When October approaches, sartorial instincts start driving Bengal’s women towards apparel stores. Designers’ boutiques, niche brand outlets, retail chain stores with floors dedicated to apparel and popular shopping destinations such as Gariahat and Esplanade witness women of all ages trying to outdo each other in picking, trying and buying. Everybody wishes to make a statement during the festive season which starts with Durga Puja and continues right up to Christmas and new year.
Jeans, tops, shrugs, jackets and skirts sell as much, if not any more or less, as salwar-kameez and sarees. But do women, especially the younger lot, keep the quotients of comfort, round the year usage and tradition in mind when they pick the most gorgeous pieces for themselves?
“It is sad to see women going for pandal hopping in a pair of jeans and top. The whole idea of wearing something ethnic on festive days has changed in recent times, especially over last two years,” says leading designer Anamika Khanna.
Khanna does not want this mindset to sink in. “Irrespective of whether it is a puja or a cocktail party, people want to look ‘different.’ But they think kurtis and sarees are not cool. On a festive day, the saree is my fashion statement. Look at Japan. The Kimono is dead. No one wears it and there’s no experiment with it either,” adds Khanna.
Experimenting with sarees and embellishments and things to wear with it apart from the regular blouse – the cape stands out as this season’s style statement – has kept the traditional attire alive among young and middle-aged women.
And interestingly, what was once a north-Indian attire has become a national one. “When we started out in the 1990s, salwarkameez was a north-Indian dress. In Bengal, women used to wear their best sarees during Pujas. But today, salwar-kameez is as popular as the jeans-top combination,” says Pali Sachdev of Monapali label.
Yet, Sachdev does not think the traditional has taken a backseat. Blending the traditional with the Western, Monapali has come up with an interesting segment of capes this season. “A single piece of garment, like the cloak, capes can be worn with sarees and anarkali suits during festivities,” iterates Sachdev.
Anarkali suits, designers feel, can be reserved for occasions like dining out and meeting friends and family and avoided while going out for pandal hopping.
“For a Navami or Diwali, I’d want women and young girls to wear something traditional; a saree or straight cut salwar kameez with ikkat designs and the look completed with bindi and bangles,” says one of the city’s top designers, Agnimitra Paul.
“Also, there is no need to invest a lot. It is always wise to use some of your mother or grandmother’s wellkept clothes and accessories and create a new look for such occasions. These, when teamed with your new clothes, make the idea of repeating clothes work like magic,” says designer Radhika Singhi.
But why are the designers opposed to a complete ‘western’ look during festivals? “Is salwar-kameez the best option for a Christmas Eve party? A gown or nice floral pencil skirt would be in better taste. We should wear clothes keeping in mind the occasion,” says Paul.
But designers like Jaya Misra are bending the rulebooks, albeit on public demand. “Non-Bengali clients who come to me for wedding costumes have started accepting gowns as one of the attires among the several they need for various events related to weddings. But for Pujas, I have created a traditional collection of sarees based on weaves,” says Misra.
Oversized jackets tied up at the waist but flaunting the waist line, jumpsuits, georgette gowns and skirts are some Western attires that Paul prescribes as daytime wear during festivities.
But are these clothes not bought throughout the year too given the crowd at mushrooming chain stores selling them? Paromita Banerjee, a citybased young designer, feels the idea of Puja shopping is fast changing. “All the branded stores which I see empty on regular days witness huge footfall when they offer discounts at regular intervals. Craze for specific clothes for Shasthi, Saptami or Dashami is thus on the decline among young and middle-aged women,” says Banerjee, who has showcased her work at seven Lakme Fashion Week seasons.
Banerjee welcomes mix and match dressing during the pujas as well as any other day. “Each piece of my prêt collection can be dissected and then clubbed as a ready-to-wear piece with other options. I am all for celebrating colours in clothes,” she says.
Colours, designs, cuts and fabrics have been jubilantly celebrated by creative minds in the world of fashion for long. But a name which speaks oodles about fashion – and exclusively men’s at that – is Sharbari Datta.
“When I started designing for men in 1991, they used to wear western clothes to office and on every occasions, including parties. Dhoti, kurta and Nehrujacket could be seen only on screen. But I revived and contemporised them,” says Datta, taking a tinge of pride at her success in creating a market for achkan, sherwani or dhoti-kurta. “These have stood the test of time and will never go out of fashion. Like women, men now wear according to the season and occasion,” she adds.
Over two decades the ace designer has dressed luminaries like Sachin Tendulkar, Shivkumar Sharma and MF Hussain. What could men sport this festive season? “Influence of movies and ‘mall fashion’ is a big hit with men too. But do you have any sweet designed ‘for the Puja’? I think it is just a marketing strategy to sell things by using these words. Men can wear whatever they choose with confidence – traditional or western. They sport dhotikurta even at upscale corporate parities. The mirror is the best judge,”