Front of house
Opened in 2016, Anavila’s first flagship shop, in the West Khar suburb, is frequented by high-profile Mumbaikars such as film stars Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan. “After the 80s, actresses stopped wearing saris, so, when I took it up in 2007, people found it very refreshing,” Balan told the Khaleej Times. “I love the sari…. It can be worn to suit any occasion or mood.”
Designer Anavila Misra is known as the sari “disruptor” – evolving the garment for a new generation of urban Indian women. “The sari is a core part of Indian culture,” she says, “but the influence of Western fashion and more women travelling for work saw it relegated to occasion or festive wear. Slowly, though, our efforts at contemporising the sari have shifted the paradigm and it’s back
in many women’s everyday wardrobe.“
Spinning a yarn
“Linen is my favourite yarn; I love the raw luxury of the textile and its unique fall,” says Misra of the fabric that’s become her signature. “It makes for a completely modern and distinctive sari.”
In recent decades, mass-produced synthetic fabrics have largely replaced handwoven saris – but Misra has gone back to the traditional methods. After designing in her Mumbai studio, each sari is woven on handlooms by craft communities in West Bengal and Gujarat, while tribal women artisans in Jharkhand are employed for the patchwork and embroidery. “Today, we work with around 200 weavers and printers across India,” Misra says.
To popularise the sari among younger girls, Misra created a range of handmade dolls and children’s saris. Adding artworks, books and fresh flowers into the carefully curated mix, the flagship is styled like a domestic space.
As a sustainable brand, Anavila uses only natural (often vegetable) dyes; muted shades set the label apart from brighter, more garish mainstream examples.
Flicking through a look book, Misra explains that “the essence of the sari is its versatility… like a pair of jeans, you can mix and match it in various ways. There are so many different drapes.”
That’s a wrap
What looks like a simple stretch of fabric is laden with symbolism, Misra explains: “It’s all that a woman stands for – feminine, strong yet delicate, elegant and mysterious. We must wear it proudly.”
On the catwalk at Lakme Fashion Week, models demonstrate how to layer and style the sari. Increasingly, global influences are permeating sari design: Anavila’s summer/resort 2019 collection (pictured) is inspired by the Sa Pa tribes of Vietnam.