full and can camouflage bulges in voluptuous women. In many of her interviews she has iterated that there are no set rules to wearing a saree and women can even experiment draping one over their trousers if it would make them comfortable. Top that with her television appearances in impeccably draped sarees and you have a living inspiration for young women to take to the drape. For women who are still apprehensive about taming the six yards, she has even created ‘ready-to-wear’ designer sarees that offer the best of both worlds in terms of elegance and comfort.
Among the latest crop of Bollywood beauties, if one actor had to be picked out for her impeccable saree style, then it would unarguably be Vidya Balan. Hailing from a Tamil Brahmin household, the idea of a saree as a symbol of grace, femininity and beauty has been ingrained in Balan since a very young age. She is one of the few Indian actors who has flaunted a Kanjeevaram on the red carpet both in India and abroad to unanimous praise from critics.
Vidya has made her penchant for sarees known through her fashion choices during her public appearances. Even though she has been criticised for not ‘experimenting’ with her look, she continues to grace events and promotions alike in her designer sarees. Given her soft spot for handlooms, it is not surprising to find her in an Anavila Misra or a Sabyasachi drape ever so often. In fact, her undeniable love for handwoven sarees has drawn a number of designers to her from all corners of the country in the hope that she would flaunt their creation to create some buzz around their brand. Being the sport that she is, Vidya often concedes to their request, doing her bit towards the revival of dying Indian looms.
Most importantly, what Vidya has done is that she has opened the eyes of the younger generation towards the beauty and the ease of incorporating Indian weaves into their everyday style - a feat that has prompted more and more girls to flaunt the saree, not as a statement but as second skin, just as they would flaunt a dress or an anarkali suit.
In March 2015, television professional Anju Maudgal Kadam had a conversation with to her friend Ally Matthan about not wearing all the sarees that she owned. The duo decided to bring their respective sarees out and show them some love, one by one. They called it the #100SareePact (wear a saree at least 100 times in a year) and posted pictures of themselves in their first saree. Little did they know then that the pact would go viral and inspire thousands of young and old women alike to show off their saree style on social media.
Today, log on to any social media platform and look for the #100sareepact. You are bound to find countless pictures of women in their sarees in a mind boggling array of weaves and drapes, showing off their outfit with a proud smile. With this pact, which has turned into a crusade, the duo have done great service to the saree itself.
Women now wear the saree not just as a courtesy to the traditional attire but for the sheer joy of draping a fabric in a way that is uniquely Indian. What is even more interesting is that along with the picture, most women share intriguing stories behind their saree of the day, which are not necessarily designer sarees, creating awareness about lesser known weaves, embellishments and their sources, giving both the craftsmen and the craft a much-needed impetus.
She may not be in front of the camera or in the public eye, but designer Anavila Misra’s influence on the saree wearing fraternity is undeniable. For ages, the saree was associated with being prim and proper. Her woven sarees draped in an effortless style have changed that perception and how! From actors Vidya Balan, Kajol and Konkona Sen Sharma to singer Shubha Mudgal and a host of other celebrities, Misra has a steady following that only seems to be growing by the day.
With the goal of making the saree a comfortable attire, Misra started an experiment with linen and developed a yarn with a thread count that made the fabric fine, fluidic and extremely simple to wear. Soon, there were plenty of takers for her understated, rustic weaves that naturally have a contemporary feel to them. Without any overemphasised prints or embellishments, they appeal to the modern young woman who is looking for something smart and chic to wear. Furthermore, the natural, organic fabric drapes beautifully and makes you forget that you are wearing a saree! What more does a woman need to go all out and embrace the saree?
Vogue hailed her as the most beautiful woman in the world in the 60s. Her effortless style and her personal taste have left such an indelible mark on the minds of women that even today, close to a decade after her demise, she is counted amongst the most influential women in India when it comes to style.
Draped in expensive French chiffons, delicate floral prints, bandhinis and leheriyas that were subtle and sophisticated, the Maharani exuded an extraordinary aura that left onlookers stunned. Her mysterious charisma has ensured that the late Maharani has remained the muse for many fashion houses venturing into creating designer sarees that are royal and elegant. The same inspiration seeps down to the fashion conscious young generation as well, which sometimes looks for a break from the usual heavy drapes and extravagant embellishments.
During her time, the Maharani made the saree look urbane and cool, despite the drape being steeped in traditions. One look at her, in her pearls, chiffon saree and elegant blouse and the word that comes to your mind is refined, not traditional. Through her life and the way she carried herself, she continues to show women how the six yards of fabric can weave an aura of mystique and charm around you to make you desirable to everyone who sets their eyes on you.
Thanks to the renewed interest in sarees, fashion designers, who are quick to catch the pulse of the nation have dutifully devoted themselves towards working with artisans, interpreting the drape and presenting it in its many new avatars for the young generation. As a result of all the effort, the saree is now being celebrated for its unique identity and the elan that it lends a woman.The saree is also perhaps the only Indian garment that is being hailed as a ‘fashion statement’ for all seasons - one that is timeless and will never go out of style. Reason enough to drape one now?
Image credit: raw mango, livemint, sareetimes, koimoi, sosaree, funfort, gal-dem