‘Fashion revolution’: show explores sari’s modern reinvention

Design Museum exhibition to feature more than 90 saris, including first one ever worn to Met Ball.

Nearly 100 trailblazing saris, including the first ever to be worn at the Met Gala, will be displayed in the UK as part of a new large-scale exhibition examining the garment’s modern reinvention.

The first-of-its-kind show at the Design Museum, entitled The Offbeat Sari, brings together more than 90 items that have been loaned by designers and studios across India to tell the story of what has been called a “fashion revolution”.

Conventionally a single piece of unstitched fabric, the sari reflects identity, social class, taste and function, and remains an enduring part of life in south Asia today.

But a garment once considered by young people to be traditional and uncomfortable has in recent years evolved into a modern expression of identity and resistance. The exhibition explores how designers and craftspeople are reshaping the ways in which the sari is understood, designed, made and worn in India today.

In particular, it examines the moment the sari was worn at the Met Gala in New York for the first time in May 2022, marking the garment’s arrival on the global fashion stage. Designed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee and styled with a gold Schiaparelli bodice, that sari was worn by Indian businessperson and socialite Natasha Poonawalla, and made headlines around the world for its dramatic mix of Indian and western couture.

It will be the first time the ensemble will be seen in Britain, and only the second time it will have been displayed in an exhibition, after being shown in Monaco last summer.

Other saris on display will include pieces by brands such as Abraham & Thakore, Raw Mango, AKAARO and NorBlack NorWhite that, according to the Design Museum, 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 including Amit Aggarwal, HUEMN, Diksha Khanna and Bodice. There are also examples of couture saris such as Tarun Tahiliani’s foil jersey creation for Lady Gaga in 2010 and Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla’s ruffled version, worn by the Bollywood star Deepika Padukone at the Cannes film festival in 2022.

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.

Priya Khanchandani, the exhibition’s curator, said the sari was experiencing what was “conceivably its most rapid reinvention in its 5,000-year history”.

She added: “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.

“With a population of 1.4 billion people, India’s significance within contemporary culture is vast, and the sari foregrounds the country’s undeniable imagination and verve, while asserting the relevance of Indian design on a global stage.”The Offbeat Sari runs at the Design Museum from 19 May to 17 September 2023


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