The evolution of saree through the ages | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 03, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 03, 2010

The evolution of saree through the ages

Fashion show at Ahsan Manzil


Ahsan Manzil wore a festive look on the occasion. Models display the gradual changes that the saree has gone through. Photo: Mumit M.

The stoic walls of Ahsan Manzil in Old Dhaka were alive again last Thursday night. In the times of the nawabs, the dome of this palace was perhaps the highest point of Dhaka, drawing intrigued people from all over. On the night of April 1, there was a gathering of not nawabs and zamindars but of admirers of haute couture and connoisseurs of art. The occasion was the fashion show arranged by Tootli Rahman. Titled, “The Evolution of Saree of the Subcontinent over 100 years,” the event was sponsored by City Bank Ltd and American Express.
The audience was mesmerised by the razzle-dazzle, opulence and intricate embellishments; and the models looked good too. The palace wore a festive look and the allure of saree amazed all.
Saree is undoubtedly the simplest yet most beautiful garment but many people are unaware of its history. The aim of this show was to discover it, in fact to relive it.
First came a simulation of the Mughal era. The models descended from an elephant. The segment began with a dance. In this era sarees were not so prevalent, and were heavily embroidered with zardozi work and semi-precious stones. The embroidery was done using real gold or silver threads.
After the Mughals came the Zamindars in a horse-drawn carriage. This was also the time when the British ruled the subcontinent. The saree then was worn in the ek pyach (draped around the body in a single wrap) style. The ladies of the Tagore household updated and changed the way saree was worn.
The late 1800s paved way for the Victorian style of long sleeved blouse, and saree camouflaged as gowns, accessorised with hats, gloves, lace ruffles, capes and more.
In the 1940s and '50s women of the subcontinent followed the style of Indian filmstars and a number of new styles were introduced, such as short blouse, which was in contrast to the conservative style of the Brtish Raj. High neck, short sleeves popularised by Suchitra Sen and her contemporaries also made an impact.
The next two decades were influenced by the Hippy style. Women wore go-go glasses, large hoop earrings and large necklaces, and their sarees were heavily embellished with flowers and vibrant colours. In the disco era, the glitter, the shimmer and the gloss reigned supreme.
As a new nation was born in 1971, saree also found an expression and acceptance. The Bangladeshi role models were Kabori, Shabana and Bobita. In this segment models in green and red took over the runway.
The 1990s said goodbye to the glitz of disco, and embraced a style that was more elegant and subdued. Nakshi Katha, vegetable dyes, Mipur and Tangail sarees became popular. Around this time we also rediscovered a heritage -- the Jamdani.
From 2000 onwards fashion in the subcontinent has seen vibrant colours, subdued blends, fusion, influence of Hollywood and Bollywood and perseverance of our own traditional forms.
“The saree evolution will continue if more support is given and women are encouraged,” said fashion designer Tootli Rahman.
“We did a show in Lalbagh celebrating 400 years of Dhaka. I wanted to do something particular on sarees and thought that Ahsan Manzil would be a great venue for the show,” she added.
The process was arduous, but the Cultural Ministry was very supportive. I had been dreaming about this for the last five years. What my grandparents used to wear -- the styles and trends of those days inspired me. Everything has changed but history also repeats itself. It was wonderful working with all the people who have supported me,” Rahman said.
The show was choreographed was by Tootli Rahman. Assistant choreographer was Luna; make-up and hair was by Kaniz Almas Khan of Persona. Jewellery were provided by Purobi Jewellers.
The chief guest was Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs.
Media Partners were Channel i, Radio Foorti, Canvas, Dia Asiana and Ice Today.
Square Toiletries Ltd., Marico, Golden Harvest, Aqua Paints, Infrablue Technology and RC Cola also sponsored the show.

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