Reinvention of the sari brings a comeback on catwalks, at cocktail parties

The emblem of Indian glamour is in the throes of a comeback, as young women attend draping classes and designers put a modern spin on the traditional garment.
By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 11:29 AM

NEW DELHI - It was just past noon when dozens of mothers and daughters at India's most luxurious mall sauntered right past the glittering showrooms of Jimmy Choo and Louis Vuitton and into a brunch celebrating the sari.

India's supercharged economy has brought a parade of posh international designers to the capital along with more affordable chains like Zara and Forever 21 that offer mini-skirts and skinny jeans to one of the world's largest markets.

But the emblem of Indian glamour is in the throes of a comeback, and these women had come to the DLF Emporio mall to attend "sari school." They hoped to learn some of the 108 ways to drape a sari from the grand aunty of the garment: Rta Kapur Chishti, a textile historian and sari stalwart.

Some of the teenagers had never worn one, and Chishti's apprentice Pallavi Verma, 27, had to push them to try on youthful styles.

"Once you know the basics, you can play," Verma told the group at the brunch, which was hosted by designer Kavita Bhartia, who owns Ogaan, one of India's top fashion houses.

The rules were simple: Come wearing a sari, bring a tank top if you wish to experiment with other styles.

"Sooo beautiful!" cooed Geetanjali Jain, 16, who removed her earbuds blasting Lady Gaga to examine a rack of rare, hand-spun saris.

She had come reluctantly, and had broken the rules and worn jeans.

But watching other young women try them on seemed to make her happy, and Jain's 47-year-old aunt and 74-year-old grandmother looked on with pride.

In between fittings, relatives shouted out opinions and snapped photographs. The young women sipped fresh lime soda for fortitude.

Noting the demise of the kimono in Japan and the Chinese obsession with global brands, many Indian designers consider saving the sari a point of cultural pride, said Chishti, who was draping a sensual ivory sari with gold embroidery along its edges.

The weekend classes have been packed with brides, fashion models and a new breed of Indian fashionistas who have enjoyed the fruits of India's economic growth. They are curious about the free-flowing seven yards of fabric that for many young urban middle- and upper-class Indians is worn only at weddings, parties and religious festivals.

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