Twenty eight years ago, when Dolly Jain was forced to learn how to wear sarees as a young bride, she had no idea what the future held in store for her. Today, she is a celebrity saree draper who has styled just about every top Bollywood bride, including Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt.
Jain, who has perfected the art of draping this exotic Indian garment in 325 ways, has also visited the UAE plenty of times to style Indian brides at high-profile Indian weddings.
She was behind Indian actress Sara Ali Khan’s 2023 Cannes Film Festival look and Deepika Padukone’s saree drape for the same festival last year.
Recently, at the launch of Nita Mukesh Ambani Culture Centre in India, Jain also draped international supermodel, Gigi Hadid’s saree.
But, when Indian news websites touted her as the saree draper who charges Rs200,000 (Dh8,900) to drape a saree, trolls took to social media, to scoff. Many wondered why women would pay such a hefty fee just for someone to help them drape a garment that women in the Indian subcontinent have been wearing for centuries.
So, we caught up with the saree draper based in Kolkata, the capital city of the Indian state of West Bengal, to find out how she became one of the most sought-after celebrity saree drapers in Bollywood, and the truth behind her fees.
“My journey was a complete roller-coaster ride,” said the 48-year-old, who holds two world record certificates for being the fastest saree draper in the world and is waiting for her Guinness World Record recognition.
“I've loved sarees since I was a small kid,” recalled Dolly Jain.
“I remember once I had cut a piece of my mum’s saree and draped it on my doll. She looked the best for her pretend wedding ceremony… it was a traditional red Banarasi saree. I wanted to make her look like my mum.”
Jain doesn’t recall how she got away with cutting a piece out of her mum’s Banarasi saree, but she clearly remembers how, many years later, her love for sarees turned into “hate” temporarily.
From T-shirts to sarees
Jain was 20 years old when she was married into a traditional Marwari family (from the Indian state of Rajasthan), around 28 years ago.
But, little did she expect that her mum-in-law would be strict about wearing sarees every day from then on.
According to her husband's family traditions, women were expected to always dress in sarees.
During her childhood, Jain lived in different parts of India. Their family was constantly moving due to her father’s job transfers.
Growing up in places like Ranchi, Ooty, Kolkota, Erode, and Bangalore, she never had to conform to a certain code of dressing. So, this sudden change after marriage did not come easy to Jain, who was used to wearing more relaxed outfits.
Being a girl from Bangalore wearing jeans and t-shirts to getting married into a family where I was allowed to wear only sarees. It was very, very tough... I used to hate sarees in that phase.
“Being a girl from Bangalore wearing jeans and t-shirts to getting married into a family where I was allowed to wear only sarees. It was very, very tough,” said Jain
“I used to hate sarees in that phase – as a newlywed waking up in the morning… it would take 45 torturous minutes to drape a saree. I used to wonder, ‘When is my mother-in-law going to understand that it is so cumbersome?’… But, she was very rigid.
“Eventually, I learnt how to wear a saree. At that time, there were no YouTube tutorials. You had to teach yourself. In the process, I fell in love with this garment. I started admiring myself in sarees. Sarees definitely make you look prettier. I loved dressing up. Whenever I wore sarees, people would appreciate the way I wore and carried the garment. They always came up to me and gave me compliments.”
From housewife to celebrity saree draper
Now saree drapers are not rare in India. In fact, many Indian brides who choose to wear a bridal saree, hire a saree stylist for their wedding. But, being married into an orthodox family, Jain never imagined that this would become her future career.
“In my family, I had never seen any woman go out to work to make money or make a career out of such kind of a field. So for me, it was very difficult to even think about it.”
... I didn’t realise that this could be a profession until the day I met [Indian actress] Sridevi Ji for the first time.
Today, Jain has nearly 900,000 followers on Instagram, where she regularly shares video tutorials for young girls who aspire to wear sarees. Her videos get hundreds of thousands of views. But, the first time Jain taught someone the art of saree draping was around the year 2006, way before Instagram was a thing.
“I lived in a neighbourhood where two or three girls were getting married. Their mums called and requested me to teach them my method of wearing sarees. It was a very beautiful experience.
“But, I didn’t realise that this could be a profession until the day I met [Indian actress] Sridevi Ji for the first time,” she recalled.
“I was a big fan. My mama (maternal uncle) stayed in the same building as her and had invited her to a party I was also attending. During the party, she accidentally spilt something on her sari and while she was fixing it, I offered to drape it for her. Initially, she said she would manage it herself, but I insisted on helping and she agreed.
“Once I started pleating, I remember, Sridevi ji was carefully looking at my hands. I was so nervous… But when I was done, she said: ‘Dolly, I have been wearing saris for years, but I have never seen anyone do pleats like you.’ She said I had magic in my fingers and suggested that I take it up as a profession.”
That one line from a legendary actress was enough to set the ball rolling for Jain.
“I think that was the moment that changed my life.”
From then on, there was no looking back for Jain who also credits her success to her mother-in-law.
“Looking back, my mother-in-law is, in fact, the reason behind my success… if she had listened to me and let me wear something else, a saree draper would have died that very day. My existence now is because of her rigidness, and I am thankful for that.”
Jain says she started her career at Rs250 (Dh11.14) per saree drape.
“My first client was Prabha Agarwal, from a prominent industrialist family in Raipur. After noticing my skill during a saree draping workshop, she hired me for her son’s wedding in Hyderabad. I charged Rs10,000 (Dh445) for a whole day, where I must have draped sarees for close to 60 women.”
As demand for her grew, she was soon charging Rs500 to 600 (Dh22 to 26) per drape.
Dolly Jain's Bollywood break
Her true big break came in 2013. Sandeep Khosla, a noted Indian fashion designer, who co-owns the label, Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla had noticed Jain’s work.
“Sandeep saw my work in one of the weddings, he wanted me to be there for Nita Ambani’s 50th birthday celebrations, to do all the drapes, and that’s how I got a huge break. Everyone has a godfather in the industry – Sandeep Khosla is mine. After that, it is up to you to work hard and prove to them and the world that they were not wrong in picking you and that they found a diamond.”
Her first Bollywood-related work followed in 2014. “I was hired for Salman Khan’s sister, Arpita Khan’s wedding,” said Jain, who went on to style many Bollywood actresses, including Priyanka Chopra.
“I’ve draped many celebrities, my top five would be Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Kiara Advani, and Katrina Kaif.”
While it is true that, depending on the occasion and style, she has charged top celebrities close to Dh9,000 for her services, it doesn’t mean that Jain charges all her clients the same amount.
“There are different charges for bridal and non-bridal drapes. It depends on the type of drape, how much time it takes, and the work required. Basic drapes cost Rs35,000 (Dh1,550).”
To those who criticise her for the huge fees, all she has to say is: “Please come and walk in my shoes – 17 years back I started tying a saree for 250 rupees to what I’m charging today. It’s not overnight – it’s the cost of experience and hard work. I understand every centimeter of the drape and the corrections to do. It’s why you are called to drape sarees… because you are an expert and you take the least amount of time to drape a saree, so you are saving time [for your clients]…. For anyone who knows time is money, they will value my service and never say that my cost is huge.”
At 18.5 seconds, Jain holds a Limca Book of World Records (2010) certificate and Unique World Records certificate for being the fastest saree draper in the world.
She also has built a strong team of girls to help her.
“Though I have a team of well-trained girls when a client says they ‘need Dolly’, you have to become a one-person army.”
No fashion experience or education
Though she is well-known in India’s fashion circle now, Jain had no educational background in fashion, or even any other career exposure before stepping into the world of saree draping.
“I don’t have any educational background in fashion, in fact as a professional course I did interiors, not at all related to fashion.
Before I became a saree draper, I didn’t work, I was busy being a good mum. I have two daughters Ratika and Anya (25 and 19 years old). My younger daughter was just eight months old when I started working.”
She is thankful for a supportive family.
“Even when you work, you need to balance family. My family has played a very big role [in my success]. My husband has always been beside me… helping me pursue my dreams. My children have also been very understanding. Today when we look back, we appreciate this journey. They have been a strong backbone for me.”
Social media brought friends and fame
“Since we moved around so much during childhood, I’ve never had childhood friends. But, now I have so many Instagram friends. Social media is completely responsible for my fame. Because of social media, my art has reached around the world. I’m so glad that there is this platform where not only our country but the entire world can see and learn how to drape sarees.”
Her followers often message her to tell her how her tutorials have helped them learn the art of wearing a saree.
“I’ve had many people calling me and texting me on social media that my reels have helped them learn about sarees – all the areas that they felt they were facing a problem when draping a saree, my reels have quite sorted their problems. Some have also said that my reels are helping revive the tradition of wearing sarees and educating people about sarees and their drapes.”
Jain wants her art to reach around the world. She wants people to realise not just the beauty of sarees, but also how sustainable they are.
“A saree is the only fashion garment which can be moulded in many different ways for different occasions – from wedding to mourning, a saree fits all occasions and body types. It can be worn like a skirt or a gown, without a single stitch or cut. It’s a sustainable garment that can be passed down over many generations. So, I hope more young women start investing in good sarees.”