While there is nothing less than volumes of academia, fashion columns and blogs dedicated to the Indian sari by its lovers; the traditionalist and the experimentalist, both would undisputedly agree that this ancient apparel has a potent charisma. From the kanjeevaram in Tamil Nadu, lehariya in Rajasthan, phulkari in Punjab, and muga in Assam the artisans of each Indian state have created a sari unique in weave, aesthetic and drape, so much so that these garments have become markers of their ethnicity in diverse India. But the sari has not only making waves in its land of origin; revolutionary designers from across the globe were making the sari their muse for their many creations. While today with the threat of near extinction amongst the youth with a preference for western clothing the sari is being revived by both Indian haute and high-street fashion labels. Yet, there was a time when international style icons like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Jacqueline Kennedy sported the sari in their own way, through western fashion.
We bring to you some of the most exquisite vintage gowns and dresses that have been inspired by the beloved Indian sari.
I. The Gown With The Reverse Styled Gunghat (Headscarf), 1930s
This intricately draped sari gown that reverses the traditional ghunghat (the drape of the sari worn over the head) gives 1930s singer and entertainer Josephine Baker a mystic presence, an aura rarely experimented with the sari today. Baker along with being a revolutionary style icon-she’s rocked skirts made of banana leaves- was also an activist; playing a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Baker as an Afro-American Parisian resident truly emanates diversity when adorned in this sari piece.
II. The Gown Inspired By The Punjabi Princess In Paris, 1935
This gown a cross between a Grecian toga and sari was designed by iconic Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli of the pre-world war era appeared on the cover of Vogue in 1935. Schiaparelli was so enamoured by the sense of style of the orchidaceous fourteen-year-old Princess Karam of Kapurthala who arrived in Paris in the 1930s that the gowns of the designer’s 1935 collection were constructed like Indian saris. Schiaparelli known for her surreal eccentricities and her trademark colour, the purple-tinged magenta she dubbed ‘shocking pink’ had once reportedly said, “I enjoy creating for the woman who, no matter what her years, wears my clothes with the poise of youth”-and this sari gown definitely captures the testimony of that statement.
III. The New World Sari Dress ,1957
This silk sari inspired dress gives the delicate femininity associated with the traditional Indian sari a bolder and crisper look; surprisingly with hardly any body show. Designed by Pierre Balmain; stalwart in French fashion during the post-world war period this sari dress spells out his iconic style ‘jolie madame’; magnificently made, elegantly fitted luxurious fashion.
IV. The Strapless Sari Evening Gown, 1962
This yellow silk chiffon strapless evening dress which is delicately beaded with porcelain and rhinestones sports the drapes of the traditional sari while the pallu trails at the back. This creation that appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in 1957 was designed by Hubert de Givenchy, who also gave the world the iconic Little Black Dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in the classic Hollywood film; Breakfast At Tiffany’s. This sari gown created such ripples in the fashion world that former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy had it designed for herself in pink and wore it to the Mona Lisa exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington the same year.
V. The Vision In Gold Sari Gown, 1964
This gold sari dress that enhances the female figure with body-con fit while retaining the traditional sari’s drapes is an experiment done with superior skill. Created by Cristóbal Balenciaga regarded as the master of haute couture, this dress was worn by legendary Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor at the premiere of the New Review Lido in Paris. Balenciaga is known to have created a new technical and visual language for the female silhouette and this sari gown made in the time of trending drop waist shapeless dresses proves just that.
You can read more about vintage sari gowns and dresses on Border And Fall’s The Sari’s Influence.
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