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How the sari has shaped western imagination

Naomi Campbell in Chanel at the Met Gala 2023

A piece of fabric so iconic that is beyond the notion of trends and time, a symbol of Indian culture… the sari has a long and fascinating history, dating back to the Indus Valley civilisation where it was draped in a simple, unadorned style. Over time, it evolved into a more elaborate garment, with intricate patterns and designs woven into the fabric. India’s rich textile and handloom legacy has also landed itself impeccably to the richness of weaves and stories intertwined in the making of the garment—with each state boasting its unique motif, drape and even colour.

Alexander McQueen Fall 2008 collection

Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermes Spring 2008 collection

The sari might be quintessentially Indian, but the drape has been spotted in the collections of several designers. For his fall 2008 collection, Alexander McQueen was inspired by India and had pieces with sari-like drapes paired with floor grazing column skirts. Jean-Paul Gaultier showcased his Hermes Spring 2008 collection with belted saris paired with leggings, short saris and some that were inspired by dresses. Karl Lagerfeld for his Chanel Pre-Fall 2012 collection called ‘Paris-Bombay’ presented knee-length saris, while Marchesa’s Spring 2013 showstopper was the South Indian mundu-inspired gold and white dresses. Dior for its India inspired Pre-fall 2023 collection that was showcased in Mumbai recently, also featured draped silk skirts resembling a sari.

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel Pre-fall 2012 collection

Marchesa Spring 2013 collection

Dior Pre-fall 2023 collection

Last year, sari made its Met Gala debut courtesy, philanthropist and businesswoman, Natasha Poonawalla whose Sabyasachi sari with Schiaparelli bustier look took the media by storm. These appearances of sari on major red carpets like the Met Gala and Oscars have shown that the sari is now transcending cultural boundaries. This year’s Met Gala had supermodel Naomi Campbell in a rare sari-inspired archival look from Chanel’s spring/summer 2010 couture collection. The salmon pink silky fabric was meticulously draped over a metallic blouse with silver embroidered trimmings creeping up the bodice. Businesswoman and philanthropist, Isha Ambani Piramal also made a stunning appearance in a black draped gown inspired by the sari from designer Prabal Gurung’s atelier.

Natasha Poonwalla in Sabyasachi and Schiaparelli at the Met Gala 2022

Isha Ambani in Prabal Gurung at the Met Gala 2023

Back home, the opening night of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai had Zendaya looking ethereal in a midnight blue sari gown by Rahul Mishra along with Gigi Hadid serving gilded glamour in a pre-draped Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla chikankari creation. This widespread adoption of sari provides evidence of the its enduring relevance and appeal which have made it a popular choice for designers, who have incorporated elements of the sari into their collections. Its popularity can also be attributed to its timeless elegance, versatility, and adaptability, which have allowed it to evolve over the years while retaining its roots. As the world becomes more globalised, the sari’s popularity is likely to continue to grow, making it an important cultural icon for generations to come.

Zendaya in Rahul Mishra at NMACC launch

Gigi Hadid in Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla at NMACC launch

Shop Aashni + Co’s sari edit here