No time to learn how to drape the traditional sari? Fret not, as there’s help at hand even for you. Enter some new-age fashion designers who are re-inventing the garment in a bid to make it more accessible for the millennial woman. Take, for instance, Shantanu & Nikhil. The designer duo first started experimenting with the sari five-six years ago to make it more functional. Today, you can find pre-pleated and pre-stitched saris in all their seven stores across the country. What’s more, you can even pair these beauties with trousers! “One of the key ingredients of the philosophy is to modernise India keeping its heritage in order and focusing on millennials who are looking at India with a completely modern perspective,” says Nikhil Mehra of the designer duo, adding, “Keeping this in mind, we were able to carve out new silhouettes within the spectrum of a sari. Once those ingredients came into place, then came the philosophy of the drape. Reducing the drape from a typical nine yards down to about three yards was the first step forward. Also, getting rid of the petticoat and exchanging it with tights and pants makes the wearer feel comfortable and also gives them the opportunity to get dressed within 30 seconds or under a minute. In fact, one of the most crucial things we kept in mind was the worry a woman has of draping the sari.” Designer Payal Khandwala has turned the sari into a ‘little sari’. “I have redesigned the sari as the Little Sari, which is shorter in length. The idea was to retain the essence of its seamlessness, drape and flexibility,” she says. Talking about the utility factor of ready-to-wear saris, designer Ritu Kumar says, “A pre-stitched, pre-pleated sari is as practical as a dress and is easier for the younger generation to wear without worrying about it coming off.” But why are leading fashion designers of the country reinventing the sari? Designer Nachiket Barve, who last year designed the ready-to-wear ‘X-ray’ sari, says, “The X-ray sari was a stitched skirt with a half-sari pleated and draped on it. It was completely sheer. I did it as a statement on the symbolism of the sari, which has always been about a sense of demureness and chastity.”
Designer Tarun Tahiliani, who has been designing easy-to-drape saris for some time now, says, “The purpose behind designing a new kind of sari was evolution in design and natural convenience… A designer’s job is not only to go backwards in time, but to provide solutions for the current moment.”
For Khandwala, too, the driving factors were design and convenience. “I know lots of women who struggle with the draping of a sari… it intimidates them and alienates them sometimes from wearing the sari at all. So the Little Sari is shorter, lighter, less fussy… there is less to drape, it’s quicker, can double up as a dupatta, and can be thrown atop something you have been wearing all day to dress up your look. It was designed to be a slightly more practical option, one that meets you half-way,” says Khandwala.
It’s no wonder then that these new forms of saris have found many takers. Mehra reveals that there’s “robust demand” for such saris in all their stores, leading them to come out with more such designs every season. Khandwala concurs: “There is a market for everything. If you suggest something that is timeless and as an intelligent alternative, it can become part of popular culture. For now, our little saris do very well,” she says.
So as designers who do pathbreaking work every season, how important do they think it is for the Indian woman to know how to drape the traditional nine yards? “It’s a personal choice. Today, the rules of draping the sari have changed. You don’t have to wear it in the way your mother or grandmother wore it. You can deconstruct the drape or wear it differently. It’s not an essential life skill, but every learned skill is a great thing. It’s like growing coriander in your kitchen… nothing can be a diktat,” says Barve. Mehra agrees, saying every part of the country has a different drape, so the only important thing is the sari’s heritage. “The world has changed dramatically… The importance is in the heritage of the sari. The drape can be different,” he says. The bottomline, Khandwala says, is that if you know how to do it yourself, it’s a bonus, but perhaps not a necessity.