Last year, designer duo Dev R Nil made a funky yet dramatic political statement through their work on India's national garment — the sari. The Kolkata-based designers drew inspiration from the South American revolutionary Che Guevara and his iconic bike for their spring-summer 2011 collection, only because they wanted to depict the political changes their state was going through.
Why the sari? "The sari is worn by everyone and it was the perfect vehicle for us to make a statement, says Nil, whose collection is called Iconic Rider. "Bengal is soon going to see a change of guard. Che sets the tone for revolution and we wanted to tell a story through our work."Like several young designers, Dev R Nil have used the potent combination of pop art and the sari to garner a fresh perspective on this traditional garment. A trend that was flagged off by fashion house Satya Paul in 2007 where collections included faces of Bollywood stars, bar-code prints, hand-painted hearts and even a take on Google. "Pop art was a 60s and 70s phenomenon when artists started expressing themselves boldly," says Jyoti Nirula, managing director of Satya Paul. "We are giving them a new way to express themselves."
Rebel with a cause
In the past, the sari has gotten a westernised makeover with pre-pleated pleats and zips. But none of these trends really caught on; elegance won over funk and innovation. And with funky prints becoming a hit with sections of the fashion world, it's interesting that this trend is introducing a new language to the sari and finding takers.
Author-socialite Shobhaa Dé was among the first to champion Satya Paul's pop-art collection by wearing their bright lipstick print sari. "I love pop art," says Dé, a die-hard fan of Warhol. "For my generation, it was a big statement of rebellion. The pop art sari instantly broke through traditional moulds and provided a more contemporary definition to this classic outfit."
Traditionally, saris have been associated with grace, so don't funky prints come across as a rebellious idea? Dé feels it says a lot about a woman's sense of adventure, boldness and individuality and says it declares the statement 'I'm a non-conformist, and proud of it!'.
While designer Tarun Tahiliani has done a number of digital prints on scarves and kurtis, he believes that pop art is blending styles from across the world, a trend that is sweeping fashion. "Rather than letting the sari die out, the younger generation looks at the world through their eyes which are trained by multimedia. In this day and age, they are willing to experiment with all types of images as well as pop art."
Last October, Delhi-based designer Nida Mahmood showed her pop art collection at the fashion week. Titled 'Maachis', her line was inspired by films such as Don and Sholay. "I believe that pop art in India has taken a big step. I have used a lot of vibrant colours and even film dialogues as part of the prints," she says. In fact, for the matching hand-painted blouses, Mahmood has employed out-of-work film poster artists from Bollywood for a 'real' interpretation.
Upcoming designers such as Sonia Sarin and Dolly J are experimenting with everyday elements as well. Sarin was inspired to replicate the rickshaw motif on prints, after a project with Fashion Design Council of India last year for a CSR initiative where they gave away designer rickshaws. Meanwhile Dolly has used the boardgame snakes and ladders as well as bicycle motifs on her saris.
But it's not just the younger designers who are experimenting with the trend. Older designers such as Hyderabad-based Vinita Pittie too has indulged in pop art. "I have done inscriptions and alphabets from the Devnagiri script. The aim is to reflect power and strength through the garment," she says.
Traditional vs Modern
What about those who diss the trend? Designer Gaurav Gupta who has been working with saris for the last three years says he prefers the 'sophisticated' version. "The sari is getting re-accepted with the younger lot now. The look is more confident, sexy and the sari is elegant and feminine."
"Is pop art ungraceful?" asks Dé. "It all depends on how you carry a funky print. I still wear my Valentine's Day red lipstick print sari — and it always gets great reactions."