Hundreds of working women live in the salwar kameez. It’s easier to put on than the sari, roomy and airy enough in the heat, and comfortable and conservative enough to travel through the city.
But leaving aside the time that Rani Mukerji made it cool to wear the Patiala salwar and short kurta in
Bunty Aur Babli
(2005), the salwar kameez has almost always looked the same. In other words: dated.
“It’s still known as the small-town outfit, which it is, really,” says fashion writer Shefalee Vasudev. “Rich aunties may wear combinations of it at kitty parties, but no one wants it to be seen in it. The SKD or the salwar-kurta-dupatta combination is still as behenji as it used to be.”
This makes it a big challenge for designers, who have been trying to update it for years. “Abraham and Thakore do salwars that end mid-calf,” says Vasudev. “Some have kurtas with no side slits. The dupatta is hardly used anymore. Now, designers like Masaba Gupta have got new prints [ featuring funky icons like the camera and the cow] in.”
But that was it really, till now. Today, Kolkata designer Soumitra Mondal creates kurtas to look like shift dresses; Shraddha Nigam and Mayank Anand’s kurtas are like togas, paired with cigarette pants and canvas shoes; and the Patine label has bell-bottoms with short tops and turbans.
The behenji outfit has finally turned modern. Here are some other designers who are turning heads with their reinventions.
(From left to right): Shruti Sancheti, Payal Khandwala and Kiran Uttam Ghosh's version of the salwar-kurta-dupatta
Shruti Sancheti’s versions of the SKD (salwar-kurta-dupatta) are much like the Western idea of separates. One of her versions of the salwar kameez is made by teaming a pair of palazzo pants with a crop top that is shorter in the front (to show off your midriff). In another, the kurta touches the floor, much like a gown.
Why: Nagpur-based Sancheti decided to challenge the rules of the SKD because she thought the modern Indian woman needed a garment that was Indian in aesthetic, but international in styling. Her customers, which include NRIs, love her adaptations.
“I had a 16-year-old client recently who wanted to wear something Indian to her college in America, but was looking for something that was very modern. She bought the palazzo-crop top set as it was sexy,” says Sancheti.
Her customers also include working women who want to mix it up every day. Sancheti believes that to be really relevant, the SKD should be able to be reinvented according to your mood. “So the pants can be worn just as pants and the crop top can be paired with jeans,” she says
What’s new: One of this Mumbai designer’s versions of the SKD is bohemian and layered. The pants are wide-legged and flowy, cinched in the waist with a wide belt. The kurta is a halter top longer at the back than the front, paired with a dupatta worn like a shawl and draped towards the front. Another style consists of a long, low-waist backless kurta.
Why: Khandwala wants to keep her styles of SKDs as edgy as possible. She also knows that most women want to camouflage their wobbly bits and still look different. So her SKD designs are never too much of one thing – not too feminine, not too masculine, not too fitted, not too fussy. They also incorporate unusual elements such as men’s wear fabric.
“The traditional salwar-kurta concept works well for our weather,” says Khandwala. “But I make it as different-looking as possible, with exaggerated cuffs, pockets or wide leg pyjamas,” she says.
Her customers are in the age group of 25 to 40. “At that age, you want everything to be covered and yet flatter you in a cool way. These are clothes for a real woman,” says Khandwala.
Kiran Uttam Ghosh
What’s new: Ghosh closed textile day at the last Lakmé Fashion Week by showing salwars with mermaid-style, sheer flares at the bottom, and kurtas in fitted silhouettes.
She also showed designs that draped a thin long poncho across the body, and fitted around the neck, showing enough midriff to look sensual. It was pretty much like a well-draped dupatta.
The designer says that her collections are made from instinct and stem from the fact that she herself wants to wear ensembles with an Indian aesthetic but a global feel. “I love long kurtas with dupattas. That’s why I thought of the draped poncho,” says Ghosh.
“I also think white, wide pleated pajamas look good under anything.” Her customers include older women who want to experiment with the traditional SKD. “It’s about taking on the style and grace of international silhouettes.”
Bollywood actresses have been setting the trend for the salwar kurtas for several generations
Her so-tight-I-can’t-breathe kurtas worn with tight churidaars and mojris had both men and the women swooning in the ’70s.
Her sheer kurtas with spaghetti-strap bustiers inside, paired with wide-legged pants in
Dil Toh Pagal Hai
made us all rush to our tailors in the ’90s.
She was a thief but a cute one, dressed in her tiny kurtas, Patiala salwars with heavy hoop earrings in the 2000s.
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From HT Brunch, May 31
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