Unlike many friends, I don’t claim to be a fan of Sabyasachi, the designer. I enjoy the detailing that goes into the campaigns that herald his new collections; I admire his larger-than-life presentation style, and I usually like the colour palette. But despite being an avid sari collector, I’ve never been tempted to buy any of his creations. Maybe it’s because I like my saris a little less fussy; maybe I can’t afford his work; maybe I don’t like wearing brands; maybe it’s a mix of all or none of the above. Whatever it is, my wardrobe stands Sabyasachi-less.
But I follow his career with interest. I’ve watched him grow, store by store, line by line, as well as in status and arrogance. Now I don’t consider arrogance a bad thing, provided it’s not accompanied by bad manners. In professionals who’ve earned their money rather than been born to it, it’s usually an indicator of confidence in their own competence.
So it’s with interest that I read about the furore over his remarks at the recent Harvard India Conference, that “as an Indian woman, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a sari, I would say shame on you”. Most of the ire seems to be coming from women who’re tired of men telling them what they can or can’t wear or eat or do. But if I’ve understood correctly, there’s no patriarchy at play here. Even without being a Sabyasachi groupie, I can make out that this man has no intention of putting down women. Why should he? They are his bread and butter. And zardozied jam.
All he wants is for Indian women not to give up on their traditions; and the sari happens to be a part of it. He talks about clothes being a big part of who people are, of being a link to their roots. Where there’s a disconnect, you become socially insecure, he says. Is he wrong? Don’t we all know women who are so desperate to belong to ‘New India’ that they have forsaken their traditional garments because they’re not ‘trendy enough’? I, for sure, have watched enough people clawing their way into western outfits that neither suit their body type nor skin tone, and trying desperately to draw their identity from the logos that cover them.
If you listen to Sabyasachi’s speech, once you have got past the derogatory remarks about the media (“the press fell for it”) and the self-congratulatory comments about what a quick-thinking businessman he is, you will realise that he credits young girls (yes, the very ones raging against him) with the sense not to blindly follow fashion like their gown-wearing mothers and ma-in-laws and to prefer authenticity over a must-have-to-belong branded outfit.
As someone who wears a lot of saris, and most especially when asked by a hostess ‘not to wear one to her trendy party’, I hope those numbers will grow. Middle-aged women who proudly state they don’t know how to wear a sari or take every opportunity to diss the salwar-kameez (never mind that they wore one every other day when they were young) set my teeth on edge. To me the sari, and its wearers, have always been six yards ahead of time. Plus, the hour may produce the man, the hourglass produces the sari-clad woman.