When Gigi Hadid wearing a Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla hand-embroidered gold and white chikankari sari walked the red carpet at the grand opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai earlier this year, her effortless languid grace left the audience speechless. The garment hugged her curves, adding poise to Gigi’s beauty. It seemed as if she was poured into it, said the social media. That effortless languid grace and poise was courtesy Dolly Jain, India’s most famous drape artist.
Yes, a drape artist, a specialization that has found its ground in the evolution of India’s most famous garment – the sari – and the fashion world’s relentless effort to give it an international presence.
Whether it is Bollywood brides such as Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt who have tied the knot in the recent years, or celebrities wearing the attire at international events such as Indian businesswoman and fashionista Natasha Poonawala who wowed last year’s MET Gala with her golden glamour, Dolly has played a big part in their final look.
But it wasn’t so years ago when Dolly started out. ‘In fact I did not even like wearing saris when I got married,’ she recalls. Her mother-in-law’s insistence that Dolly wear a sari everyday was the starting point of her love affair with the garment.
Spontaneous and candid, this drape artist from Kolkata, who is usually on a flight to different corners of the world most of the time, tells Friday Bride about her journey, how every bride is special to her and about her future plans.
Is it true that the late Sridevi inspired you to take up this profession?
It is. I was visiting my uncle in Mumbai and Bollywood superstar of the time, Sridevi used to live in an apartment in the same building. There was a get-together in my uncle’s house and she had come to attend it. She spilled something on her sari and went to the restroom. I followed her and told her if I could help her drape the sari. She agreed. But when I started draping she kept looking at me. I was nervous thinking I was doing something wrong, and she didn’t like it. When I finished she said, “I have worked with so many people in the film industry but never saw anyone handle a sari like this. You should take this up as a profession.”
I was elated by her compliment. When I came back to Kolkata I told my father that I seriously wanted to take up draping as a profession. He supported me. I practiced really hard on a mannequin for about six months, teaching myself how to drape not just the regular sari, but various other styles that are prevalent across India. Only when I was confident, did I take up my first assignment. Intially I used to take up one assignment a month.
How many assignments in a month do you do now?
It’s been almost two decades since I started. Now I work 25 days in a month and it’s usually six weddings a month along with shoots and events. I am usually very busy, especially during the wedding season. I keep flitting in and out of airports. But when a bride looks spectacular after I drape her, it’s a lot of satisfaction.
Do you have a team working with you?
Yes, I have a team of 25 women who have been trained by me. They are based across India. I need one assistant when I am working, so the person from my team, who is locally based, accompanies me. Suppose I am travelling to Bengaluru, my team member based there will assist me.
Once you are appointed do you plan in advance with the bride?
No, I do everything on the spot. I take a look at her make-up, jewellery and her body language to understand her comfort level and what drape will suit her. I also decide on the drape keeping in mind the culture she belongs to since the style of wearing a sari, or even a dupatta, varies across India.
What kind of accessories do you carry with you?
I always a carry a bag with me that weighs 7-8kgs; it has everything I need for my work. For starters the bag contains 14 kinds of pins that ensure the sari stays in place all through the ceremony, underarm pads, and pegs to hold a heavy sari. Then there are things like Band Aids which help support heavy earrings, and of course, hair straighteners and combs. For instance, I can sew a comb into the pallu to fix it neatly on the hair. I also carry drawstrings, a variety of bindis because you never know what complements the bride’s sari and what she might need.
How do you do you manage your time once you arrive at the venue?
Talking about time management I had an atrocious experience which taught me a lesson. I arrived at the venue at the given time only to know from my client that I was called an hour early in case I have the habit of not being punctual. What was worse is that the client themselves got delayed and I got to work after four hours of waiting! As I sat there twiddling my thumbs, I decided that from that day onwards, I will never allow any one to take my time for granted.
Now from the very beginning I make it clear to my client that I respect time and I would expect my clients to do the same. I tell them I would go dot on time. I will be there for exactly 45 minutes and whether they can get me to work within that time is up to them. If the bride is not ready yet, I won’t wait. I make that very clear and that has worked.
Have you had to salvage a situation with your skills?
I remember I was working with a bride in Thailand and she had ordered her lehenga online. When it arrived it was 4 inches short and on top of that she was wearing sandals with 4-inch high heels. She really panicked. To salvage the issue, I created an underskirt with a silk sari. It gave it the required length and looked really pretty.
How much do you charge?
I charge between Rs 35,000 and Rs200,000. Rs200,000 only if I am working on four days of the wedding.
What is your biggest satisfaction when you work with celebs?
When people with immense wealth, call me to work with me, it means I must be really good at my job and I have to live up to their expectations. It is a whole different feeling when they bestow their trust in me. For that, I need to be passionate about my work and I need to take pride in it as my work will speak for me. I feel great when I see them happy with my work.
2. Choose comfortable footwear.
3. If your underskirt is made of can can or net material, ensure it is not too heavy otherwise it will become difficult to move during the rituals.
4. Never spray perfume directly on your clothes and jewellery.
5. Once you’ve worn your wedding outfit, air it out for sometime before you put it in the closet as the sweat trapped inside can spoil it.
You have worked with almost all the top heroines of Bollywood, can you please tell us about your experience?
When you are working with the stars, since they are used to wearing make-up, and dressing up for different occasions, they are usually very clear in their head about what they want. I think Alia Bhatt was the most chilled-out bride and Katrina Kaif was very sweet and courteous.
Apart from draping the sari for her wedding, I have done a number of events and shoots with Deepika Padukone. She is very disciplined, warm and spontaneous. She values time and it is always a pleasure to work with her.
You are working on a book…
I am working on a coffee table book that’s going to focus on 365 ways to drape a sari – one for each day of the year.
I want to change the perception of the young generation that a sari constraints you. My work on my YouTube channel is not only about teaching people different styles of draping but also make them aware about how versatile and elegant the garment is.
So, did you work with Sridevi professionally after your first meeting with her?
Not professionally because I would never charge her money. I got into this profession because of her. Once I was in the same hotel where she was staying. I helped her get ready for a shoot.