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Tue, Sep 17, 2013
The Straits Times
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Stylish sari makeover
by Deepika Shetty

Once a traditional garment, the Indian sari has been getting a new lease of life in recent years as designers experiment with new fabrics and techniques.

Typically a stretch of unstitched cloth about 5.5m long that is draped around the body, the sari now comes pleated, printed, multi-coloured or stitched just like a skirt to make it easy to wear.

Besides Bollywood stars gracing events overseas clad in glamorous saris, celebrities beyond India have also taken a shine to the garment, helping to burnish its fashion credibility.

Earlier this month, American supermodel Kendra Spears wore a stunning ivory sari with gold embroidery for her wedding to Prince Rahim Aga Khan, the son of billionaire racehorse owner, His Highness Aga Khan IV.

In 2011, pop star Lady Gaga caused a stir when she performed outside New Delhi in an ivory sari, albeit with personal tweaks such as pairing it with black Louboutin boots.

Fashion house Louis Vuitton, too, took its cue from the Indian garb and came up with a range of sari- inspired dresses in 2010.

As sari designs take on a modern edge, sari blouses have also become more trendy and sexy, including halter-neck designs and tube tops.And instead of the traditional poufy cotton underskirts into which the sari is tucked, there are now Spanx-like contouring petticoats for a more flattering silhouette.

All these innovations have helped to attract new fans to the sari, which can cost from below $100 to more than $3,000, depending on the degree of embellishment and handiwork.

Singaporean food consultant Nithiya Laila, 29, picked her first sari last month in a lightweight cottonsilk mix.

"I've seen how my grandmother's and mother's saris are made of thick silks and needed many safety pins to keep them in place," she says.

"That impression of saris being tough to wear kept me away from them for very long. The sari I bought was so light I could have gone for a jog in it. Now I will not stop wearing saris."

Long-time sari lovers, too, appreciate the new designs. Event organiser Sharmila Arora, 49, has been draping saris since she was 15.

"Nothing looks as beautiful and exotic as a sari," says the Singaporean, who has noticed the growing interest in saris here.

This is how she and her business partner Dipika Bedi, who started events company All That Jazz earlier this year, convinced Indian television actress and anchor Mandira Bedi to launch her brand of cocktail saris here. The two Ms Bedis are sisters-in-law.

The actress was in town last Wednesday for a one-day sale at Four Seasons Hotel. It took her just one hour to sell all her 60 saris, which were priced from $350 to $600. Her petticoats and trendy blouses, with spaghetti straps, were also snapped up.

Stores here say they do not have exact figures but report seeing a renewed interest in saris in the last three years, as younger Bollywood stars, such as Deepika Padukone and Sonam Kapoor, waltz down red carpets in head-turning designs.

Ms Kavita Thulasidas, 38, managing director and designer of Stylemart in Selegie Road, says:"These days, women are more willing to experiment and will wear designs such as skirt saris."

Besides growing business in stores, independent operators have seen their sari trunk shows here sell out too.

Divas Closet, an independent design label started by two designer friends last year, has even been invited to show its collections in Tokyo, Bangalore and New Delhi.

Co-designers Sangeeta Mohindra, 43, and Upi Kapur, 42, say they launched the label after seeing a gap in the market here for trendy and well-priced designer saris and ready-made blouses.

Pure Earth, which sells Indian apparel including saris, now has two stores - one in Tanglin Mall and another in The Centrepoint.

Owner-designer Rashmi Gogna, 44, who moved here from Jakarta in 2001 with her consultant husband, is known for rolling out a range of saris called Goddess Collection each year before Deepavali. This year's collection focuses on lighter, more wearable fabrics such as crepe.

Jinder's, a 21-year-old store in Selegie Road, is taking up another floor in its shophouse this month.

Ms Soniyah Sidhu, 40, its director, credits the increasing popularity of Bollywood films, stylish Indian celebrities and a growing awareness of all things Indian for helping to boost the fashion cachet of the sari.

Mrs Suman Aggarwal, 43, partner in Fabindia in Paragon, which brings in a curated selection of saris from India, says the popularity of traditional heavy weaves, conservative blouses and ornate jewellery has waned.

"With the advent of lighter fabric saris, women are enjoying wearing saris in a completely new way," she says. "Coupled with trendy blouses and more relaxed hairstyles, I find the sari is fast becoming a new statement in redefining the Indian woman in an international context."

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