Because the little black dress is a fashion icon, but the chikankari sari is not

I don’t wear sarees. I know almost nothing about them: what makes a good texture, what to look for, what makes a design extraordinary, the different styles, how the fabric will fall when worn … I buy saris, but very rarely. I do it as much by sight as by taking a leap of faith that the sari and the wearer will look good together. And for that I usually stick to a few trusted stores where I can’t go wrong Willy Wonka.

What I need is someone to give me advice on how to view sarees in a firm but pleasant way. Not the history of saris, or their types across geographic areas, or socio-economic treatises on weavers, or documentaries on the traditions of saris wearing. What I want are regular, informed and engaging opinions on a collection, individual pieces, a new line – someone who can keep me informed of a quality that makes a particular sari worth admiring – and not just its price and information base. material, accessories, yada yada.

My understanding of fashion is very limited – this limitation, which to be honest, I often wear on the sleeves of my T-shirts. But I enjoyed reading Suzy Menkes’ blunt, fearless and wise fashion column in The International Herald Tribune. Menkes gave opinionated sense to individual designers and their clothes, things that are far from – yet paradoxically an integral part – of the industry’s IMT.

Critical engagement – what to appreciate and what to denigrate and why – is a valuable tool. We are used to books, films, music, art that are “reviewed” and commented on beyond the “judgments” racket. Subjective and well-thought-out opinions are shared, which not only add value to individual “products”, but also give weight to the inclusion of these creations in the broader “cultural” sphere. Gangs of Wasseypur is a great film that adds value by being called a great film by credible, knowledgeable and trustworthy voices.

In the times we live in, which Eric Hobsbawm would surely have called “The Age of Food,” opinion about all things edible – and drinkable – has become ubiquitous, a good guess about food that is considered a noble activity in itself. I am fascinated by the 12 minute Chinese episodes of the Flavorful Origins documentary series. And I don’t even know how to cook, never mind having any of the dishes I look at with rapt attention HD.

When it comes to intelligent and engaging views on clothing in India, especially sarees, there is a big void. No columns, no schedules, no reviews. Fashion journalism (sic) is usually relegated to the most enthusiastic “service reporters” with little or no knowledge of the warp and weft of clothing aesthetics, and is routinely featured as an accessory to Bollywood coverage.

Take Anavila Sindhu Misra’s linen saris. A surprisingly beautiful sari in its simplicity on a model in a photo caught my eye as I was scrolling to buy a sari two years ago during the pandemic. I wanted to know more. What I got was an old interview conducted during Lakme Fashion Week that asked questions like “Who is an Anavila woman?” and “How are sustainable collections created?” Essentially nothing on any Anavila saree. One of the leading fashion magazines (sic) made more shades than light with the unique line: “Anavila Sindhu Misra’s collection entitled” Mohenjodaro “stood out for the use of rich shades such as green mehendi, metallic gold , navy blue and rust red. ‘

To value anything beyond price, it needs a second leg to stand on, a critical apparatus. It took a Giorgio Vasari for future generations to confirm the genius of a Renaissance master like Giotto. There have been books that I enjoyed even more after reading captivating rumors that told me why they are so valuable.

Quality Indian clothing – fashion – can do with these traditional guides. Voices that tell us not only the availability of a bridal collection, or whose label stood out at which show, but those that give us the real cheek to consider. There is no reason why we should marvel at the cultural significance of LBD, as we are left gawking at the chikankari sari.

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