This spring, the first significant exhibition of its kind to be held in the UK will debut, highlighting the modern Indian sari. The Offbeat Sari will include more than 90 examples of avant-garde and legendary saris from pioneering studios and designers across India at the Design Museum in London in May. These examples will include the first-ever sari worn at the Met Gala and a foil jersey sari worn by Lady Gaga. The exhibition seeks to provide viewers with a brief glimpse of the current sari fashion revolution.
“A sari is one of the most ubiquitous garments in the world,” says Priya Khanchandani, the exhibition’s curator.
The sari has a lengthy history dating back to 5000 years. It is a single piece of unstitched material that is draped across the body and varies in density. It has endured throughout its history and changed in texture, material, and ornamentation to reflect shifting social contexts.
As a young person thirty years ago, Khanchandani continues, “you might not have worn it at all; IT WAS more of a mother or grandmother thing. It was classy and reminiscent. Even though it was expertly made and cherished, it might not have been worn. However, younger generations now play with it and appreciate it in a different way. Today, people value handloom fabrics made of a range of materials, such as the shimmering or translucent saris seen in the exhibition. Young women are eager to change the perception of the traditional clothing now that saris are being worn at important fashion events, such as the outfit created by designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee that Natasha Poonawalla wore to the MET Gala last year.
Designers like Abraham & Thakore, Raw Mango, Akaaro, and NorBlackNorWhite have incorporated cutting-edge methods and modern materials in this traditional form of clothing, and the evolution of the sari will be amply chronicled at the museum. There will also exhibit examples of couture saris, including those designed by Tarun Tahiliani for Lady Gaga in 2010 and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla for Bollywood star Deepika Padukone to wear to the Cannes Film Festival in 2022.
Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee said at the time: “I interpreted the dress code, Gilded Glamour, with an Indian gaze that revels in our multiculturalism and the authenticity of our design, aesthetic and craft legacies.”
The role of women in India has been difficult, and the nation has been slower to adapt for women, according to Khanchandan, who is passionate about diversity in design and the impact of under-represented voices. But as the MeToo movement gained traction and had a big influence in India, the sari started to represent female empowerment
“We’ve seen a female skateboarder wearing it, mountain climbers are wearing it, and its existence is displaying many representations of Indian women. They are gaining freedom from taboo images of domesticated Indians. In Bollywood, the sari used to be worn by objectified women, but this is increasingly being subverted.
People are now opting to “drape them differently, adorn them, knot them in intriguing places and make them more personalised, helping ladies exhibit their particular creativity more,” she claims. Influencers who wear saris are becoming more popular, as is the hashtag #SariNotSorry.
Some others are even wearing trainers and a T-shirt to create their own urban take on the attire.
Running from May 19 to September 17, 2023, is “The Offbeat Sari”. Adult tickets are now on sale for £12.60. To book and for more information designmuseum.org.