The kanjeevaram has evolved into a modern-day must-have for the young and trendy, with its myriad designs, enticing colours and innovative concepts. Traditional motifs like the temple design (since it originated in the temple town of Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu), peacock, parrot, dots, paisley and elephants have always been popular. But now you also find geometrical and asymmetrical designs, large motifs, bigger borders and lighter, easy-to-wear saris. “An interesting innovation is the way the pallu, body and the border are woven,” says Gaurang. “They are woven independent of each other and then interlinked.” For his Ardhangini collection, Gaurang blended kalamkari with the kanjeevarams and also integrated them with uparas to create a soft and sensual feel.
Retailers too have started to reinvent the pattu sari. Jeyasree Ravi, who hails from the Nalli Chetty family in Chennai, set up Palam Silks to make silk saris youth-friendly and an everyday wear. Her first step was to introduce lightweight saris woven out of pure silk and zari. She also moved away from the traditional arakku (red), blues and greens and brought in trendy colours like hot pink, bright yellow and fire engine red.
Beyond mango buttas (dots), newer patterns and abstract designs started occupying centre stage in her kanjeevarams. Ravi went on to introduce “concept saris” like tattoo saris as well as slim-fit and ‘UltraLite’ silks. In the films Chennai Express and Happy New Year, she designed some beautiful drapes for Deepika Padukone.
Along with the kanjeevaram saris have evolved the blouses to go with them. Plain blouses are passé. Those embellished with dori, zardozi, crystals and kundan in fabrics like velvet and brocade are in. Miss World 2008 runner-up Parvathy Omanakuttan, who swears by her mother’s kanjeevarams, says, “Today, if I am confused about what to wear for an Indian function, I just pick up one of my mother’s saris and team it with a sexy blouse. Add to that a simple neckpiece and earrings, and it’s a perfect outfit.”
Stylist Neeraja Kona, who works with leading stars from the South like Samantha, likes to pair these saris with antique gold jewellery and jasmine flowers. “Samantha too is a big fan of kanjeevarams and loves to experiment with modern zari borders and bright colours,” says Kona.
The beauty of the kanjeevaram is that it hides the flaws and adds to the grace, style and class of the wearer.
The December music season in Chennai is the ideal time to experience the wide variety that exists in kanjeevarams. Renowned Carnatic vocalist M S Subbulakshmi used to wear a particular shade of blue that came to be called “MS Blue”. Singers today like Aruna Sairam go for trendy, swarovski-studded kanjeevarams. And Sudha Raghunathan, who wears only kanjeevarams for her concerts, is rumoured to never repeat a pattu sari.
Painstakingly woven, these silk drapes understandably come for a price. The range begins from Rs 3,500 and can go up to Rs 1 lakh or even more — depending on the intricacy of the work on the sari.