Is the sari staging a comeback in urban India?
- 2 March 2014
- From the section Business
Inside almost every Indian woman's wardrobe, you will find a sari - the long, and usually colourful piece of cotton or silk used to drape around the body.
In urban India, the garment has lost its prominence in recent years - with more and more women opting to wear western outfits.
I only wore a sari twice last year - but that was still more than most of my friends: the sari has become less of a staple, and more an elaborate piece of clothing worn only at weddings or other traditional ceremonies.
It is not that the sari is a difficult piece of clothing to work in: My mother wears a sari every day. She has trekked in the Himalayas, ridden camels in Rajasthan and gone boating in Kerala wearing one.
She has more than 500 saris and often dares me to wear one.
So why is that younger women - especially in urban India - find the sari so difficult to wear?
'There is this whole new crowd'
Chhabra 555 is a traditional sari retailer located in the middle of a hip market in south Delhi. At midday the shop is teeming with customers.
A would-be bride is shopping for her trousseau. She is accompanied by her mother, a bevy of aunts and friends.
While the bride tries out the more traditional red and orange saris, her friends are more experimental.
Other customers are trying out a different kind of sari.
And while to an outsider sari styles may look similar, in India, there are hundreds of ways of draping them. Every generation, community and region interprets it differently.
Heena Malhotra's family has been in the business for decades. Her grandfather started out in a tiny shop in Old Delhi's Chandini Chowk.
Now they have some 50 showrooms across the country.
Ms Malhotra says there are signs the sari is coming back into style.
"We know everything there is to know about saris," she tells the BBC. "We have been doing this for four generations. But what's happening now has taken us by surprise.
"Suddenly there is this whole new crowd of young women, much younger than me, coming in to the store to buy saris. They wear it to parties and outings! This never happened earlier."
Surprisingly, few women I know can actually wear a sari which, as five-and-half metres (18ft) of unstitched fabric, can be difficult to arrange.
Many neighbourhood beauty salons offer a sari draping service for 150 rupees ($2.40; £1.45).
But Ms Malhotra insists that I try on a sari in the store.
First I put on a waist belt, before an assistant helps me fold the pleats of a beautiful green sari and drapes it around me in minutes.
Giving tradition a twist
While it was exquisite, the fabric was too rich and traditional for my taste.
My mum came up with a solution, suggesting I make my own sari.
I went to fashion designers Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja, who have designed a rather unique product - a bikini sari, which can be worn on the beach or in the water.
It is what the Delhi-based swimwear designers came up with when women started asking them for something that was modest but still appropriate for the beach.
Starting at a price of $600, it is not cheap. But Narresh Kukreja says the sari remains the backbone of the Indian fashion industry because it is always open for evolution.
"The sari is being reinvented for... the changing mind-set of the Indian travel customer or the holiday-goer," he says. "It's yet another way of making the sari even more viable in today's wardrobe and not losing such a fantastic garment from our roots."
But while changing sari fashions are unavoidable, the traditional style has survived generations of fashion cycles.
Still intent on making my "own" sari, I found the chaotic Lajpat Nagar market in south Delhi a "do-it-yourself" paradise, packed with lanes of shops specialising in sequins, beads, fabrics.
After a few hours of raiding the tiny shops, I found a fabric I liked - fluid grey chiffon emblazoned with bright yellow polka. The accessories included neon chiffon fabric and a length of embroidered sequins.
A local tailor spent 10 minutes designing it with me and, half an hour later, my bespoke sari was ready.
Of course my mother thought it looked like a traffic cone adorned with reflective stickers.
But it cost less than $25 to make and there is just one piece in the world!