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Tradition's modern spin

Silk saris are sporting a new look this Deepavali to suit contemporary tastes. Here's what some of the showrooms in the city have on offer



Who said the sari is out?: Designers give the desi attire a dressy touch

ON FESTIVE occasions like Deepavali, people splurge on saris and manufacturers are at their inventive best. Vying with one another to give customers something new, they have borrowed freely from art, astrology, mythology, history, the world of fairy tales and fused the traditional with the modern, leaving the buyer with a mind-boggling variety.

Rm KV with eight decades of experience operating out of Tirunelveli is the new entrant in the Chennai market.

Theme-based

Says K. Viswanathan of Rm KV: "We have a huge Thalai Deepavali Collection with this being our first Deepavali in Chennai. We have introduced several designs such as the Mahabalipuram design which has Arjuna's penance, the shore temple and related sculptures artistically woven in the pallu, the Zodiac range [a collection of 12 saris with the Zodiac signs woven in the pallu], the Mithila sari depicting the Mithila paintings of Bihar, and the Ras Leela sari capturing the romantic escapades of Lord Krishna." If you thought these saris were just the outpourings of some designer, Viswanathan is quick to add, "All our saris are theme-based, meticulously researched by our team, given shape in our design studio and carefully woven by handpicked master craftsmen on our own looms using special zari and high quality Chitlaghatta silk."

For the Zodiac sari, he says, the research team travelled to the Avudaiyar Koil where you can find the sculptures depicting the 12 Zodiac signs and the 27 Nakshatras.

RmKV has something for little girls too. "We felt the pattu pavadai was facing competition from other ethnic outfits. In an attempt to rekindle interest in it, we introduced the Cinderella Pattu Paavadai with the story recreated on the border. There is a huge waiting list for it."

"And there is even a ball gown for little girls who want to look like Cinderella," adds Dhanalakshmi Viswanathan.

Rm KV's other offering is the Jugalbandhi sari which is a fusion exercise — South Indian Kanchi silk sari with North Indian handwork (kundan work, bead work and Parsi embroidery).

Interesting names


To Nalli goes the credit for christening sari designs. From the Coronation border in honour of King George V to the National Border to commemorate the country's Independence, and from the Palum Pazhamum and Then Nilavu saris to the latest Azhagi collection, Nalli has come a long way.

It has seen the market evolve from the time when the showroom held a monopoly, to its getting crowded with a dozen players today. The latest this season here are pure silk saris sans zari, but embellished with hand embroidery. Some of the saris have been made ornate with stone work. Matching blouses complete the ensemble.

Kancheepuram saris with zari work and discharge paintings featuring Ravi Varma's Hamsa Damayanti or simple florals in the pallu, adorned further with stone work, comprise the Perazhagi range.

The Azhagi range in dark colours carries the face of an Aishwarya Rai look-alike on the border with a rich pallu, featuring a loving Yasodha doting on Lord Krishna. The Kancheepuram silk gadwal model also has many takers with the characteristic self checks on the body, contrast borders and a double pallu. Printed and embroidered tussars, crushed silk saris with thread work, printed raw silk (the finish is smooth) or those with delicate Parsi embroidery make ideal party wear.

At Kumaran Silks, the latest innovation is the Romantica sari which has an interesting texture. Says P. R. Kumar: "Sometimes people are not comfortable wearing silk. To provide greater comfort, we have come up with the stretch silk sari achieved through modern technology, in pleasing pastels with a woven border and delicate embroidery on the pallu." The Romantica saris are targeted at younger customers. By and large, Kumaran Silks' approach has been to marry tradition with modernity. So you have Kancheepuram brocade with kundan work or meena work, traditional Kancheepuram silks with panels of gold mango buttis in one corner adjoining the pallu or in horizontal panels throughout the body, and the twin silk sari which is two saris for the price of one, with one side being fixed and the customer having the option to choose the reverse (this sari comes with two blouses). The Rhapsody collection coordinates the couple's wardrobe — the silk sari with what looks like a piece of modern art on the pallu can be matched with a T shirt with the same work of art. Kumaran has even set up a new wing with traditional wooden door frames and pillars to usher in Deepavali.

Celebration of checks

At Sundari Silks, its publicity-shy proprietor K. Rajaraman talks about the new range for Deepavali — the Kattam collection celebrates checks in a never-before way. Checks in delightful colour combinations, the Mubhagam or three-part sari which is an old-time favourite revived, the Chaturmukhi sari which has a set of four designs on the narrow border, the Samaram sari which has an artistic fan design on the border and the Naveena saris for young girls in cool colours are all sure to hook the buyer.

The TV serials have played a big part in sustaining the demand for the sari, says Rajaraman, and this view is endorsed at Nalli. The staff add that customers specially ask for the Kungumam sari, the Annamalai sari or the Kolangal sari.

Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, a veteran in the business, says when the competition is healthy you cannot offer anything but good quality, price, service, innovative designs and a comfortable shopping ambience. We have the advantage of customer goodwill and more than two thirds of our customers have been with us for generations."

"The Chennai customers are highly discerning. They can just feel the silk and tell if it is good. It's not enough if you make tall promises; you have to deliver," says K. Viswanathan of RmKV, the "only manufacturer in India with an ISO 9001 2000 certification for weaving of silk saris."

Finally a word about the sari. While Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti feels though working women take to the salwar kameez for the sake of convenience, there is no substitute for the sari on occasions such as a wedding or cutcheri, K. Viswanathan says, "Unless we put glamour back into the sari and have the younger generation wearing it, the sari could lose its pride of place. That's why we are coming up with all these innovations."

Some facts about silks

* In the early years of the silk sari, there were only seven colours and vegetable dyes were used.

* In 1951, the colour mustard was created using chemical dyes by a Manicka Mudaliar.

* MS blue was the colour of a sari made specially for the renowned Carnatic vocalist M. S. Subbulakshmi and the name stuck.

* Chintadripet is actually a contracted form of Chinna Thari Pet (small loom) and was home to the famed V. S. Kandasamy Sami shop for silks.

* Half fine zari is actually made out of copper and chemicals and a minimal amount of silver.

(Source: Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti)

SUDHA UMASHANKER

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