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She is taking the Sari to Gen X

Last updated on: March 08, 2021 15:34 IST

'The sari is a symbol of Indianism.'
'Once I was wearing a sari and walking in the middle of a market in Amsterdam and there was a musician playing a instrument.'
'When he saw me, he started playing an Indian song.'
'A sari has such strong cultural narrative.'

Anavila Misra's Instagram profile is a style bible for young women who'd love to embrace the sari.

The Mumbai-based fashion designer is reinventing the sari to give it a more contemporary and wearable feel.

From using linen, a light and airy fabric, to playing around with pastel shades and everyday colours, she is creating a new buzz for the sari

Gone are the times when women wore saris on a daily basis, today it is increasingly been sidelined as occasion wear. And that's what Anavila wants to change.

In an interview with Anita Aikara/Rediff.com, Anavila speaks of her love for saris, why one must never underestimate the power of this elegant drape, and how as a designer she is putting great thought into how a sari can stay in a woman's wardrobe for longer.

IMAGE: Anavila Misra dressed in a lovely pink sari.All photographs: Kind courtesy Anavila Misra

You have taken organic fabrics and created something extraordinary. How do you do it with such ease?

Take a closer look at some of the Indian fabrics in international museums and you'll notice that they're all handcrafted pieces of excellence.

Somewhere in our progress in cities, the villages and craft clusters got left behind.

The sensibility which women are looking at today, and what is available in the craft clusters is really very apart.

The textiles of India have been extraordinary and they still are.

However, somewhere the design language and narrative changed because of the huge gap between what was in demand and what was being offered.

When cities developed, villages became more and more distant.

Now we see a lot of change happening where craftsmen are redefining themselves and textiles are much more contemporary.

The connect is happening again and we are getting to see so many collaborations between artisans, weavers and designers.

All the Anavila saris are designed in-house. 90 per cent of our work till date is with linen; sometimes we use silk and zari, or a blend of fabrics.

The underlying theme is the same and we haven't really touched or moved away from the essence of keeping the simplicity alive.

We don't want to take away from a textile which is already so beautiful.

Hence, you will see a continuity in the design language. These saris are woven in handloom clusters, but the designs are given by us.

We have a dedicated set of weavers who have been working with us since the conception of the brand.

Most of them are from the Phulia region in West Bengal.

Your linen saris are so beautiful that people would want to wear it everyday. When you look back on why you started Anavila years ago, how does it feel? Does what inspired you then inspire you now?

Anavila's journey is going to be a decade soon. At the time we started, what inspired me was to create something in my design language, and looking back today, it feels like a satisfying experience. It makes me immensely happy.

In the years to come, what I hope to achieve is to be able to take the legacy forward and continue doing the good work.

Before starting the brand, I was on a sabbatical for four years. I had a small child, I was travelling with my husband, who was a marketing professional. We were in Mumbai, then went to Singapore and returned to India.

Those four years I had completely to myself and it was around that time when the whole seeding of the brand happened in my mind.

I had experience working with craft clusters in the past and I was able to understand how they work, what are their challenges and the immense possibilities that they hold.

They were creating garments which were immensely beautiful but not very minimalistic and something that could have a demand in a contemporary market.

There was a little collaboration that was required there. I noticed there was so much skill and hard work that went into creating a garment and a few minor changes could make it click with the modern markets.

That inspired me and it still inspires me.

IMAGE: Demure but flirty! Kalki Koechlin's Anavila sari is timeless and defies trends.

Is it true that you were involved in menswear fashion for sometime? What made you want to make the shift?

I have worked on menswear for over three years -- that's how I started my career.

Menswear is very technical and it may look simple, but it is difficult.

Also I was working with brands that catered to mass production, as opposed to what I do now -- today, I can just make 10 saris in a particular style.

In menswear, especially when you work with big brands, one needs to be precise because every design meant it would be multiplied a thousand times.

That was a challenge but it kept me on my feet as I had to create a new collection within the boundaries, even though the framework was clear.

Being a woman and creating things you'd like to wear makes the experience designing saris much simpler.

After four years in menswear, I was looking for a shift. I wanted to move into women's wear and at the same time being involved in Indian textile and fabrics.

What does a sari mean to you?

I may not wear saris on a daily basis, but I do admit wear it often, a few times in a week. I really enjoy wearing saris.

I feel people were exposed to western cultures and a lot of travel happened and brands came to India.

Women were wearing their cultural garment for long and they wanted to try something new. Suddenly, when you have not seen your mother wearing a sari in the house, it feels like there is too much fabric.

All this made sari take a backseat in your wardrobe. But when it is presented in a more comfortable format, then people are happy to embrace it.

A sari is very feminine and graceful. I feel a person's body language changes when you wear a sari. It is more how you feel than how you look when you wear a sari. It is also a symbol of Indianism.

Whenever I am abroad and am wearing a sari, my identity is just established.

Once I was wearing a sari and walking in the middle of a market in Amsterdam and there was a musician playing a instrument. When he saw me, he started playing an Indian song. A sari has such strong cultural narrative.

Was your love for saris inspired by your mother?

My mother has a beautiful collection of saris.

My mamaji used to go to a handloom house and get the best of saris from the weavers for her.

The sari she wore at her wedding was a Benarasi in a deep red shade. It was so beautiful that I have kept it for myself.

She would let my sister and me play with her saris.

We would in turn, just stare at her in awe when she was getting ready from marriages.

She would not wear it everyday, as her go-to outfit was a salwar suit, but a sari was meant for special occasions.

I have inherited my love for saris from her. We were in a hurry to grow up and wear a sari.

IMAGE: The delightful handmade Busa dolls.

Could you throw light on your initiative to introduce saris to young girls with your Busa doll?

Young girls are not very comfortable with saris because they may have not seen their mother wearing saris or it was not a part of their childhood.

So when they have to wear a sari, they keep it for formal occasions.

I thought why not give young girls a doll which will familiarise them with a sari and a handloom fabric.

Busa also means little sister in Sanskrit.

My generation -- I was born in '77 -- had our nanis and dadis who made dolls for us.

We'd help them make clothes for the dolls. But then mothers got busy and our lifestyle changed.

Now rarely you'll find moms making handmade dolls for their kids.

That's why you see so many plastic dolls in the market. I thought it was high time we reintroduce our kids to Indian dolls.

Your idea of sustainability?

What we create at Anavila, is very carefully created. The numbers are limited and we monitor how many saris we have sold and how many we should create for the next season. So that there is no excess.

Also we try and work towards making saris more timeless. We put a lot of thought into how to make a sari stay in a person's wardrobe for longer.

Sustainability also means working in a sustainable environment and we haven't changed our craftspeople and artisans in the last decade.

We constantly work on designs that embraces the skill set around us or the people who we have been working it.

With the waste cut from fabrics we do a patchwork, create accessories or a design without discarding it.

IMAGE: A look from Anavila's latest collection Bloom.

Challenges you have faced through the years...

I feel my first challenge was that I decided to use linen and work with a focused cluster.

To stay true to what I stand for and to keep continuously working in the same place with the same yarn, was challenging.

When I created the first linen sari, we were the first ones in that space, but suddenly the popularity rose and because of the comfort of a linen sari, everyone started making it.

The demand was so much more that even weavers in the adjoining craft cluster were creating it.

When you are just one year in the business and you suddenly see cheaper copies in mixed textiles but with the same design, that becomes a challenge.

It brought me back on my toes knowing that the competition is growing. Now, I have to be at it.

I have to keep thinking of creating something new and edgy and it always pushes me forward to be relevant.

Competition is healthy, it moves you ahead or else you get complacent.

Right now, people are conscious of what they buy and are looking for timeless pieces.

Their lifestyle has changed because we are living in a garment throughout the day and comfort and ease has suddenly become very important.

A designer whose work you admire?

I really love, admire and respect Abraham and Thakore.

They have contemporised Indian fashion and they are seniors in the fraternity.

To imagine and do what they did back then, took a lot of foresight into Indian handloom and textiles.

Where do you see the future of handloom?

The future of handloom is very promising.

Young designers are looking at collaborating and working with the craft clusters and so much is already been done and can be done.

Which fabric would you like to work with if given a chance?

I would love to work on a collection with ikat.

I did some work with ikat for a brief time and would love to create something unique there.

IMAGE: Neha Dhupia added a fun twist to her look by pairing her pink Anavila sari with metallic jewellery and sunglasses.

A message for women.

Be true to yourself.

Earlier when our mothers were young they were exposed to a certain kind of fashion through magazines.

But today, we all have a smartphone and we are completely bombarded with so many new looks.

It is nice to see what is happening around, but you should embrace your style that makes you feel extremely comfortable and go forward with it.  

Any word of advice for budding designers?

Budding designers, whatever dream you have created for yourself, just passionately follow it and everything else will follow.

Your future projects?

Bloom is my current 2021 collection and it is inspired by the wild, all of us are born with a strong connect to nature, but with modern life we lose that connection.

This collection is about finding your inner-self and blooming with nature.

The lockdown led us to this collection which is bright and happy. The garments are in beautiful spring colours.

ANITA AIKARA