SAMAVAI is launching a new collection, featuring the shirt silhouette Vedavalli, this week. The silhouette, named after Shriya Samavai Manian’s grandmother, is a classic button-down, calling back to 70s and 80s old school gems with broad collars and bright patterns.
Samavai, the designer, namesake, and multi-disciplinary artist behind the SAMAVAI line, transforms saris formerly worn by members of their community into new bold designs. The collection feels truly like a collection, a grouping of cherished, found, sought-after objects—something to be kept and passed on.
Samavai makes physical the desire to look into a family’s past and reinvigorate old memories. The shirts look like the way it feels to find a personal inscription in a used book or to wonder about where a thrifted jacket may have been worn. They embody a sense of quiet wonder about what came before.
According to Samavai, the collection itself is a work of intergenerational collaboration. They identify their mother as their main collaborator, the source of the saris for the first collection, released in 2019.
“I really owe everything to her,” they told Kajal. “She doesn’t like to hold onto stuff, she’s constantly purging her belongings.”
Through this purging, Samavai saw an opportunity to recreate and rethink what can be done with sari material. They see upcycling and reuse as a necessity for the future of the fashion industry, and they wanted to demonstrate how one can work with the old to create something new.
Samavai also makes a statement about femininity and gender, about who can and should wear what.
“I wanted to take the traditional sari and its Western associations with femininity and flip it on its head,” Samavai said. “I thought it would be fun to make boxy, bowling-style button downs that people of any gender and body type could wear.”
While the material and initial inspiration came from their mother, Samavai refers to their father, grandfather, and uncles as the spark for the silhouette concept. Part of their process is flipping through old photos, seeing how their family wore their hair, did their makeup, and how they blended traditional Indian clothing with Western influences.
“I have so many amazing photos of my dad wearing bell bottoms. Or one in particular of him I love, he’s wearing a huge red velvet bow tie,” Samavai said.
As a multi-disciplinary artist — a photographer, poet, DJ, and designer, to name a few — Samavai treats this collection as less of a brand and more as an art project, the intent of which is to create connections between communities and generations. In the future, they want to expand beyond shirts to learn new techniques and to showcase the talent of others.
The Spring 2020 line is just the next iteration of an ongoing project, one that looks to make use of what’s in front of us to create something beautiful.
“There’s a lot of fabric to work with per sari,” Samavai told Kajal, “and I want to use every bit up.”
Models: Fariha Róisín and Abubakar Khan
Stylist: Cherry Kim
Florals: Hawa Arsala and Sonia Prabhu
Glass sculptures: Prinita Thevarajah of Kapu Glass
Studio: Mohammed Fayaz of Papi Juice
Photographer: Shriya Samavai Manian