Innovative designers like Anavila Misra and Sanjay Garg are making linen and cotton saris desirable
A scene from sari designer Anavila Misra’s exhibition in town last week: the racks, filled with her signature muted earth-toned linen creations, are rapidly emptying into the eager arms of buyers. Anavila herself stands quietly in one corner, offering advice to clients who approach her to chat or consult. “I can’t decide, Anavila. This one or that?” asks a young woman, arms filled with saris. She is Singapore-based, on a two-day visit to Bengaluru. “When I heard Anavila was showing here and would be present herself, I had to come,” she tells me excitedly. “I love her linen saris. I usually wear dresses to work in Singapore, but whenever I wear these saris my colleagues say I look like a goddess.”
Saris are never out of fashion. We know that. But occasionally they undergo a dramatic change of avatar and reinvent themselves, becoming relevant all over again. This latest wave of modern affirmation has been led by innovators like Anavila Misra and Raw Mango’s Sanjay Garg. Suddenly, a designer linen or cotton sari in your wardrobe is the dernier cri.
I sit and chat with Anavila about her design journey. She admits that 10 years ago linen was an idea ahead of its time, but “in my heart, I didn’t give up.” Creating gentler, looser subtle linen weaves which draped like a dream took determination, time and energy, and total reinvention of what was acceptable at the time. But ever since her first stellar Fashion Week show where she got a standing ovation as she strode
on to the ramp wearing her own simple yet striking linen sari, she feels happy she stayed committed to her cause. “This is what I wear myself, this is me,” she says, “The sari, as I see it, is a canvas. You can do what you want, fill it up with work or keep it subtle.” Anavila is subtle.
Subtlety has become the new fashion catchphrase, confirms Bengaluru-based Merryn Mathews of IHA designs who concentrates on making sari in linen, tussar, georgette and handspun silk — all natural fabrics. “Earlier we thought sari were for special occasions, but now people are thinking differently, especially the younger generation. Linen feels so good, falls so well and isn’t age group specific – far from what we imagine as the typical cotton ‘grandma’ sari.” Mathews’ designs are sans zari, clutter or bling, making for easy accessorising with a single statement piece of jewelry to create a dramatic ensemble. She believes Anavila and her ilk have acted as pioneers by carving a special niche for themselves.
Their clients are among those who want to give Bollywood-style bling a miss, yet wear something distinctively elegant. A linen sari would work beautifully for an afternoon lunch party, in place of the ubiquitous, easily tossed-on jeans. “Saris are still given so much respect, across generations.” And purity and simplicity of thought, content and design is returning to the forefront.
No coincidence, then, that Anavila’s name translates to ‘purity’ in Sanskrit.