Saree-Not-Sorry: Why Sabyasachi Is Not Doing the World a Favour

Sabyasachi’s claims about Anushka’s red Benarasi saree too self-celebrating

Updated23 Feb 2020, 07:25 AM IST
NEON
5 min read

“I don’t think Indian brides feel complete without wearing the colour red in one of their functions,” wrote the hallowed designer of celebrity wedding wear, Sabyasachi Mukerjee.

The ‘sindoori’ red Mukherjee is talking about is of the (now famous?) Benarasi saree donned by new bride Anushka Sharma at Virushka’s Delhi reception.

Anushka Sharma in a Sabyasachi saree vs a Banarasi sari no
Anushka Sharma in a Sabyasachi saree vs a Banarasi sari no
(Photos: Yogen Shah (L); Facebook/Neha Srivastava)

Hardly anyone was surprised that the Virushka wedding was (mostly) a Sabyasachi affair.

This included myself whose knowledge of the Sabyasachi brand is limited to casual forays into articles on celebrity fashion and roaming in Chandni Chowk ki galiyaan with soon-to-be-married friends to find the closest copy of a specific lehenga.

This time, however, curiosity got the better of me. It was the Virushka wedding, after all! Emotions were running high.

So, I decided to stalk research the Sabyasachi Instagram account. What I found there left my knickers petticoat in a twist.

Lehenga of Desire

Sabyasachi’s social media manager is a force to reckon with. Their words add chaar-chaand to each Instagram post. Here’s an example.

For her Mumbai reception, Anushka wanted to wear old world glamour... Hand beaten silver thread, textured sequins and cut organza flowers were assembled on an embroidered tulle base to create an ethereal lehenga.
Sabyasachi Mukerjee on Instagram

For her Mumbai reception, Anushka wanted to wear old world glamour. And we decided to ‘Jazz’ it up in smoky grey. Hand beaten silver thread, textured sequins and cut organza flowers were assembled on an embroidered tulle base to create an ethereal lehenga. Award winning master craftsmen from Lucknow rendered her stunning dupatta which was clinched on the waist with our ‘Bengal tiger’ belt. Anushka’s look was accessorised with a necklace and earrings hand crafted with rose cut diamonds, solitaires and briolettes from the Sabyasachi fine jewelry collection. And BTW @virat.kohli looks absolutely dapper in a @raghavendra.rathore We had made a very similar piece and in the confusion of the great Indian wedding the credits got swapped. Mr. Mukherjee is personally a huge fan of the Rathore label and deeply regrets the error. @anushkasharma @virat.kohli @bridesofsabyasachi For all jewellery related queries, kindly contact sabyasachijewelry@sabyasachi.com #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi #SabyasachiJewelry #AnushkaSharmaViratKohliReception #AnushkaSharma #ViratKohli #Virushka Styled by @alliaalrufai

A post shared by Sabyasachi Mukherjee (@sabyasachiofficial) on

That’s a mouthful! The array of adjectives make the lehenga sound almost like a delicacy and, if I may be allowed to read between the lines, create a desire for it.

A brief lesson on capitalism: It converts ‘wants’ to ‘needs’ and traps you in a cycle of incomplete satisfaction, such that you desire more and more.

The Pleated Narrative

But wait... There’s more to this carefully pleated narrative.

The designer had some big claims to make about the role of Bollywood and the fashion industry in promoting indigenous Indian crafts.

Bollywood can play a major role in spreading awareness about Indian textiles and handlooms... I know copies of this saree will flood the entire country... which also means that a million weaver’s children will be back at school.
Sabyasachi Mukerjee on Instagram

I don’t think Indian brides feel complete without wearing the colour red in one of their functions. Anushka decided to wear red on her reception. And much to my absolute delight, it would be a red Benarasi saree. From the by-lanes of Peeli Kothi in Benaras. I was particularly excited about this look because I have seen an entire generation of Bengali women getting married in red Benarasi sarees. The red bindi, the sindoor and the mogras in her hair just made the look more potent and powerful. She chose to wear heritage uncut diamond choker and jhumkas from the Sabyasachi Bridal Jewelry collection. Bollywood can play a major role in spreading awareness about Indian textiles and handlooms. And I must say the occasion couldn’t be better. I know copies of this saree will flood the entire country in the next few months to come, which also means that a million weaver’s children will be back at school. All I can say is thank you Anushka! Virat chose to complement his new bride in a very subtle and elegant manner. He wore a black textured silk signature bandhgala with the house buttons in 18k gold and a white silk kurta with hand-woven brocade churidaar. He teamed it with mojris from the Sabyasachi accessories line and a hand-embroidered antique Pashmina shawl from our ‘Kashmir Revival’ project. @anushkasharma @virat.kohli @bridesofsabyasachi @groomsofsabyasachi @tajdiplomaticenclave For all jewellery related queries, kindly contact sabyasachijewelry@sabyasachi.com #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi #SabyasachiJewelry #AnushkaSharmaViratKohliReception #Virushka #AnushkaSharma #ViratKohli

A post shared by Sabyasachi Mukherjee (@sabyasachiofficial) on

That’s not it, the designer went a step ahead, narrating the story of how he landed in Peeli Kothi in Benaras in 2001 and what inspired him to create the look.

My mother got married in a Benarasi saree... I landed in Peeli-Kothi in Benaras in 2001 looking for that saree. It took me a few years to find it... The Benarasi was dying... It took me 14 years to get it back on track... I was reviving my identity.
Sabyasachi Mukerjee on Instagram

My mother got married in a Benarasi sari. It was a ‘sindoori’ red sari. Every Bengali woman getting married wore one during her heydays. I landed in Peeli-Kothi in Benaras in 2001 looking for that sari. It took me a few years to find it. I actually had to commission it. The Benarasi was dying. Decaying under piles of cross pollinated textiles and human greed. It took me 14 years to get it back on track. Slowly and painfully. But I never lost my patience. Because I was not dealing with a textile, I was reviving my identity. We at Sabyasachi support various craft and textile clusters all across India. We aim to keep skill development and heritage alive by making tradition relevant to modern India. Our first stop was Varanasi. 16 years ago. On 11th April, 2001. #Sabyasachi #TheWorldOfSabyasachi

A post shared by Sabyasachi Mukherjee (@sabyasachiofficial) on

Perhaps it was great brand strategy on Sabyasachi’s part to evoke the personal, build the nostalgia, and earn all the corporate social responsibility points.

To me, however, it all sounded a bit too high-brow and self-celebrating.

Urban’s Claim On the Local

If this narrative were to be believed, then the Benarasi saree is a dying trade, “decaying under piles of cross pollinated textiles and human greed” (Sabyasachi’s social media manager strikes again!), its glory lying in the past.

The brand takes pride in bringing the craft back from the dead; the trade is no longer stagnant but thriving under the label’s guidance. In the process, the label has also created jobs, sent kids to school, and brought about significant social change.

All this sounds suspiciously familiar, pardon my academic self, to the narrative of colonialism. It is the same narrative that hits me every time I walk the lanes of the ‘urban village’ of Shahpur Jat in south Delhi, where the encroachment by new and expensive brands on the local is only too obvious.

#RevivingBenaras. Oh Really?

Here’s a question: What are brands like Sabyasachi reviving? The saree is one of the most commonly worn garment in India and the Benarasi saree has never lost its prominence. Open your mothers’, your grandmothers’, your aunts’ wardrobes and you shall find at least one Benarasi saree.

Sabyasachi writes that “every Bengali woman getting married wore one during her heydays.” The Benarasi saree, my Bengali friends tell me, has been a favourite among Bengali women through the years.

I even made a few calls to popular saree stores in Delhi where managers and sales executives told me that the average sale for Benarasi sarees has been consistent, with individual stores selling upto 60 sarees in a month during peak season.

Here’s another question: Who is buying these Sabyasachi revived Benarasi sarees? A very small percentage of people who probably don’t even wear it a second time.

Also, who are the karigars making these sarees? How much are they being paid? A Facebook user, Neha Srivastava bought the same saree that Anushka Sharma wore from Delhi. Srivastava had a point to make.

Its an unfortunate habit of Indian designers to take credit for the art & hardwork of nameless/faceless Indian weavers... pay them next to nothing and jack up prices 5 to 10 times for just their “brand”... Claiming credit for perhaps the most standard motif there is for Banarasi saree.
Neha Srivastava on Facebook

So Sabyasachi Mukherjee tries to claim credit for the most traditional standard design in Banarasi silk sarees as his...

Posted by Neha Srivastava on Thursday, December 21, 2017

Another brief lesson on capitalism: It makes labour invisible such that only the product matters (commodity fetishism). Who makes, for whom do they make, and the time taken to make are made obscure in favour of the monetary value of the final product.

So, amidst the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that Virushka’s Sabyasachi attire scored, if I am not entirely impressed, nor nearly convinced, I am saree-not-sorry.

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Published: 29 Dec 2017, 04:28 PM IST

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