The Sari Re-Imagined And Re-Told

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It was neatly wrapped in a packet titled- “To Somya Suresh… From Anavila Misra” with my address and phone number handwritten in capitals. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to open a package in my entire life. It was a Friday evening, a tiring week had just come to an end and this lil’ courier added the much needed spark to my week! As I quickly hailed a scissor to open it, a thousand memories were flashing through my eyes. Some were from childhood, of seeing a hand loom for the first time on a vacation in Gujarat; there was another one of  touching the pleats of my mother’s sari for the first time and a few more fond ones of me draping my mother’s dupatta as a sari to feel ‘old’. I was opening a gift from one of the finest designers in the country; this moment was definitely one to savour and cherish.

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The sari as a drape has been a constant talk for debate, discussion and dialogue in Indian fashion for about three years now. It’s been re-invented regularly and even given a new slang by designers all around the country. Anavila Misra, however, knew one thing about the sari that no one else did- she knew the drape was beautiful as is and didn’t need a make-over, it just needed some ingenuity. So, instead of working on giving the sari a 21st century twist, she worked at the bottom line and strengthened the roots.

She re-invented the way the sari was worn by focusing her energies into research and development of the fabric that she will use, even before beginning to design it!

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Being a menswear designer for the better part of her career… Linen was a fabric Misra knew defined luxury bereft of sheen or glam. So she re-thought it with her favourite drape and fused the two to create something that was sophisticated yet relaxed.

Her latest spring-summer 17 collection defines itself as a season-less collection and aims to be a souvenir in your wardrobe from India.

Comfort with elegance is Anavila’s personal style statement which is why her collections are an embodiment of herself.

“I want people to wear what’s comfortable and that’s how I established my love for linen. When I got married and wore a sari, I wanted to get out of the blouse almost the minute the function was over. I didn’t want people to feel that way about my saris, So I re-invented the blouse to make it friendly and more easy going.”

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Her blouses aren’t the backless ones that will make you conscious of your under-hags. In fact, they’ll make you feel at peace with your body, whichever size you may be. For the same effect, Anavila wanted the sari to be represented by the Indian populace where it is worn the most.

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“I shot my first campaign with the artisans of the Santhal tribe… who I was conducting a workshop with. For me, they defined how to wear a sari and be absolutely comfortable in it. They faced the camera for the first time but they made it look like an ad that could be for Chanel in Paris.”

The sari is as comfortable as it gets, I’d say. Because it is worn not just for occasions or ceremonies; it’s like staple food- it’s the national costume of our country. Women have been wearing the sari for centuries… ploughed the fields, mopped the floors, gone to page3 parties and received the highest awards in it. “We have moved away from the sari, the sari hasn’t moved away from us”, confesses the designer. And if you think a little, it actually holds true, the sari never left us- our culture. We adopted the pants, first in the form of salwar and later as jeans.

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Despite her convincing ideas and repertoire, I wasn’t completely sure until that day when her sari came in my mail. It was in a bubble wrap and as I hurriedly opened it to feel the fabric, that’s when I felt the words come alive.

The linen, the finest ones usually  have a thread count of 60 (the yarn has 60 threads in the warp and weft before its is woven together) –which makes it stiff and solid. But that couldn’t be the case with Mishra’s saris as they had to fall on your body and take the ‘shape of you’ instead of you sh(dr)aping it.

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And when I wore it for our shoot, everything fell into place. I could feel every weave, the clanking of the yarn and the beating of the loom. To make the thread count almost double- the imperfections and the minuscule knots on the fabric made me feel sexier than I have ever felt in my life!

I wasn’t conscious of my body or how it wasn’t in its best shape because I simply felt accepted.

It’s times like these when the whole idea of fashion as culture shines through. My mother could see her younger self in the sari, I could feel younger and more alive despite it not being my type of sari and the sari… well, I am sure it felt a certain emotional rapport with me too.

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Photographs by Pritiza Barua

Styled by Prerna Gauba

Conceptualized and written by Somya Suresh

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