The iconic Indian sari represents everything India is about - striking colours, sparkle and feisty patterns. Yet what makes a sari distinct is that it is a single piece of fabric draped around the body.
Traditional Indian clothing includes not just the sari, but also the lehenga which consists of a skirt and top, or the shalwar kameez which is a loose pants-based garment. All these styles are usually mistaken for a sari.
International celebrities including Britney Spears, Naomi Campbell and Madonna and most recently Kim Kardashian in Vogue India, have westernised this traditional garment, making it in some cases more revealing and seductive.
At a local level, Bollywood actresses and Indian designers continue to influence the designs and change the nature of Indian wear including the sari.
Changes to the traditional sari have included replacing the one piece wrap-around with a two piece, drastically changing what traditionally defines a sari and making it distinct from other styles of traditional clothing.
So just how is the sari being modernised?
The long skirt has in some cases been replaced with pants, challenging traditional conservative women’s wear.
Bold colours, embellishments and patterns continue to change the way saris are currently being designed.
Modern sari designs are combining traditional fabrics and embroideries with blazers, pants, white shirts and classical western wear. The influence of these new elements has changed the way traditional Indian wear is now worn by the younger generation.
Indian fashion designer Seema Malhotra, said meeting the demands of Indian youth was essential when it comes to designing modern saris. Comfort, ease, and style are all taken into account.
“The younger generation sometimes are not able to handle the normal sari, so there is an influence of corsets or jackets which come into the blouse portion of the sari,” she said.
“Making it a little more modern and wearable for the younger generation has meant the youngsters are coming back into this because it’s trendy, it’s attractive, it’s sexy and it’s got that little edge."
This fusion has meant the flowing materials ensure comfort, and the woven chiffon fabrics provide style, while still incorporating traditional silk fabrics such as Kanchipuram into the sari. They give it the essence of old India by amalgamating it with more of a western design.
The hand-made, detailed embroideries are essential for the traditional sari. They are blended to the different materials including silk, chiffon or georgette, each complimenting a different body shape.
For 18-year-old Priya, Bollywood film stars and Miss India have greatly influenced this rise of what is now known as fusion wear.
“For formal wear, we incorporate traditional Indian clothing with our style, but for comfort, we prefer to wear modern clothing,” said Priya.
These trends have also become evident in events including the 2018 Bangalore Pinkathon, a run raising money for breast cancer treatment. The run, was a symbolic event, which saw people incorporating modern elements and prints on to traditional saris.
As part of the event, women competed in a variety of clothing including traditional wear such as the shalwar kameez and sari.
“You cannot force the younger generation into adopting their culture, you have to seduce them into it and find ways to make it a little more attractive for them,” Malhotra said.
Indian fashion blogger Shalini Chopra, said young woman admired new styles, respected traditional wear and wanting to combine both.
“Youth is inspired by fashion trends directly from international runways. They want to incorporate the latest trends in all walks of their life, hence even Indian wear has fusion elements to it."
The author traveled to India as part of the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. The project is funded by the Australia-India Council of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade”.