In his decade-long tryst with handloom, designer Sanjay Garg has been reinventing traditional Indian weaves. The creator talks to Ishita Goel about the saree’s new-age appeal
From being the torch-bearer of traditional Indian clothing, the saree has today become the newest element of power-dressing for women. And it won’t be incorrect to say that designer Sanjay Garg, founder of fashion label Raw Mango, has had a substantial role to play in this revolution of sorts. Garg can be credited with having revived handwoven textiles, simplifying and modernising the weaves. Today, his sarees appeal to a cross-section of consumers – from Bollywood stars to CEOs and the woman on the street. With vivid colours and quirky motifs, and paired with bustiers, Garg’s sarees preserve the essence of tradition in a head-spinningly simple modern avatar.
Charm of the Chanderi
Garg discovered Chanderi sarees very early in his career. He took the extremely busy traditional weave of the fabric and simplified it; making it comfortable, more luxurious, yet carelessly elegant. “Chanderi’s traditional crispness and static shape worked against it among the younger generation,” says Garg, who made the silk and cotton-silk fabric easier to drape and gave it contemporary motifs and colour combinations. “While working with Chanderi weavers as part of a college project I realised there was a gap between what was being produced and what the urban customer wanted. The weavers wanted more business and they agreed to work with me. I couldn’t have taught them the art; no one knows it better than them. I just bridged the gap between the client and the weaver. I tweaked the traditional designs, introduced new colours and motifs, and added zari,” explains the designer, who often says that no one can re-invent the saree. “The saree is the most evolved piece of fashion from our country. It suits women of all ages and shapes. For me, designing sarees was a natural choice, having seen women around me wear them,” adds Garg, who was brought up in Mubarikpur, a village near Alwar in Rajasthan.
If not the saree, Raw Mango campaigns have revolutionised the image of the saree-wearing Indian woman. What Garg did was alter the communication about the saree. Moving away from traditional promotional campaigns of the six yards, featuring picture-perfect models, who would be draped in elaborately-heavy sarees, mostly bridal, Garg started using real-life
women in his brand’s campaign. “I decided to move away from models and photograph women who are comfortable in my creations,” he says. The images of women flaunting creased sarees, with bare minimum makeup and accessories, paved the way for the imagery of the garment as a comfortable yet elegant fashionwear. The appeal of these sarees lies in muted luxury, simplicity and the familiarity of motifs that calls to the soul. “My sarees are classic and don’t follow trends,” he adds.
One fit for all
In his drive to go back to the root of the saree, Garg also started designing blouses to pair them with. “I researched that traditionally, sarees were not worn with blouses as we know the garment today. So, I started reimagining them,” he says.
Raw Mango’s anti-fit blouses are boxy, which many consider to be a relief from their fitted counterparts. “I offer you a blouse that is versatile and can be worn with anything, from pants and leggings to salwars and also the saree. I have made the blouse and the saree more sustainable,” he explains.
Besides Chanderi, the designer has given modern interpretations to several traditional weaves like mashru, Benarasi and chikankari. His works have been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2017) and at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2015), London. However, the designer doesn’t seem to derive much pleasure from it as according to him, his real success would be to make the masses appreciate unique Indian textiles such as jamdani of West Bengal, and heritage weaves from Lucknow, Kanpur, Nagpur and other Indian cities. After a successful decade, Garg is now planning to shift base to the southern parts of the country, and preferably work with Kanjeevaram next. Or, as he adds with a straight face, “I always thought I’d be a revolutionary and maybe that is why I chose to work with the saree. If I get more freedom, I may step out and fight for social justice and human rights!”