The sari has become a constant among South Asian cultures. Now, many women learn the Nivi drape, when they reach adulthood. Learning the Nivi drape, for many, checks off the cultural sari box. But to Malika Verma Kashyap, Producer and Creative Director of “The Sari Series,” this wasn’t enough.
“The Sari Series: An Anthology of Drape” is a non-profit initiative out of the digital publication Border&Fall (named after two parts of the sari), documenting India’s regional sari drape styles through short films that walk step-by-step through the draping process.
With over eighty films in the series, the anthology allows for a deep exploration of the variety that exists in sari draping. Many of the commonly perceived restrictions of sari-wearing — including the elusive well-fitting blouse — are broken down in the series; none of the videos’ drapes require pinning, and many don’t even require a blouse or underskirt.
Not knowing where to start, I pulled a sari out of my closet and began with the first video: the Venukagundaram drape from Andhra Pradesh. While following along to the stylized, beautifully produced videos feels worlds away from the poking of prodding of being dressed by my mother, it was freeing to engage with the garment on my own terms. I slowed down the videos, pausing with one hand and holding pleats down with the other, moving across India through drape styles.
Despite being deeply based in tradition, the videos do not feel prescriptive. There is no commentary about when or where is best to wear a specific style. That is left up to the viewer, and intentionally so. In an article titled “Why ‘The Sari?’,” Kashyap explains her hopes for the project:
“This is not a definitive anthology of drape,” she writes, “as it remains an evolving garment, open to adaptation. Rather, it is an anthology of drape — one that wishes to contribute to a much-needed perception shift of the garment, where its relevance ceases to be questioned at all.”
The project does not showcase a design innovation or even broadcast an explicitly labeled call-to-action, but rather it serves as a reminder that there are almost-endless ways to approach the sari. It’s up to us to take a look and try some on.