THE LBD HAS A NEW COMPETITOR – THE INDIAN SAREE

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Every year the world of fashion waits with bated breath for the annual celebration of trends and styles – the New York Fashion Week. The reputation and fortunes of many a designer will be made or broken in the few days of fashion madness. NYFW is when top designers from around the world present their upcoming collections to celebrities, editors and critics and hope against hope that their creations will pass muster and get the reviews that will set the cash registers ringing and make them shining stars in the fashion firmament.

The NYFY runway shows are essentially the artistic expression of a designer. Their intention is to make the biggest impact they can and as a result some, if not most, of the outfits displayed can be pretty outlandish. This is because they are usually a more dramatic or exaggerated version of what actually lands up in the high street stores. The reasons are very prosaic –though the standard Little Black Dress (LBD) will perhaps outsell any other dress, even the most unimaginative of fashion designers will not be seen displaying one, unless perhaps if it’s completely see-through!

The Saree – The Indian Equivalent of the LBD

One assumes that the typical New York Fashion Week is not going to have a LBD on display even though it might be a hot seller on the streets. It is very much the same story with the Indian saree – the single biggest contribution to the world of fashion emanating out the country of a billion-plus denizens. Even though you might not see a model draped in saree lighting up the NYFW runway; the world, especially the western world, is no longer a stranger to the magical nine yards of pure magic that has held India by thrall for countless centuries. Just like the LBD, the saree is also absolutely perfect for just about any occasion you can think of, formal or casual. International acceptance has been easier because now that Indians living abroad can very conveniently buy sarees online and not wait for once-in-a-few-years shopping trips.

What makes the saree so universally acceptable and have a distinctive edge over any other ladies’ apparel, including the ubiquitous salwar-kameez and the lehega-choli? Ritu Kumar, one of contemporary India’s most famous fashion designers observes that that the saree, quite unlike other garments that are stitched, is unstructured. This gives the flexibility of each wearer to be able to mould it according to her very own figure, personality, and occasion. Indeed, some of the experimentation that the saree has undergone in the west makes it seem like a clingy, flowing garment without any of the cultural or religious overtones that it has in its own country.

The Wooing of the West with the Saree

Asked about his enduring fascination with the saree, Valentino, the legendary Italian fashion designer says that he considers the saree to be extremely elegant and believes it to be among the most grounding elements of haute couture. Valentino agrees that one of the reasons why the saree has attained international acceptance is because of the popularity of Indian, especially Hindi, films that star lovely leading ladies draped in the most fascinatingly designed and draped sarees that exude allure like perhaps nothing else. Much of the acceptance even with young audiences also is due to the popularity of Bollywood films and that the saree is now available in avatars that are largely bereft of the complications of conventional draping. Ritu claims to have even designed sarees that are the pleats pre-stitched to the petticoat that can simply be zipped up and worn very much like a skirt. This leaves the young wearers to simply drape the pallu in any style that is in vogue. Ritu Kumar’s excitement about reinventing the saree is echoed by her contemporaries like Rocky S, and Sumeet Verma who have also been at the forefront of experimentation with the saree. Because of its sheer versatility, celebrated international designers like Armani, Jean Paul Gaultier, and John Galliano, among others, have also showcased the saree on the ramp and met with a very enthusiastic response.

Author bio: Susan Jefferson is a journalist covering the fashion scenario and trends for a leading fashion portal where it is also possible to buy sarees online.