Pop goes the sari

Sari collection
Once restricted to décor, T-shirts and accessories, the quirk factor has now conquered the whole six yards

Last month, during the Wills India Fashion Week (WIFW) in Delhi, a pleasant surprise lay in store for fashion lovers who walked into the Play Clan stall. The design brand known for its quirky, pop-coloured products — be it home décor, stationery,

T-shirts or accessories — launched a line of 10 colourful, graphic print saris. Himanshu Dogra, founder of Play Clan, explains how each sari has been inspired by the tribes and icons of India. "Our brand's philosophy is to tell stories about India and these saris do that. To us, the sari is a versatile piece of garment that offers a beautiful canvas — right from pallu to border. So, we have saris that depict the alleys and lanes of an average Indian neighbourhood ("Mohalla"), ones with the Aryan, Arab and Portuguese influences that abound in the country's Western coast ("Konkani") and the wish-fulfilling cow print saris ("Gau Mata")," he says.

India has always celebrated colour but the dominance of pop colours and kitschy motifs over the traditional silhouette (read: the sari) is a relatively new phenomenon. Apart from Play Clan, several other designers and brands are playing up the pop element in saris. Bangalore-based designer Deepika Govind, for one, decided to glam up the Patola of Gujarat in her recent Lakme Fashion Week collection, aptly called 'Pop Patola'. "I wanted my line to be a tribute to this weaving tradition, albeit with a tongue-in-cheek pop art interpretation. So I went ahead with colour blocking and an array of interesting motifs — from a car, mobile phone and laptop to trees and birds," she says.

Indian kitsch and pop elements such as streets, people, faces, dialogues, chai stalls, posters, rickshaws and Bollywood song and dance have been Nida Mahmood's muse right from the time she started her label five years ago. In fact, her collections — "Break On Through", "High on Chai", "New India Bioscope Co", "Sadak Chaap", "Maachis" and most recently, "The Great Indian Tamasha" — have all featured the sari in a colourful, bold avatar. "When I started out, these pop-coloured saris were a novel way of expressing rebellion. Today, they are becoming the norm," she says, adding that her saris make for great individual style statements.

Designer duo Dev R Nil's saris also boast of bright colours and prints inspired by cars, sunglasses and even Che Guevara. Debarghya Bairagi, one half of the duo, points out that these saris have become popular due to the rise of occasion wear. "Today, people don't wear saris exclusively at traditional functions; they are also worn at parties," he says.

Given that saris are now seen as funky-wear, this should not come as a surprise. In fact, these experimental creations have struck a chord with the fashion-conscious youth. So while Mahmood, whose clientele mainly comprises youngsters, is known to come up with toned-down versions of these saris for the older age-group, Govind's collection is aimed at well-heeled NRIs who want to rediscover their roots. "I set out with a target group of stylish Indian women, who are based out of India and are now tracing their cultural lineage," she says.

Dogra is happy with the response his debut range has generated. "Youngsters are taken in by the fresh and colourful vibe of our saris, so much so that it's now 'cool' to wear a sari even if you are 18," he says, adding that the older age group (of 30-45 years) chose to interpret the saris as resort wear.

The underlying message, however, is clear: in its own way, the pop sari phenomenon denotes freedom in all its glory. "Ultimately, what does such a sari stand for? For me, it's about breaking free, and at the same time, staying true to our culture," says Govind.

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