Taapsee Pannu in a Gaurang Shah creation
Indian weaves and sarees are not merely garments. They reflect the culture, customs, longstanding traditions, and over 5000 years of craftsmanship and arts. Hand-woven sarees are a labour of love, and each can take up to three days to make. Handloom is eco-friendly, skin-friendly, and of such superior quality and worthy of being the benchmark. However, many people started to question or look down upon the Made in India label since the advent of the power loom. Indigenous sarees became old-fashioned, while foreign-bought Western ensembles became cool. Perhaps India’s political past is the culprit here; it brought about the mindset that imported products qualifies as luxury and is somehow better, more prestigious. Thankfully, designers-turned-revivalists have restored dying weaves and repositioned the saree as a timeless garment that deserves far more appreciation than it gets. They are doing so by making it practical and accessible to today’s fashion consumers, who often favour a modern spin on classics.
Known as the Queen of Silks, the hand-spun Kanjivaram saree from down South remains a mainstay in wedding trousseau. In the last couple of years, though, it has transcended both South Indian and Indian boundaries, popularised by Bollywood divas and Naomi Campbell and Oprah Winfrey. Telugu cinema’s darling Samantha Akkineni, also the official brand ambassador of Telangana Handlooms, ran a social media campaign in the days leading up to National Handloom Day. She encouraged women to post photos wearing their mother’s sarees with a contemporary spin using the hashtags #Woven2017 and #ReviveHandloom. Akkineni herself styled a green Kanjivaram saree over a crisp white wide-sleeved blouse. Donning a saree over jumpsuits, belting it over a shirt and trousers, and versatile draping and pleating are a few ways modern women embrace the heritage Kanjivaram saree.
A model in Amit Agarwal's handwoven metallic stripe saree
Designer Gaurang Shah has become synonymous with the Kanjivaram revival. Having ventured into handloom when chiffon and georgette were booming, Shah began his journey with one weaver from Uppada. He was the first designer to showcase hand-woven sarees at Indian fashion weeks. Shah remained loyal to his repertoire, set up 600 handlooms across the country, as well as in villages where all hope was lost for handloom revival. From training weavers to keeping up with changing tastes and contemporary times to getting experimental with blending fabrics, Shah has truly resurrected many dying weaves. Tarun Tahiliani, in his part, created a whole line dedicated to the preservation of ancient weaves. The Help Our Heritage assortment uses native weaves to make sarees, dupattas, and scarves finished with signature Tahiliani work.
Anees wearing this stunning traditional peach and orange toned saree.
Odisha-born and New York-bred Bibhu Mohapatra will soon be launching his label in India. He has always publicly professed his love for Indian techniques and weaves. “In very subtle and modified ways, I use these crafts, like the embroideries and the patchwork, in my work,” he once said. Kendall Jenner, Jennifer Lopez, and former first lady Michelle Obama are some influential women on the Mohapatra muse list - putting him in a unique position to give ethnic weavers an international platform. Until recently, Mohapatra only did luxe, red carpet offerings in cocktail gowns, evening dresses, and silk coats. But in 2018, he collaborated with the Odisha government to champion the Make in Odisha Conclave that features and promotes artisanal talent from the state. He has also been in talks with chief minister Naveen Patnaik to set up an institute for these talents, which will enable them to work with, and train other weavers and craftsmen across the country. Mohapatra is keen on giving them their long-overdue credit as part of his future projects. He plans to assign each weaver household two designs, wherein artisans have to come up with an interesting way to weave their names onto the saree pallu or on a home decor item. With a booklet outlining the history and details of the weave or fabric, Mohapatra aims to spotlight these unsung fashion heroes.
Deepika Padukone looks eternally regal in Sabyasachi's Chanderi silk saree
For a special occasion like a wedding, take inspiration from design maestro Sabyasachi Mukherjee to revive a traditional, hand-woven saree. The red Benarasi saree Anushka Sharma wore to her reception was supplied to Sabyasachi by Taj Estate, a retail and wholesale handloom outlet in Varanasi. Saeed ur Rahman, a proprietor said, “Sabyasachi’s only requirement is that the sarees we weave for him should have a two-inch space along the border for him to embellish it with the kind of embroidery he wants.” This is a phenomenal way to restore a vintage saree or get a designer heirloom made. Many designers who regularly work with handlooms actually welcome old sarees that can either be recreated, repaired, or restored. Perhaps it is time we shifted our focus to our mothers’ and grandmothers’ closets to re-fashion heirloom pieces. The only possible outcome: an intricate, one-of-a-kind saree that will reclaim lost heritage and stand the test of time. - Namrata Loka