Fashion reflects the times we live in.
The perennial changes in style, be it a puff here and a nip there, flared hemlines or tapered cuts, are more often than not influenced by the social, economical, political and cultural changes in the society. The 20’s flapper dress was symbolic to women’s liberation and the first wave of feminism, the 60’s bohemian prints and bell bottoms were indicative of the counter culture movement whereas 90’s was focused on relaxed jeans and basic tee shirts- a sign of minimalism(Oh , don’t roll your eyes )
In the current times, gender fluid fashion is on the up rise. The menswear shows in London last fortnight have witnessed fashion brands clamouring for the co-ed badges. Be it men wearing silk dresses at Vivienne Westwood’s show, puff-sleeved gowns at Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, and hooped floor-length skirts at Edward Crutchley’s, gender neutral fashion is here to stay. High street brand Zara has capitalised on the market for clothes that can be worn by men or women, offering a gender-neutral fashion range.
We are living in interesting times, aren’t we?
Closer home, away from the stiff upper lip London Fashion week scene, a saree-clad desi man has been initiating dialogues around gender neutral fashion. Himanshu Verma, aka Saree man, has been the torchbearer of gender fluid fashion in India since 2006, almost a decade after David Beckham wore sarong and took the world by surprise, dare I say pleasant?
The Saree man moves around the town draped in his six yards with an enviable nonchalance. He wears handloom sarees with eccentric shirt blouses while colourful nose pin and ear studs are his evergreen style companions. On the days when he doesn’t wear a saree, he opts for dhotis, almost always.
Himanshu Verma was recently in the city to display ‘Saree Festival‘ at Options, Ahmedabad for the very first time. For the non-initiated, ‘Saree Festival’ is a unique saree exhibition curated by Himanshu wherein he brings together about 10 indie fashion designers from across the country and displays it in various cities across the country, spreading the love for rich Indian textiles far and wide.
In an exclusive interview with Ciceroni and Appleblossom, he opened up about his penchant for the gender fluid fashion and what influenced his sartorial choices.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
- What is your earliest memory of wearing saree?
Though I graduated in English literature from Mumbai, I found that probably language wasn’t interesting enough for me to pursue career in it. Back then, I was in love with Hindustani classical music and I aspired to be a vocalist. The classical music, poetry and its accompanying aesthetic sense had a strong influence in my formative years of career.
I formed a company ‘Red Earth’ under which I dealt with interesting initiatives in art, music and poetry. During one such art exhibition in 2006, where the theme was Changing Masculinity in India, I decided to explore and dress thematically by wearing a saree.
That was the very first time I wore a saree.
It was my mom’s embroidered saree in magenta pink colour. I was enamoured by its intricate detailing and how its drape felt on me. Since that day and now, I have consciously worn sarees as I firmly believe; saree is gender neutral apparel. It’s only about 150 years since there has been a clear distinction in men and women’s draping norms.
- Which is your favourite kind of saree?
I am a big fan of ilkals from Karnataka and Maharashtra. I personally like fabrics that are thick since they hold and drape really well. I am sucker for the masculine sarees – the ones that have solid coloured plain body and a big border. If I were to evaluate my fashion style, I have indeed graduated. Starting from fashion novice’s fascination with bling and jazz to gradually transitioning to connoisseur’s choice of timeless handlooms in neutral tones, I have come a long way.
For now, I am onwards on my journey towards minimalism.
- Do accessories play an important role in styling?
Accessories form an integral part of fashion styling. They help in creating individualistic styles. I often wear full sleeves blouse and style it with brooch, chaabi-challa, nose pins and ear studs in old silver.
My personal accessory collection is memorabilia of my travel sojourns. Antiques and old silver are my go-to options when in dilemma. I generally scour for vintage pieces in small jewellery shops located usually in the old cities.
- What led to the inception of ‘Saree Festival’?
The first ‘Saree Festival’ was conceptualized in 2014. We did the first festival in Delhi, our home territory. The idea was to curate indie- designers who worked on creating handloom sarees from different parts of the country and educate the locals about the different weaves while making the products commercially available through the Saree Festival.
Since we are particular about the quality, we always work with only 10-15 designers at one go. We have exhibited in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Jaipur and Lucknow till now. To get the saree lovers interested in different weaves, we designed knowledge based workshops and talks around textiles while offered styling advice for the trend enthusiasts.
Saree Festival has grown by leaps and bounds in last three years. Various online groups that are dedicated to saree appreciation have been following saree man and his saree festivals very diligently.
In their maiden festival ‘Saree Summery’at Options Ahmedabad, Himanshu displayed a magnificient collection of kala cotton, chanderi, bamboo saree, santhal saree, linens, begampuris , ilkals , khadi and kutchi worked sarees to woo the Amdavadi saree lovers. One could lay their hands on rich linens by Nadiya paar and Galang Gabaan, Khadi sarees by Love for the loom, concept sarees by Tuni Textiles besides the intricate and festive Benarasis.
As a part of the festival, Saree Summery in association with Options Ahmedabad also organised a ‘Saree Gossip’ where I finally met Rushika Gadani, a practising dermatoligist and saree enthusiast , Neha Sharma, stylist and blogger at The Stylewali and Vaidehi Shah, entrepreneur and saree enthusiast as a part of the panel of saree discussions. Thanks to the enterprising Janki Patel, Founder – Options Ahmedabad, that Ahmedabad city witnessed an event like this.
The evening went by exchanging notes on the first memory of saree draping, favourite kind of saree and blouse and what would one prefer – linen, kota doria or chanderi while sipping on the kadak masala chai served by the very hospitable Options Ahmedabad team.
As I left from the Saree Summery exhibition, I wondered about what I had been a part of just about some time back in there…What stayed with me was the panache with which Himanshu carried himself in the gender fluid drape and how the fashion world was evolving here in India, thousands of kilometers away from the thriving fashion scenes of London, Paris and New York.
Changing perceptions of the society; one drape at a time.
Creative Team for Saree Man Project –
Location and Accessories Courtesy – Options Ahmedabad
I am wearing a Kala Cotton saree by Three Threads
If you did like this story, then do come back to check the next story on Old world Charm and love for slow life on Saturday.