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Sari as the new birkin


Handloom saris are finally becoming a status symbol. Even the Hervê Lêger 'bandage babes' are sporting them in their zeal to look intellectual

The revival of Indian textiles is a subject that most fashion journalists, including me, love to wax eloquent on. I was recently interviewing Sabyasachi on the subject and he called the Raw Mango sari "the new intellectual Birkin". The remark set me thinking about how traditional textiles are finally edging out the status symbols of the West.

One of the key people behind this is Sanjay Garg, the man who founded the Raw Mango handloom saris which are almost as prized as the Herm?s handbag. The six yards are like works of art. They are traditional and still modern, quirky and fun. Such is their 'cool' factor that the sari has become desirable to more than just a niche set.

Even the 'bandage babes' have turned to Indian textiles. The ladies who used to wear Herve Leger dresses have now begun to look at the handloom sari. This is also part of a larger trend: hosting a sufi evening is now seen as more exciting than organising a cocktail party, and a meal at Indian Accent is more coveted than sashimi and sake at Wasabi.

This returnto-roots trend is a double-edged sword. Some women are trying to wear a sari for the sake of it, teaming up beautiful handloom with some obnoxious corset top all in the name of being 'Indi-Cool'. Innovation is fine but it needs to be done correctly. The Raw Mango sari is actually an example of innovation that stays true to tradition. It does not need any re-styling;bandage babes, please note.

A handful of young Indian designers have also embraced the Indi-cool look, giving it their own very edgy and distinctive stamp. Over the past few years they have been making modern clothes with a truly Indian soul. They use tradition in a way that pushes the envelope - which is what true progress is about.

Four years ago, Himanshu Shani and Smita Singh Rathore started a label called 11. 11. Their silhouettes were innovative and they worked very closely with Indian crafts. It is this combination of craft and cut that has made their work stand apart. This is why women who have a true understanding of fashion, like Priya Paul, Feroze Gujral and Chiki Sarkar, have taken to their work. Bandhini, jamdani and khadi are given a fresh and surprising outlook. For instance, they have come out with a line of khadi denims. While indigo may have its origins in India - and we are probably the largest supplier of denim - there is nothing Indian really about a pair of jeans. Khadi-denim gives this fabric a new exciting feel and a true indigenous context. Rishta by Arjun Saluja is all about androgyny. The relationship between yin and yang is central to all his collections and this is what makes him stand apart. He is a sartorial style master and a pair of his trousers is truly a must in every woman's wardrobe. But what makes it most interesting is that he does this in an Indian context. The Bu-Shirt meets dhoti, the lehenga pants are for both men and women, the salwar kameez and the Pathan suit are given a twist. His clothes are always a social commentary on the relationship between man and woman but also on Indian fashion with its international counterpart. In the 13 years, Arjun has been a designer, you can see that the Indian signature is getting stronger and stronger;whether it is the use of motifs inspired by Islamic architecture or the recent introduction of the sari into his collection. He has achieved this without giving up his love for androgyny which today is better described as 'Ardhanareshwara'.

Nupur Kanoi is another designer who refers to androgyny strongly but in a very different way. A former fashion editor of a magazine, Nupur likes to juxtapose structure with flow and she also understands how to mix edginess with glamour. Thanks to this balance she has caught the eye of Bollywood. Neha Dhupia, Aishwarya Rai and Chitranganda Singh have all worn her designs. Her most recent collection, 'Ladies and Gentlemen', teamed Nehru jackets with lungi sarongs. The colour palette was military while the metallic embroidery and soothing prints injected feminine charisma. It was no surprise when she won the Grazia Young Fashion Award for Indie Cool a week ago.

So while the handloom sari may be now the way the 'bandage babe' tries to show off her 'intellectual' aptitude, it does go to prove one point. The modern Indian woman is now choosing to wear Indian. And this deserves all praise it can get.


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