In the context of fashion, each decade has seen the emergence of a new look and before that had time to settle down, another one was already on the way. Throughout the changes, one thing that has stayed timeless for the Bangladeshi woman is the love of the sari. Poets and scribes have obsessed about the beauty and grace of Bangali women, attributes largely credited to the way they carry themselves in their saris.
Saris still being at the top of the list for any fashion-conscious Bangali woman the desire to look unique has opened up a new arena of fashion - exclusive, designer saris. With more and more women leading hectic lives trying to balance home and work, wearing shalwar kameez as functional wear has become quite the norm. Saris are reserved mostly for special occasions like weddings, dinners and parties. Which also means that it is now more important for a woman to own a few exclusive saris rather than a lot of mass-produced ones.
Interestingly, even with the passing of time, one material that has yet not lost its glamour and charm is our very own Jamdani sari. Dressydale designer Chumki, who has designed exclusive saris in Jamdani speaks about the wonder of this local heritage.
“I know that Indian saris are very popular but Jamdanis as wedding saris are a new rage and everyone wants to look unique”, says Chumki.
It's not just Jamdanis that are the new local look. Recently, at the Bridal Show that took place at the Bangladesh-China Conference Centre, Dressydale displayed their exclusive line of Muslin saris. The petticoats, which mostly remain behind the curtain of the sari, were given the limelight with karchupi work, machine embroidery and cart-work. The muslin fabric's translucence highlights the embroidery work giving it a distinctive look.
“I think in the last two or three years Bangladesh has seen a rise in consciousness in designer clothes, especially saris”, says Chumki, “although we always get customers who ask for designs that are 'a bit different' from others, or some from their 'rare collection'.
Prices of designer saris at Dressydale can go up to as high as 1 lakh taka. Chumki justifies the price on the fact that around 12 to 20 people have to work on one piece of sari at the same time and these specialist weavers are paid on an hourly basis. Some work takes almost a month to complete. And of course the end result is a unique design to make the wearer feel extra special.
“Saris are very popular at all kinds of parties”, says Chumki, “nowadays women know that they appear more elegant at a party in a sari, especially an exclusive one”.
According to Chumki, women in their 30s and 40s are more insistent on having an exclusive sari designed for them. The influence of the Indian TV channels and of course the increase in purchasing power has made designer saris in high demand.
'Traditional' is the key word for Arranya's exclusive saris. “We use only natural vegetable dyes on all our garments”, says Ruby Ghuznavi, designer at Arannya. According to Ghuznavi, although many boutiques claim to use natural dyes, only Arannya uses vegetable dyes. Only local materials are used in all of Arannya's saris. Some of Ghuznavi's Jamdani designs are inspired by motifs found inside mosques. She also adapts designs from different cultures and traditions around the globe.
“I have adapted African designs and designs from countries of the sub-continent”, says Ghuznavi, “they add value to my work without taking away anything from the traditional. She expressed her anger at a lot of designers in the country who modify traditional fabrics in an attempt to give them a 'new look'. “Putting karchupi and chumki on a traditional Jamdani sari is tampering with a very old heritage of our country. I can understand embellishments and abstract designs but that is just making a real mess of everything. Our country is famous for our weaves, it will be really sad if it gets lost in this tampering”.
Speaking about the tendency of Bangladeshis to follow everything Indian, Ghuznavi expresses her disappointment and says, “I am all for the free market but handloom clothes look much nicer on the Bangladeshi woman. Indian clothes might be cheaper but if you want something to look unique on you, you should definitely go for the traditional”.
She suggests that if the traditional saris are presented well, more and more people, both the young and the old will be interested in them. According to her, the media has recently done a very good job of projecting handloom clothes as fashionable.
Ghuznavi believes that it's in the last five or six years that, women have become conscious about wearing designer saris. Of course it is not possible for everyone to be able to afford something from such an expensive range. Saima Rahman, a 29-year-old, who has been working at a multinational for three years is a big fan of saris. “I own a lot of saris. I like to go to work in a sari sometimes, and of course we are always having parties every weekend. An exclusive sari makes me feel self-confident and special”, says Saima, “although they are very expensive I can't help but buy a couple every month after I get my salary”.
Blouses are going to take the limelight of the fashion scene this season, according to Mayasir designer Mahin Khan. Heavily embellished and contrast blouses complementing with simple saris are the newest additions to Mayasir. Jamdani saris with benarasi blouses are also the new look. “It was in the 40s and 50s that this look first came into existence and it has made a comeback now”.
All of Mayasir's products are developed in Bangladesh with local materials. Khan loves to work with Jamdanis both cotton and silk. Rajshahi silk, pure silk chiffon, and cotton Tangail fabrics also fare in Mayasir's range. “We make very limited editions of our designs. Although we do not copy any designs from anywhere, colours are becoming global and transcends cultures”, she adds. Mahin Khan.
There are many other fashion houses that focus on exclusive saris. Khadi has also made its way into sari collections; Aneela Haque's Andes bridal collection, for example, includes intricate khadi saris and Muneera Emdad , creator of Tangail Kutir has come up with the khadi Jamdani.
Designer saris are gaining popularity with women from the higher income group. Jamdanis are timeless saris that makes women look graceful and traditional, and those who own one will invariably tell you one universal truth about them. Own one Jamdani throughout your life and make sure it's a good one. So perhaps it's not such a bad idea to invest in a unique one even if it is a little on the expensive side.
By Hana Shams Ahmed