Sabyasachi and the Sari
It has been a busy summer for Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who just returned to Kolkata from a trip to the UK. Mukherjee, who made his Fashion Week debut in 2002, was the only fashion designer to be invited to Sotheby’s “Inspired by India” exhibition in London in May where his shawls and the saris were a large part of the show. Mukherjee has been concentrating on the sari perhaps more than any other Indian designer. So much so that when Aishwarya Rai Bachchan decided not to wear Sabyasachi to this year’s Cannes Film Festival (she went with Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla instead), it made headlines. You can expect to see a lot more saris at his Mumbai store after the launch of his next collection at Delhi Couture Week, which starts in the first week of August. The collection, a sort of Parsi-meets-Paris homage, will use Parsi craft techniques while paying tribute to his favourite international fashion house, Chanel. With a turnover of Rs60 crore last financial year, Sabyasachi is rumoured to be India’s most commercially successful designer. Interestingly, a majority of his business (about 45 per cent of his total turnover) comes from this one drape. We caught up with him to find out why he believes Indian fashion must be centered around the sari—and a lot of it is down to economics. Edited experts:
In recent years, your collections have focused more on the sari. Why is the revival of the sari so important to you?
It was both a conscious and sub-conscious decision. Indian women see the sari as an investment. You can wear it again and again, and it does not matter what size you are. A sari is an Indian wardrobe classic, and women are willing to spend mega bucks on a classic. For it to really be a classic, it has to have a traditional bent, like the Chanel quilted bag. Also, my mother’s style had an impact. I remember she would invest in one beautiful sari every year and I would help her choose it. So I have an affinity for the sari.
Purists believe that the sari should not be changed. You are a purist, yet three years ago you came out with the chotu (short) sari, and recently you have been doing a lot of lehenga (skirted) saris.
Innovations will always be a fad. Many young girls are averse to wearing the sari as they misunderstand the garment. The chotu had a short length, so it was easy to manage. It was appreciated and updated the sari, and lured women back into wearing it.
You are known for dressing actors from Indian cinema in the sari. How important is the red carpet to the revival of the sari?
It is absolutely important. The only outfit better than a gown is a sari. Red-carpet dressing is all about a personal statement that is rare. In the international red-carpet scenario, nothing is more exotic then the sari. For Cannes, we gave Kalki Koechlin a quirky look that played homage to the roles she has played. Not many people noticed that she was wearing a leopard print khadi petticoat. From her jewellery to her shoes, we looked at every detail of her ensemble.
At your Mumbai store, Sabyasachi by Sabyasachi, you also give suggestion notes on how to wear the sari. Do you think Indian women need help styling their look?
A lot of women would look better if they were given direction. They often do not know how to put a look together; sometimes they don’t know when to wear a particular look.
Do you feel the sari will ever become an international drape?
It can’t be. You need a lot of patience to wear a sari. It is in our DNA here in India. In the West, women wouldn’t understand how to wear and move in a sari.
Do you believe Indian designers need to look at the sari more?
Yes, 100 per cent. They are fools if they do not. There is no choice. For an Indian designer, it is like investing in gold—a part of our cultural mindset. If you are ignoring it, you need to re-look at your business plan.
Sujata Assomull Sippy is a luxury lifestyle freelancer writer and the former editor of Harper’s Bazaar India.Tags: Fashion, Sabyasachi, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Saris