Six yards of style


Raw Mango: Six yards of style

Sanjay garg designs saris but says he wants to be different. How different can you be,I ask,if all you make is India’s oldest drape,the same old six yards? “Different,different,” he insists,pulling argument into a debate he knows he will score in. Turn the page to Raw Mango,Garg’s label that has grown 200 times in three years. It is worn by actors Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Bipasha Basu to writer Arundhati Roy. His saris have been worn in international boardrooms and on red carpets. And now Garg,once a Chanderi sari seller from Dilli Haat,is preparing for limited edition shows in India and abroad. Raw Mango has become the much-in-demand fruit even before his cultivator is fully ready to serve it.

Raised in the small town of Mubarakpur in Rajasthan and schooled in Hindi medium,30-year-old Garg has a degree in design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). He studied in Delhi because he didn’t have the money to go to Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London. Three years ago,when he would display at sari exhibitions,his drapes,woven after intensive design exchanges with village weavers,revealed the first touch of distinction. Chanderis are elegant weaves,but his had a touch of whimsy. A green sari would have an upturned orange bird on it,while the rest would be golden; one silver lotus would sit on a fuschia-purple sari. He had no clear business plan,no marketing strategy,but when his saris started disappearing from shelves,he realised that an innovative product with no marketing campaign was a strategy in itself. Exclusivity came by the absence of a marketing plan.

He returned to weavers to explore ways to soften the Chanderi weave as well as Ikat,Benarasis and khadi,turning their natural stiffness into the creaminess of crepe. “Even Marwari clients want to wear woven saris if they fall well,” he says,showing a sari that feels like silk and falls like chiffon. Garg is also involved in smart verticals. His commitment to rural weavers and his absence from fashion weeks have given him an intriguing remoteness. He is afraid he will lose that if he joins the herd. He challenges the idea of doing charity to the Indian weaver. He isn’t just juxtaposing weaves (a border of Mashru woven in Patan,Gujarat,on a Chanderi sari) to create regional craft connections but wants to bring commercial success to weavers. “The ‘NGO-ness’ that surrounds them can be weeded away only if they are partners in success,” he says.

Not participating in fashion weeks would have safeguarded him from overexposure — a good business tactic — but the shade card of colours he uses has announced him loudly. How can you keep turmeric yellow on shocking pink with little lime green lines running askance wrapped in mystique? Each sari (priced between Rs 3,000 and Rs 15,000) also retells an old story: a sprinkling of asharfis (medallions); Pichwai motifs woven in zari on a Benarasi; a stunning silver temple border on a white Chanderi,with an indigo border as a slender footnote. He mixes the old and the new with shock and awe,banking on the reassurance Indian women find only in saris. “It is unstitched fabric and becomes a sari only when a woman drapes it. That’s an experience I want to be a part of,” he says.

Garg’s woman — in the way he talks about her— is in transition. “My woman is not very feminine or overtly sexy. She is someone real,who can wear high-necked blouses instead of plunging necklines and is free of bling,make-up or contact lenses,” he says. Sounds nice,until you remind him that he also chose actor Chitrangada Singh to model for him once and she is not exactly a champion of the alternative fashion movement. Garg shrugs. “Look at these photographs (see photo above). Do they remind you of a commercial campaign?” he asks.

They don’t. But for a mango to ripen in India’s fickle market,it will require more than sari farming. Given the way his clothes sell now,Garg will have to be aggressively innovative to compete with other young revivalists on the Indian design scene. “Most urban sari lovers have a Raw Mango sari now. But will everyone still want it two years later?” quips a critic. “I will make sure they do,” says Garg,unfazed. “Why do you think I haven’t shown you all the other weaves I am experimenting with?”