The Chennai trader who is offering denim saris in the bustling T Nagar bazaar is not the first to put a new spin on the six yards. An inventive weaver back in the early decades of the last century wove a beautiful magenta silk sari with butas (woven motifs) of biplanes, vintage cars, and gramophones. This sari sits at Vimor, Bangalore’s exclusive vintage sari boutique, that scours temples and other likely sources for antique saris.
Today, Chennai’s leading silk stores, Kumaran, Sri Kumaran Silks, RMKV, Pothys and Chennai Silks, are aggressively pushing their “special launches”. Kumaran leads the pack, having pulled off almost one wild idea every month last year. Its latest is Romantica, the stretchable sari that the shop claims, drapes “like lycra” and costs between Rs3,000 and Rs4,000.
“We found a lot of young women complaining that the sari is not an easy outfit to move around in. So we came up with this fabric which is 80% silk and the rest synthetic, that almost fits the body like a T-shirt or a pair of pants. And we offer both modern and traditional designs, like pallus with Raja Ravi Varma figures or landscape paintings,” says a store manager.
A lycra-like sari with Ravi Varma figures might sound bizarre to a classicist, but there is a huge market for these special saris in Chennai, especially among the young. Sri Kumaran Silks offers a rugged look in a denim sari at Rs10,000. Its saris with hip pockets that can hold mobile phones and keys cost between Rs4,000 and Rs6,000. Maya, the sari which plays on optical illusion with colours, could cost between Rs4,500 and Rs10,000. The latest from Sri Kumaran Silks is the jodi-sari, coordinated outfits for the bride and groom. A sari store’s place in the Chennai market is obviously determined by its inventiveness.
Chennai has always experimented with sari fabrics to replicate the much-loved Kanjeevaram look and finish at cheaper costs. Way back in the late 1940s, the market offered the cheaper Chinnala Patti (art silk) option, which was way too shiny for the purists. The next big wannabe Kanjeevaram was the polycot, which did an efficient job of resembling the real thing.
RMKV made the first big splash with its special launch—saris with 50,000 colours at Rs50,000. But it also offers ‘theme’ silks—designs inspired by films of matinee idol Sivaji Ganesan; the architecture of the Padmanabhapuram Palace in Thiruvananthapuram; Tanjore paintings; and Bharatanatyam poses. Its most ambitious offering to date is a reversible sari with four pallus with matching borders—effectively, four saris in one. (Malini Nair)
OF PIN-TUCKS AND PLEATS
Kalpana Shah has been teaching first-timers to wrap saris for 25 years. The Mumbai-based expert sari draper has lost count of the number of styles she has come up with, but she’s carefully pleated them on models for more than a hundred ramp shows. Shah shares her tips for the perfect drape.
Keep the petticoat tight around the hips and waist and a little more flared at the bottom. “The petticoat should have no gathers or pleats around the waist. Then the sari looks sleek,” says Shah.
Wear your shoes before you start draping your sari. After it’s draped, the sari should skim the ground—longer or shorter looks shabby. The ideal length of the ‘pallu’ according to Shah, is below the knee.
Three features are the most important: the waist pleats, the shoulder pleats and the pinning. Shah’s trick is to first pleat the ‘pallu’ and pin it to the shoulder, and then start working on the waist pleats.
Slim women can get six to seven pleats at the waist and four to five at the shoulder, while heavy women can manage about three to four at the waist and shoulder.
Georgettes and chiffons are the best if you want a slim, curvy silhouette, while silks and cottons give a fuller look.
Shah says sari-wearers should stock up on three types of safety pins: large, medium and small, all with sharp tips. The large ones are used to pin the waist and shoulder pleats in silk saris, or in heavily worked-on pieces. The medium-sized ones can be used to fasten the waist and shoulder pleats in lighter saris, while the small pins are for setting the sari in place around the blouse and for other small fastenings. Shah sometimes uses 20 to 30 pins for her more complex styles.