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Fashion
January 04, 2019

The Journey Of 4 Dream Bridal Couturiers: Sanjay Garg

Text by Nishat Fatima. Illustration by Rohan Hande

A look at four bridal couture giants, who between them can bring to life the wedding fantasies of young women whose tastes lie across the style spectrum. Nishat Fatima traces the individual trajectories of these dream weavers

Sanjay Garg
Bringing Modernity To Traditional Couture

A man who creates saris and recreates traditional weaves in India is not one who leaps to mind as a trendsetter, and yet, Sanjay Garg is just that. It’s now hard to imagine that saris had fallen out of favour 10 years ago, but the fact is that by 2008, unless it was an avant-garde piece, it had largely been banished to a dark corner of most young women’s closets. But Garg resurrected the garment, combining it with a dying technique — handloom — and emerged with a line of saris so desirable that it sold out in five days. He aligned the tradition of handloom with seriously cool imagery, and managed to sustain the once fading craft. It is no surprise then that Garg is frequently placed in the vanguard of textile revival.

Garg’s route to his current position as the alternative bridal wear designer in India came via a textile design degree from NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), followed by a job at Shades of India, and finally, an assignment for a craft development cluster. Garg’s creation of his label, Raw Mango, filled a gap that he had first spotted while at Shades of India. If there was a market abroad for luxury Indian handloom textiles, there must be one in India too, he figured.

He took the stiff Chanderi fabric, and made it softer to the touch; he simplified the motifs, and used a palette of fashion-forward hues that were also traditionally Indian, to birth a new fashion statement. In 2014, four years after he first introduced Banarasi weaves through his label Raw Mango, Garg launched his line of stitched garments under the label Sanjay Garg. This first collection was entirely ‘handloomed’ using the complex Kadua technique of Varanasi. It included lehngas, sherwanis and shararas, and made way for a refreshing change in the narrative of wedding style — the minimal bride.

“There was only one part of the story being told, that of the opulent bride. There was nothing in the wedding business that was light, and only about textile,” he says. One might argue that Garg, with his Banarasi weaves in a saturated colour palette of rani pink, lime green and turquoise, is hardly minimal, but as he points out, it is a question of context. “Visually there are fewer patterns. It’s a 2.5-kilogram lehnga versus a 30 kilogram one. And there’s one embroidery style or process, versus 30. The most expensive of my lehngas is 2.5 lakh rupees. All the other big designers’ prices start at that….”

According to Roddam, the market that Garg tapped into was one that was in much need of change. “His contemporary viewpoint on festive fashion is strongly Indian, but he infuses youth and colour into Chanderi silks, which for a long time remained popular only among an older generation. Banarasi weaves moved from having legacy status to becoming a contemporary requisite, thanks to Garg,” she says. Garg is inspired by India’s heritage, and motivated by the thought of breaking stereotypes and having fun. He creates a fresh commentary and aesthetic from his archive of old saris and textiles, and gives modern expression to design and craft executed 150 years ago. He also reinterprets traditional styles according to his clients’ needs. “When I understood that some brides do want something heavy, we reworked some of the classic Banarasi weaves. At the same time we understood that women also want something modern like shararas and lehngas.”

His latest collection and campaign, Heer, was released in September, and marks a commitment to the bridal segment. It is nostalgically set in a pre-Partition Punjabi wedding; the lack of make-up, use of real people, and unexpected transposition of Banarasi weaves into the phulkari state make the images stand out. It is also a departure from the references to royal India that appear in many bridal campaigns, and demonstrates once again the strength of Garg’s storytelling that was apparent soon after he launched Raw Mango and started using non-models.

“I did no fashion shows till 2014. The campaigns were the only medium I had [to showcase my brand] and I wanted everything — hairstyle, body type, colour of skin, age, gender — to be something I could easily relate to. I broke a lot of taboos. That’s the reason people who never thought they would buy fashion bought from us. ‘Fashion’ was a bad word to a lot of people, it was weird and revealing….”

Given the well of luxurious heritage he dips into, he surprisingly does not have a couture studio, nor does he do custom orders. Instead, his customer has the option of buying a blouse, lehnga and choli separately, for them to mix and match and create their own set. “I like the versatility of garments.

I want them to be used again and again. People have worn my bridal lehngas to black-tie events, but also simplified them by pairing with a shirt. I do not believe in having a boundary between traditional and modern. To me, tradition is modern and inclusive of the future. It’s not passé. It’s like a flowing river.”

Read Part 2 (Manish Malhotra) here

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