Covered in Silk: the Indian Sari, New York City and Costume’s Web of Influence

Creators
Annalise Welte, Valerie Livingston, and Lauren Spiro

Transcript
New York City is home to a language of clothes. International styles of dress create a unique visual culture here. Always present is a parade of ethnic influences, creating a potential for cross-cultural exchange. The Indian Sari is one of civilization’s oldest documented items of clothing. It can be seen worn across New York during every season. A sari may be defined generally as a length of cotton or silk arranged around the body and passed across one shoulder. It is the signature item of dress of Hindu women.
The word “sari” includes any draped untailored textile of about five meters in length, worn by the women of South Asia. In India alone, around a hundred varieties of Saris are worn.

The seamless piece of cloth of the sari which unifies the lower and upper body is sometimes confused with the batik sarong skirt of Indonesia. T he Sari distinguishes itself as a full body-length piece of clothing.

Saris can be made of natural or synthetic fibers, and can be woven on hand looms or power looms. Natural fibers such as silk and cotton, which are also more fragile, are worn mostly by middle-and upper-class women. They are named after regions of India where they are made. Each style is associated with particular weaves, motifs, and even colors. Some use real gold wash on silver thread in their embroidery.
Offering a Hindu woman greater mobility for public and private life, the style is characterized by the loose end of the sari that hangs from the shoulder, known as the pallu. The pallu’s flexibility allows for the many roles which modernity presents to the lives of women. Indira Gandhi would choose her Sari with great discernment before each public occasion and its diplomatic purpose.

The sari as a possession is strongly correlated with wealth as the bright colors are expected to reflect the fecundity and prosperity of life. Saris are an integral part of traditional wedding ceremonies, which consist of a series of events, each demanding a particular sari. The color of the sari worn by the bride for the main ceremony is strictly prescribed and can vary from red in the north and east to white in Kerala.

The dynamism and ambiguity of the Sari exists as a link to one’s ancestral past as well as to the stars of contemporary Hindi Cinema. Buying a Sari in New York today anywhere from the garment district to Jackson Heights, Queens, a dvd of a Bollywood film might be attached with the image of a famous of a Bollywood star showing how it is used.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute – and its textiles research center – have documented the use of the Sari as an abiding presence in exhibitions ranging from Prada and Schiapparelli to Yves Saint Laurent. Seventh Avenue, the center of New York’s Fashion Industry, is typically associated with tailoring, sewing machines and mass-produced textiles. However, the sari endures as a persistent influence. Some designers like Emilio Pucci, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Prada and Donna Karan, to name just a few, have appropriated the one-shouldered look and incorporated the inimitable draping folds of the sari as inspiration season after season. The sari’s beguiling shapes, colors and close fittings to the form of the human body offer up new translations every day for contemporary style and purpose on the streets of New York City.

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