Towards the beginning of the new millennium, trends in saris exhibited a major shift in Bangladesh. Women were bored with the usual suspects as far as variety in saris was concerned; there was a notable dearth of quality and options. Above all, the market lacked the most important aspect in keeping things interesting sartorially, innovation.
It seemed that the erstwhile Bengali cultural heritage of rich weaves and fabrics were relegated to the deep, dark recesses of our psyche and fashion trends suffered from a serious lack of direction.
Traditional, handloom weaves of yore were ditched in favour of the imported fabrics -- the slinky, more soignée georgette, chiffon, crepe de chine endorsed by Indian soap stars and celebrities gained precedence and momentum above that of the Katan, the Benarasi and the Taant.
The subtle patterns in weaves were traded for stonework, sequins and pailettes used liberally in embroidery work done on these saris. Women in Bangladesh, where trends in saris tend to heavily influenced by Bollywood, followed suit blindly. Our markets were inundated with saris made of inferior quality fabrics, boasting tacky, shiny embellishments and sequins. For a while it seemed that our collective consciousness experienced a serious loss of identity and we ignored our wonderful heritage for alternate fashion choices slyly imposed on us.
In such a time, Shafayet Ali Tarafder, Chairman of Manick Banarasi Limited, a true connoisseur and loyalist of traditional weaves refused to give in to the popular demands. Located in the famous Mirpur Benarasi Polli, Manick Banarasi is an icon amongst its league. “For thirty years my family has been in the business of cultivating and promoting the ethnic weaves of Bangladesh. Maintenance of quality, innovation and integrity of staying true to our roots and promoting the arts and crafts indigenous to Bangladesh are our main principles” says Tarafder.
“We do not compromise on our beliefs, no matter how trends change locally or internationally,” he added.
The large, two-storied establishment retains an air of nostalgia and charm of a bygone era, when customers bonded with the friendly, welcoming salespeople more eager to form friendship than making sales. Boasting an extensive range of items, Manick Banarasi offers handloom saris for all occasions. Taant, Khaadi and other cotton saris in mild and soothing colours are available under the casual wear range and are appropriate as everyday wear. Prices start from Tk 1000. If you are looking for something fancy then there are options such as Uppada, Khaddi, and Katan among many others. A lot of these saris are densely patterned and come in bright, bold hues, making them ideal for party wear. Prices start from Tk 10,000.
The next collection is bridal wear, which comprises of lehengas and bridal saris. The lehengas have exquisite, heavy embroidery with crystals and beads and are priced from Tk 20,000 to 60,000. The bridal saris are Katan or Benarasi, which is a favourite with brides these days, and the colours range from deep, bright red to rich maroon. These are priced between Tk 20,000 to 100,000.
In a stark contrast with the past choices, nowadays women prefer traditional saris over trendy, fad-driven ones due to the eternal quality of the former.
A katan or Benarasi will still be relevant twenty years from now on, its weave and texture unchanged. More often than not we spot women proudly sporting a beautiful, traditional sari instead of an imported one, and Tarafder feels this is a very positive change.
This shift has been made possible due to the changes made in colours, designs and textures of the traditional weave by forward-thinking artisans. Keeping in tune with the changing trends, Tarafder has introduced the Signature Collection of Manick Banarasi, which is undoubtedly the crown jewel of their repertoire.
This collection is a brilliant take on the traditional saris, where the patterns and colours have been tweaked to bring freshness and innovation to the saris. A Katan or Benarasi can sometimes be heavy and stiff, making its wearer uncomfortable, especially younger women. The signature pieces are woven by juxtaposing silk threads, giving the fabric movement and fluidity, while retaining the sheen and texture of ethnic weaves.
Tussar is the central fabric block on which this entire collection is based upon, owing to its flowing nature and soft texture. Keeping in mind the sensibilities of modern women who appreciate quality and yet want something trendy, the designs and patterns have motifs such as polka dots, stripes and colour-blocking, alongside the traditional paisleys, flowers and leaves.
The colour palette is another interesting aspect of this collection. Vibrant teal is contrasted with bright turquoise and fuchsia in a very sophisticated, elegant piece whereas another one has orange and green stripes running along the 'paar' with a bright yellow 'jomi' that is strewn with 'jori' dots all over. Then there's the soft silk sari with a fawn-coloured body that has a classy 'paar' with green and orange floral motifs and beaten golden border running along the 'anchal'.
A particularly striking 'patli pallu' piece is made with shimmering black silk threads that have polka-dots in green, magenta and blue. The dots have been woven with raw 'motka' threads that give them a stunning, trompe l'oeil effect. What makes this collection truly coveted and one-of-a-kind is that these pieces are produced in limited amounts. Once they are sold the designs are discontinued to preserve their exclusivity.
Also the specialised techniques and the methods used in making these saris were originally developed by the brilliant artisans at Manick Banarasi and are not found or used anywhere else in the South Asian subcontinent. Priced between Tk 20,000 to 40,000 these saris are truly unique and lend their wearers an air of refinement and sophistication exclusive to those who are bold enough to embrace the exceptional.
Tarafder takes immense pride in this collection, and hopes to attain artistic excellence with his continuous search of the best. With its six yards of fabric a sari protects the wearer's virtue, imbuing her with a sense of poise, beauty and wisdom and shrouds her with mystique as old as the universe itself. In an age when markets are flooded with generic saris that lack grace and individuality, traditional saris are like a breath of fresh air and a sartorial success in every right. The Signature Collection saris from Manick Banarasi are a true reflection of the modern woman that instills in the wearer a sense of confidence to soar newer heights while staying close to her roots. So go ahead, channel the Bengali princess inside you and stun away the Signature Collection way!
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Makeup: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe: Manick Banarasi
Address: Manick Banarasi Ltd, House 1, Lane 9, Block a, Section 10, Mirpur Benarasi Palli, #01711406767, 8031320