Nearly 100 pioneering saris, including the first to be worn at the Met Gala, will go on display in the UK as part of a major new exhibition examining the garment’s modern reinvention.
The first-of-its-kind exhibition at the Design Museum, titled The Offbeat Sari, brings together more than 90 items on loan from designers and studios across India to tell the story of what is being called a “fashion revolution”.
Conventionally a single piece of unstitched fabric, the sari reflects identity, social class, taste and function, and remains an enduring part of life in South Asia today.
But a garment that young people once considered traditional and uncomfortable has evolved in recent years into a modern expression of identity and resistance. The exhibition explores how designers and artisans are reshaping the ways in which the sari is understood, designed, made and worn in India today.
Specifically, it explores the moment when the sari was first worn at the Met Gala in New York in May 2022, marking the garment’s arrival on the world fashion stage. Designed by Sabyasachi Mukherjee and styled with a gold Schiaparelli bodice, the sari was worn by Indian businessperson and socialite Natasha Poonawalla and made headlines worldwide for its dramatic blend of Indian and Western fashion.
It will be the first time the ensemble will be seen in Britain, and only the second time it will be exhibited at the exhibition, after it was shown in Monaco last summer.
Other sarees on display will include pieces from brands such as Abraham & Thakore, Raw Mango, AKAARO and NorBlack NorWhite which, according to the Design Museum, were at the “peak of the dynamic shift and renewed relevance of the saree”.
Visitors will also see saris experimenting with materials and form by designers including Amit Aggarwal, HUEMN, Diksha Khanna and Bodice. There are also examples of couture saris such as Tarun Tahiliani’s foil jersey creation for Lady Gaga in 2010 and Abu Jani’s ruffled version by Sandeep Khosla, worn by Bollywood star Deepika Padukone at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
These will be accompanied by a range of styles seen on the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and beyond, showing how young urban women are embracing the sari.
Priya Khanchandani, the exhibition’s curator, said the sari is undergoing what is “probably the fastest reinvention in its 5,000-year history”.
She added: “This makes the sari movement one of today’s most important global fashion stories, but little is known about its true nature outside of South Asia.
“Urban women who previously associated the sari with dress are turning it into fresh, radical, everyday wear that empowers them to express who they are, while designers experiment with its materiality, drawing on limitless creativity.
“For me and many others, the sari is of personal and cultural significance, but it is also a rich, dynamic canvas for innovation, summing up the vitality and eclecticism of Indian culture.
“With a population of 1.4 billion people, India’s significance in contemporary culture is immense, and the sari foregrounds the country’s undeniable ingenuity and ardour, while affirming the importance of Indian design on the global stage.”
Offbeat Sari is on display at the Design Museum from From May 19 to September 17, 2023