Chiffon is the garb of elegance, ageless in its charm and beauty. The traditional and stunning sari holds the power to transport the wearer to a world of grace and style, whatever their age.
Growing up in Jaipur, the beautiful capital of Rajasthan, was indeed a privilege. As I grew up and saw more of India and the rest of the world, I realised that there is no place on this planet that can be compared to Rajasthan. An enchanting and romantic place, you can go back into time a few hundred years even today as you stroll through the palaces of Amber, the Lake palace at Udaipur and the sand dunes of Jaiselmer.
Anyway, the reason I'm going on about Rajasthan is because that is where I have my first memories and visuals of the French chiffon. As I was sitting in my history class, there was a commotion outside which distracted us, including the teacher. We gathered at the window and there was Maharani Gaytri Devi breezing into the courtyard heading towards us.
She was a vision of breathtaking beauty, floating in a cloud of baby pink chiffon with lilac roses. And my God! I was only eight - maybe nine years old - but I remember that moment 'as clear as day', as if it had happened just yesterday.
Adorned in a string of pearls, small solitaire diamond studs in her ears and Chanel no 5, light colour on her lips and no other make up, anyone could drown in her huge luminous eyes. Believe me, if you saw her up close like I did, you would be writing poetry too.
If you are wondering why she was there, it was because this was the girls' school that she had opened and I had the privilege of studying there. I saw her often enough as she loved to drop into class to see how things were going. Every time I saw her it was always in French chiffon, amazing array of colours and prints. I studied in MGD (named after her) for 12 years and never saw her repeat a sari, but then again, she was a Maharani!
My mother told me that Her Highness, as she was referred to, started the trend of wearing French chiffons and made them into a fashion statement. The Rajput ladies were quick to follow and to date, the image of a Rajput lady is in a French chiffon with her head covered and a small, red dot on her forehead the ultimate in beauty in my opinion.
Nothing looks as graceful as chiffon, especially in the daytime lunch or tea. When in doubt, wear chiffon! This I learnt from my mother-in-law who, always impeccable and stylish, was another legendary beauty. Almost a decade after her death, I still visualise and remember her in her chiffon and diamonds, soft spoken, serene and incomparable!
Chiffon stems from the French word for a cloth or rag, and is a lightweight fabric used for flowing dresses. It is a sheer material made of silk or rayon yarn and is priced on its weight. Now Indian chiffon, which is a heavier more crinkly version, is very popular but the original French chiffon is lighter and very sheer. It is available in plain, shaded or the very popular floral prints.
It was first imported into India from France in the 1930's and made into a fashion rage by the ethereal Maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi. So much so that even today the elegance and glamour of the French chiffon has not dimmed and it lives on in the ladies of the sub-continent.
Just as traditional saris like the kanjivaram, gadwal, jamdani, etc., enjoy a status of always being in style, so does the French chiffon. The constantly changing fashion trends have made no difference on the importance and place that is occupied by the traditional fabrics in our society. That a foreign fabric can dare to compete and succeed in finding a place in our wardrobes is amazing. No trousseau is complete without chiffons, embroidered, shaded, sequined, printed or plain!
Of course the weather in the sub-continent might have played a big role in making it so popular. The traditional rich silken weaves, though outstandingly beautiful must, have been impossible to wear in the summer and spring. Other than the fine Dhaka muslin, I cannot think of any fabric that might compete with the light, almost weightless chiffon.
The covering of the head by ladies was common practice in the bygone days and perhaps this could have also been a reason for the preference of chiffon. The transparency of the cloth as well as its weight made it different to any other available fabric.
Today, the popularity remains in the modern age, it is used to make dresses, dupattas, kurtas, curtains and countless other things. This fascination with chiffon will live on, its versatility making it impossible for the fashion world to do without.
Check out the Dhaka ladies at a garden tea party where the legend of chiffon is thriving and will continue to do so forever.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Styling: La Belle
Special thanks to Sadia Moyeen for arranging the photoshoot