‘The Offbeat Sari’, a major new exhibition celebrating one of India’s most iconic items of clothing, is set to open at the Design Museum in London this week.
The sari, or saree as it is also known, has an enduring appeal and is ubiquitous across India. In recent times, it has experienced a radical 21st century overhaul – something the Design Museum will explore by shedding a rare spotlight on contemporary Indian fashion for UK audiences.
Priya Khanchandani, Head of Curatorial at the Design Museum and curator of ‘The Offbeat Sari’, said: “The sari is experiencing what is conceivably its most rapid reinvention in its 5,000-year history. It makes the sari movement one of today’s most important global fashion stories, yet little is known of its true nature beyond South Asia.
“Women in cities who previously associated the sari with dressing up are transforming it into fresh, radical, everyday clothing that empowers them to express who they are, while designers are experimenting with its materiality by drawing on unbounded creativity. For me and for so many others, the sari is of personal and cultural significance, but it is also a rich, dynamic canvas for innovation, encapsulating the vitality and eclecticism of Indian culture.”
The exhibition, which runs until September, unfolds in three main sections:
Transformations will highlight the work of the designers in India who have fuelled the experimentation of recent years, by pushing the boundaries of the sari through the creation of new genres and embracing it as an object of playful expression.
Identity and Resistance will examine the role of the wearer in reforming the sari today and will exhibit how the sari can become a vessel for conveying individual identities, with a focus on India within the broader context of South Asia and as among the diaspora.
New Materialities will look closely at the at the sari as a textile. It will show how the sari’s weave, texture, colour and surface form a rich canvas for the incredible creativity of craftspeople.
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On display will be a carefully chosen selection of saris by exciting designers of varied scale, from growing global brands to emerging studios. These include delicate work of designers such as Abraham & Thakore, Raw Mango, Akaaro and NorBlackNorWhite, who have been at the cutting-edge of the sari’s dynamic shift and renewed relevance. Visitors will also see saris that experiment with materials and form by designers like Amit Aggarwal, HUEMN, Diksha Khanna and Bodice.
Examples of couture saris such as Tarun Tahiliani’s foil jersey sari for Lady Gaga (2010) and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s ruffled sari worn by Bollywood star Deepika Padukone at Cannes Film Festival in 2022, in addition to work by Sabyasachi and Anamika Khanna, will exemplify the sari’s full potential for extravagance.
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Alongside them will be a range of styles seen on the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and beyond, showing how young women in cities are embracing the sari anew.
*Info: The Offbeat Sari