Traditional or new age designs, the sari is celebrated as one of the most versatile garments, that suits every slender or sizable figure.
The transformation in saree-designing has seen a rapid ‘renaissance’ in the past decade, thanks to the innovative skills of gifted creators and designers. The ‘Desi Drape’, a global fashion symbol today, is now available in a stylish array of designs and in an all new ‘ready to wear’ mode! Many of the creators and leading designers are women entrepreneurs, working on making Bengaluru the new- age designer-saree capital of the South.
Celebrity designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s version of the saree for Bollywood has certainly given the saree industry a much needed shot in the arm. The fashion market in Bengaluru is buzzing with professionally qualified, artistic, young women, reaching out to a global audience with their latest creations on this front.
Every independent designer has an interesting success story to share. Says Neeta Rajendran, the CEO and founder of SAKHI FASHIONS, a designer saree manufacturer and exporter, "The saree is a versatile, timeless, sensuous and constantly evolving garment … a bigger canvas for a tip to toe display." Neeta is a qualified designer from the National Institute of FashionTechnology and runs the business with her mom, Chandra Rajendran. SAKHI primarily specialises in the ‘Kanchivaram,’ designed in a trendy, easy-to-wear format for the younger generation. Neeta says they are now flooded with orders from across the globe for their ready-to-wear, pre-pleated sarees.
Neeta and Chandra began with a single boutique about a decade ago, today they have two show rooms in Bangalore’s Jayanagar and Indiranagar and another in Hyderabad; their new shop is due to open in Sadashivanagar. Their store houses a new range of Kanchivaram ‘queen of silks’ collection, enriched with crafts such as cut work and Kalamkari as well as creations in tussar, crepe, etc.
Prices of designer Kanchivaram sarees range from Rs. 8000 for a simple one up to Rs. 45,000 for a bridal Kanchivaram special with heavy bead work and pure gold zari. The designs include ‘Concept sarees’, the ‘PatliPallu’, (with pleats appearing in 3 different shades), the ‘Half and Half’ concept , the ‘peacock cut-work sarees’.
Another entrepreneur is Bhuvi Kilpady, the founder of ‘MAPLE’. The boutique housed in her Malleswaram home was started after the former home-maker attended a short course in women’s entrepreneurship. At present, more than 20 workers and tailors work in her enterprise. She is now forced to expand her limited business range owing to huge demand For her grand and glittery blouse creations. Her handloom designer sarees, Indo-Western designer sarees (a mix of Chiffon and georgette) with mix-and-match blouses, and bridal wear are a prime choice with buyers.
Another flourishing boutique that’s tucked away in the quieter part of Mahalakshmipuram is ‘VIRGO’. Priya Wodeyar and her older sibling Lakshmi Wodeyar, have transformed their once-spacious home on the ground floor into a successful little shop. Their designer boutique has a mix of customised sarees, latest formal wear, kurtis and salwars. The work-shop in the first floor houses workers who deal with the designing and embroidery. Their mother Rekha, who ran a play school earlier, supported her daughters in this enterprise and Priya is a qualified designer from the Royal school of fashion.
At Virgo, old, pure silk sarees are also customised to the likes of individual clients into totally new designer wear. They also take special orders in making ‘bridal trousseau’ (designing bridal ghaghras). The owners do not plan to expand at the moment, as they are currently focussed on keeping up their consistency in quality. "Entrepreneurship is a great opportunity for women today," says Rekha. "I had struggled to begin my play school years ago, but with financial offers from many banks and professional courses to train youngsters today, independent ventures like ours are not just dream projects anymore."
"The market for fashion and design is on the up" says Priya, "My clientiele is increasing and I find it hard to take even a week off from work!" The Wodeyars also supply all the waste materials from their boutique to an NGO called ‘MITU'(Multiple Initiatives Towards Upliftment) that employs women workers to make arty cloth envelopes, hand bags and so on.
Young buyers and the elite seem extremely pleased with the professional service at many of these boutiques and the good value for money they get at these. "My daughter is very choosy about what she wears at every occasion," says Ranjani, mother of a young lawyer whom I met at one of these places.
"Customised sarees are a good option for any festive or social gathering" feels the daughter. "They are well – designed to suit each person and the designers always come out with the best suggestions and make you feel great!"
The designers too give importance to customers’ needs. "We are present at all our branches to take care of our customers personally," says Neeta. In fact, Sakhi also organised ‘fashion shows’ and ‘coffee mornings’ to launch a new range of ‘terracotta jewellery’ to go with designer sarees, owing to a rising demand from many of their customers.
Bhuvi feels immensely rewarded in being able to lift the morale of her clients with custom designing."My clients trust me to the core and that makes me proud of my creations!"
Nishita Shetty Rao, a gynaecologist and a keen follower of latest fashion trends feels "Designer sarees are a classy mix of tradition and modernity." According to her, customised sarees add that bit of bewitching charm, glamour and oomph in parties – probably much more than what western wear can offer!
But how did this trend catch on? Mrs Subbarao, a long-time resident of Bengaluru is quick to note, "Designer sarees were popularised by some of the Bollywood movies like ‘Hum SaathSaathHain’…" Creative designer Mark Jacob’s collection too featured Kanchivaram and Benares brocades to create western gowns, recalls Neeta adding, "Kareena Kapoor wore a saree transformed into a dress for her ‘Vogue’ feature."Sakhi’s Kanchivaram designer wear has been a top choice with southern movie star Roja and Kiron Kher, at various awards functions.
Priya feels Ektaa Kapoor’s soaps on prime-time TV boosted the designer saree market. Aishwarya Bachchan’s penchant for the 6-yard-drape
was a super hit at Cannes 2012.
Western Fashion is most certainly charming. Nevertheless, the ‘Desi Drape’ in its myriad fabrics and classy craft-forms is now vying for attention not just from the younger generation, but also from celebrity designers, the world over. Thanks to some great work in creative designing, the designer drape is the in-thing in the world of fashion today. Bengaluru, the ‘designer saree capital’, looks all set to go ‘big’ in creating and marketing this style of women’s wear.⊕