And who shall wear a handloom saree...


 Sheer elegance! A muga jamdani accompanied by classic pearls and kundan jewellery.

Indian men were robbed of their graceful wear many years back by a foreign hand at work. Very officially and Very specifically. ‘Twas so many years back that the transformation is forgotten and forgiven. Western wear for men is de rigueur today and the traditional Indian wear is relegated to weddings & festivals and worse of all for special days at workplace when it is considered akin to a fancy dress.

At least men had it simpler. It was not slow and it was not by choice. When it becomes a norm the normal follow. They lose the sense of loss and they cannot be blamed or be apologetic about it. They supposedly were liberated and accepted and elevated all in one go!

Women, the stronger species held on to their identity longer and firmer. Very deserving and very unapologetic.

Royalty, the fashion innovators travelled and wined & dined across the globe. While, the women were not yet ready to move to a western form but 6 yards can be French chiffon and a Chantilly lace too. They were the first to redefine a saree. And this led to a 70s that bloomed with prints in polyester and nylon. The mass watered down versions flooded on to the Indian shores. The handlooms got swept away and with it got its first set of protectors. The revivalists.

With the 80s happened the fashion industry boom. The horizon industry. The promising one. The trend meter that unifies and ironically makes a uniform nifty...oh so subtly!!

While women explored new forms as every one must. The media and the designers roared in with the powers uninhibited. Of course the first waves of transformation were to the ethnic industry and design equaled ornamentation. But then design is not design to a simple eye and media, if it is not ‘Innovated’. There thus was the playground and new rules of the game. All heritage and classic had to be innovated and refreshed. The second organized hit to the authentic handlooms. Sadly, brought in the chandelier aesthetics and not all can own a Murano!

The 80s however saw a parallel movement. It saw the intelligentsia who condemned fashion and synthetic to find a garb that expressed them and their thoughts. What it did also do in a slow harmful way was that it alienated many who did not want a tag (even though a good one!) and those who unfortunately believed that they did not belong to that elevated set. Any bucketing has its negatives. This one did too. It was the first ever built up by the flag bearers and the media to classify handloom as “for the select few”. Strangely it was a comeback coupled with a niche tag. Difficult to weigh the good and the bad....a double-edged sword! How can a niche tag support the growth? A contradiction was seeded. Nevertheless it was a fine rebirth by the finest stalwarts.

After dabbling with fabrics the next level of excitement tends to be silhouettes. The western identity came in and how! Contemporary, modern, global, corporate were words that were misunderstood and translated by designers and media as NON SAREE and the customers grabbed all of it with flourish and freshness. Saree unknowingly epitomized traditional, conservative, backward and homely. If this was not enough the drapey, sequined, sheer, nets and georgettes were heralded by Bollywood as the new sexy and led handloom to die its third death.

Today we are at crossroads yet again and what a complex one it is. There are modern revivalists who are seeing a PR opportunity and a trendy cause. There are protectors & believers who are doing on-ground real weaver interface and hence marketing and preserving the craft as a 360degree initiative. There is the youth who is appreciating it and there is a youth who is distorting it. We have many Zandra Rhodes in India today as if that one was not enough. This conflux has to emerge victorious for the saree and the handlooms as we wait and watch.

Where it will go from here lies in the hands of the women consumers eventually. The ones who enjoy the flourish of it, bask in its luxury and wear it with no pretense and superiority and assumptions but purely because they are in love with it are its true paragons.

May this community flourish!

Manish Saksena


Guest blogger Manish Saksena, has quietly and tirelessly worked in fashion for the last two decades. As a confirmed saree enthusiast and in particular a champion of handlooms, he has never let the fashion "trends" erode his very refined colour sensibilities and love for detail. In this article he details the course of fashion and handloom and brings to the forefront different relevant players.

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