Cotton Candy: Sanjay Garg’s New Line Of Handwoven Saris

Raw MangoWhen Sanjay Garg debuted at Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive in 2014, the designer showed not a single sari. The collection was eponymously named and had stitched clothes like lehengas and tunics. This was odd as Garg is most famous for Raw Mango, his line of handwoven saris. The omission was deliberate. “I don’t want to create a fad,” he said. “That’s why I don’t show saris on the ramp.”

Over the last few years, the handloom sari seems to have become something of a trend among Indian designers. Till fairly recently the majority of saris seen on the ramp were the slinky-textured, embellished variety made of materials other than handmade pure cotton and silk, which qualify as handloom. Think of Manish Malhotra’s shimmery Georgette drapes. At the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in 2011, Wendell Rodricks showed a collection of handwoven Kunbi saris, a traditional Goan weave the designer is attempting to revive. More recently the designer Anavila Sindhu Misra has been celebrated for her handloom saris. And Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive, which will take place in Mumbai from August 26 to August 30, will celebrate Indian handloom with an exhibition curated by Shaina NC of Banarasi saris by various designers.

However Garg is concerned this new affection for the handloom is a passing infatuation. “We are a country of monkeys,” he said. “It has to happen from somewhere once. Now every X, Y, Z wants to do handloom. Five years ago not one designer was doing handloom. Why didn’t they think about it before?” The designer, 35, who is from Alwar in Rajastan and lives in Delhi, began Raw Mango in 2008. “I chose handloom because it’s handcrafted,” he said, explaining his choice of career. He said he could’ve been a potter or a sculptor but “the first thing (I thought that was) missing was the sari.”

Garg launched Sooti, his newest Raw Mango collection, at the flagship store of desinger boutique Ensemble in Fort last week. Sooti, named after the Hindi word for cotton, is a terrific body of cotton, silk and cotton-silk pieces. As the name suggests, the focus of the collection is cotton, especially the Bengali jamdani weave. Unlike his previous collection Berang, which had only indigo, grey and white-hued saris, Sooti is a profusion of colour. There are drapes in red, fuscia, yellow, green, deep blue and a large range in shades of cream and white.

It’s easy to see the appeal of Garg’s saris, especially to a young clientele that prefers a minimal aesthetic. His patterns are contemporary yet classic, and there’s none of the baroque detailing you find in some very traditional Indian saris. A fashion-conscious thirty-something is likely to find his modern Banarasis far more exciting than the often overwrought traditional stuff. Aside from the bridal ones, his saris generally tend to be simple with a few elements that stand out – a striking border or a mix of colours or a single motif (he’s fond of parrots) scattered across the length of cloth.

The designer said he’s on a mission to repair the reputation of cotton. “Cotton was understood as sasta, as behenji,” he said. “There was a problem of perception. It’s the craftsmanship you pay for, not the raw material. We have lost respect for cotton before the shine of silk.” He explained that while silk is only a little more expensive than cotton, silk saris are priced much higher by sari purveyors who take advantage of the general perception that the material is far more precious. The Sooti collection of saris is priced between Rs5,000 and Rs20,000.

While it’s true that fewer women wear saris regularly these days, this is a great time to wear them owing to the sheer variety of handloom out there. There’s a gamut of online stores committed to supporting Indian handicrafts, including Tjori, Gaatha, Craftsvilla and Queen of Hearts. There are also online initiatives like the #100sareepact attempting to popularise the garment. Naturally handloom is more expensive than powerloom cotton and synthetic clothes but they’re cheaper or on par with what foreign high street clothing chains offer. Those who wear cotton saris regularly will tell you they’re perfect for Mumbai’s muggy weather.

According to Tina Tahiliani Parikh, who runs the Ensemble chain of stores with her designer brother, designer Tarun Tahiliani, the recent prominence of the sari is not so much a trend as a revival. “Beautiful options are being put before people,” she said. Her store has been selling Raw Mango saris for the past four years as part of a decision Tahiliani Parikh took some years ago to support handweaves. It also has a section by small weavers in Bengal and Maharashtra. “I think we do have to thank our Indian designers for keeping the sari relevant,” she said. “It’s not like the kimono which you only wear at your wedding.”

Raw Mango’s Sooti saris are available at Ensemble, Great Western Building, 130/132 Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, opposite Lion Gate, Fort. Tel: 022 4056 4825. Open Monday to Saturday, from 11am to 7pm; Sunday, closed. Get directions here.

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