All Woman

Unfolding the Indian Sari...

NOVIA MCDONALD-WHYTE Contributing editor

Monday, August 12, 2002    

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Legend has it that when the beauteous Draupadi - wife of the Pandavas - was lost to the enemy clan in a gambling duel, the Lord Krishna promised to protect her virtue. The lecherous victors, intent on "bagging" their prize, caught one end of the diaphanous material that draped her so demurely, yet seductively. They continued to pull and unravel, but could reach no end. Virtue triumphed yet again in this 5,000 year-old Indian epic, the Mahabharat. Legend, fantasy, history or fact, it is the first recorded reference to the enduringly attractive SARI - the longest, most popular style in the history of women's fashion.

Over the centuries, there have been changes. The diversity of the Indian people is reflected in a variety of materials used for a sari and the way it is draped in different parts of the country. In the south of India, the nine-yard length is draped between the legs to fashion flowing pants. The Coorgi's from central and south India wear it to look like a modern, western, full-length gown and some tribes use it to cover the topless. The traditional, six-yard sari, however, is a classic and allows for generous pleating and draping around the body and over the shoulder -almost Grecian in its elegance. Beyond that, the sari is an Indian woman's statement to the world. It could be of shimmering silk or the finest gauzy cotton.

Perhaps a pastel-hued solid colour or a riot of woven flowers. It may even be embroidered with golden threads, or finished with a richly tasselled border. It speaks of romance or riches, of sobriety or gaiety, of sophistication or innocence.

Men are intrigued by the demure floor-length attire and tantalising display of a bare midriff in the back. It is said that a sari rarely fails to flatter a woman, making her feel fragile and feminine. It is an instant fashion, created by the hands of the wearer and subject to none of the vagaries and changes that plague the fashions of the western world.

The sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver. He dreamt of a woman. The shimmer of her tears.

The drape of her tumbling hair. The colours of her many moods. The softness of her touch. All these he wove together. He couldn't stop. He wove for many yards. And when he was done, the story goes, "he sat back and smiled and smiled and smiled."

This smile continued at the end of India's Fashion week. A week which left the sari intact but with many a variation. Buoyed perhaps by India's bold step into the world of movies, and perhaps sending a clear and distinct message to the world that India is finally ready to accept the influences of the West as portrayed hysterically in the movie Bend it like Beckham, Indian designers created havoc on the runway as models delicate and gorgeous in true Indian tradition sashayed down the aisle in sensuous folds.

Haute couture designer Tarun Tahiliani from Mumbai launched a new line, `The Zero Gravity' which featured elegant cuts and interesting but minimal embellishments, light and liquid fabrics. His collection, like many others, comprised of structured tops, trousers, dresses and skirts, that can be worn as separates and as complete ensembles. Fashion has long taken its influence from this subcontinent: the nose ring, brought to India by the Muslims; the coloured bangles, the painted hands, the henna. Oxford Street's flagship store Selfridges dedicated an entire month to the the world of India. Blame it on the numerous crowns won by Indian women in the world of beauty. Fact is, fashion cues are now firmly taken from a land where romance, mysticism and intrigue forms yards of pure silk.

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