It’s the drape for all seasons and this summer – the traditional Indian sari is going retro. Traditional Benarasi, jacquard, kota, cotton and jamdaani are high on the sari roster.
Antique textile collector Sobha Deepak Singh, the director of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra says of the sari movement, "It used to be a very niche segment, but with the sari being recognised as formal wear globally, more women are choosing it over Western-style evening dresses."
In vogue are antique saris – more than 100 years old – and recreated period saris. Traditional drapes from the old havelis (royal family homes) of Rajasthan, the Kutch and other regions of Gujarat, Varanasi and adjoining towns in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are the fabrics of choice.
Cashing in on this demand for traditional and antique saris, the apparel chain Fabindia set up an exclusive stand for saris. This is the first in a series of a proposed chain devoted to traditional saris with contemporary looks and matching silk and cotton cholis. Every sari has been handwoven by rural artisans at the chain’s 17 community-owned companies in villages, where artisans own 26 percent of the stakes.
Fabindia has created three lines of saris – the "traditional" line featuring crafts-based saris; "contemporary", a collection that uses traditional techniques to create a modern idiom; and a "revival" line that brings back saris that are in danger of dying out.
"Traditions like silk Telia Rumals, Koraput saris, Upadas, Ajrakh print on gajji silk, hand-painted kalamkari, Madhubani paintings on maheshwari and chanderi and jamdaanis are dying because of lack of support," said Prableen Singh, spokesperson for Fabindia.
"The lure of the traditional Indian sari from the states is evergreen," said Delhi-based designer-cum textile revivalist Madhu Jain. She is working with former supermodel-turned-grassroots textile activist Milind Soman for the past nine years to revive the ancient "ikkat" and "kalamkari" saris and weaves in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
"This year, we are going to launch a new line of ikkat from Orissa with unusual motifs inspired by the Puri temple," added Jain. Bharatanatyam dancer Geeta Chandran, whose brother-in-law works with weavers all over the country to create traditional saris.
Ready-to-wear saris are also fast gaining popularity in India, said Kolkata-based fashion designer Radhika Singhi. "Indian women are becoming more inclined to use ready-to-wear, hassle-free party-wear saris and lehengas. There is a growing demand for cocktail dresses like gown-cum-saris as well," said Radhika.
Women today want to wear dresses similar to what Indian celebrities wear at international events like the Cannes Film Festival. "Women today want to wear Indian dresses similar to those worn by Indian celebs at Cannes and other events. And hence instead of traditional heavy bridal wears they prefer to wear gown-cum-saris," she added.
Where colours are concerned, Radhika says even brides these days prefer pastel colours. "Besides traditional colours like red and maroon, today’s brides are also choosing pastel colours like peach, powder blue, off-white, rusty red and muddy greys – that are very English – for their shaadi ka joda (bridal dress)," she said.
The designer added that young brides and bridegrooms are laying more stress on comfortable fabrics, patterns and colours rather than on embellishments. "The trend for wedding dress for both man and woman is minimal embellishments on comfortable fabric like silk, chiffons or organza," Radhika adds.