A few months ago, when Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt tied the knot with fellow actor Ranbir Kapoor, the 29-year-old’s wedding pictures went viral for various reasons, one among them was the stunning sari she wore. Designed by India’s top designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, an auteur who has dressed most Bollywood brides, the sari was a hand-dyed ivory organza one embroidered with fine tilla work. An exquisite piece of traditional craftsmanship, it was modern in colour palette, style and design.
And then a few weeks after this momentous event, entrepreneur-fashionista -philanthropist Natasha Poonawalla created quite a stir on the red carpet at New York’s well-known Met Gala 2022 in a gold handcrafted printed tulle sari and trail.
If the accolades and appreciation both the women received is any indication, this centuries-old attire is still popular and relevant. This 6- or 9-yard piece of cloth is not only a tribute to India’s rich handloom heritage but reflects it culture and history.
But with the relative comfort of a lehenga and the contemporary allure of a fusion gown, gaining popularity, sari, many argue, is losing its appeal.
Many fashion designers, however, disagree. With the re-imagination of this silhouette in modern motifs and weaves, brides are now smitten by the variety in terms of fabric, craftsmanship and embellishment on offer.
When modern meets tradition
Indian couturiers Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna, who use traditional embroidery in modern structure, say, ‘A sari goes beyond the notions of trends and it is one opulent piece of clothing that every bride takes with her in the trousseau. Our draped saris are loved by many brides for their cocktail or reception looks.
‘We have also paired our saris with constructed jackets and feather capes to give them a modern look yet keep the design close to traditional. Draped saris, constructed blouses, jackets along with saris are the new ways to create a chic sari look.’
Designer Dolly J agrees. She feels there’s nothing quite like the Indian bridal sari and modern Indians brides are now appreciating the inherent beauty of a sari. However, one of their biggest concern is the fact that many brides find draping a sari complex and quite cumbersome. If that isn’t all, many brides believe an expensive, heavy traditional sari doesn’t have repeat value. The designers, says Dolly, understand this issue and “and have come up with innovative methods including saris which are pre-draped and stitched which resolve the issue of draping and are not very heavy in terms of fabric and embroidery, making them more versatile.”
Post Covid, designers say, Indian brides are looking for exquisite pieces that reflect their culture and family traditions. Senior designer Gautam Gupta from the Label Asha Gautam points out the number of brides looking for sari as bridal wear is increasing. ‘From saris with rich embroidery or intricate weaves such as a Paithani from Maharashtra, to those that are ready to wear with contemporary silhouette, the demand for sari is definitely on the rise,” says Gautam.
While on the modern silhouette and design, Gautam says some saris for instance, have a narrow pallu, say about 25-30 inches instead of the regular 45 inches.
Similarly, some panels of sheer fabric are added on the skirt side of the sari to add variety. “Many brides, not only opt for pre-stitched saris, but love to experiment with the blouses by using contemporary organza blouses, embellished vintage ones, layered sleeves, and backless, plunging necklines and other styles to get new looks. Those who like more flamboyance, wear a dupatta on the head and drape it in a Maharani Style or Lehenga Style with a can-can petticoat.”
If that’s not all, social media influencers and Bollywood celebrities are throwing their weight behind this elegant attire. With popular actresses such as Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Katrina Kaif wearing a sari for one or more of their wedding functions, designer say, they have implicitly become the ambassdors of the attire. Anirudh Kankatala, director of sari brand Kankatala, points out, “Thanks to Bollywood brides, many clients in North India are now open to trying a sari for their weddings.
‘In South India, while saris continue to be the preferred bridal wear, brides are looking for those in pastel shades and smaller borders. We have also been doing Bandhani and Kalamkari work on traditional Kanchipuram – a new trend.’
This marriage of craftsmanship and style is clearly a trend that can be seen across India. For instance, the gorgeous Kota Zari saris, which were once popular among the royals in the mid-17th century and were crafted in pure gold and silver and with intricate artwork, are now a tribute to modernity, thanks to designers like Preety Singh Pareek, founder of label SonChiraiya. She says, “We not only add a twist of innovation through fusion weaves, we have developed exceptionally luxurious Ektara real Zari Paithani saris that are relatively lightweight and easy to wear. Then we combined Jamdani and Kota weaving techniques to create saris that are versatile, soft, lustrous and relatively lightweight, making them precious heirlooms.”
It is this ease of wear and comfort that is making saris popular again. Founder and Principal Designer at The House of Angadi, K. H. Radharaman, says, “Most Bridal saris that are handwoven weigh much less than a lehenga or a gown. We have created an organza Kanjivaram as light air and in a diaphanous look. We have introduced a new range of motifs like creepers to stylised depictions of flora and fauna in Jamdani muslins of Benares.’
What adds to the timeless appeal of a traditional sari is the fact that it is perhaps the only garment that is defined by the shape of the person who wears it making it an heirloom piece. Mrunalini Rao, founder of the label Mrunalini Rao, ‘I love tradition and our age-old handloom saris; I treasure them and they remain timeless. Classics are eternal, regardless of what trends come and go. There are many silhouettes that we design every day, but a sari is something that drapes very differently on each person, looks very different on each person. Our personality adds much more to the beauty of the sari. I love how a piece of fabric hugs each one’s body shape so well allowing us to flaunt it our own way.’
A tribute to elegance
Bridal saris will always be a classic and evergreen look as they showcase the meticulous work done by Indian craftsmen and weavers, who create magic with every weave. With the rise in conscious fashion, many young buyers prefer to shop from local artisans instead of going to big brands. Pallavi Mohadikar, founder of label Karagiri, feels the connection that every bride has with her bridal sari is extra special because every motif and weave evokes happy memories of the ceremony. She says, ‘Bridal saris in various designs have special characteristics that make them unique and desirable to women.”
Without doubt, the traditional Indian sari is here to stay, but with a twist.