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Home » My Kolkata » People » From #Ralia to Met Gala: Celeb sari draper Dolly Jain talks saris, success and Sridevi

Drape artiste

From #Ralia to Met Gala: Celeb sari draper Dolly Jain talks saris, success and Sridevi

The Kolkata-based draper has been a part of the most high-profile Bollywood shaadis and is a go-to name for A-listers

Aatreyee Mohanta | Published 19.05.22, 03:48 PM
(L-R) Natasha Poonawalla in a Sabyasachi sari draped by Jain at the Met Gala; Dolly Jain; Alia Bhatt in her bridal sari, draped by Jain

(L-R) Natasha Poonawalla in a Sabyasachi sari draped by Jain at the Met Gala; Dolly Jain; Alia Bhatt in her bridal sari, draped by Jain

Over the last six months alone, Dolly Jain has been a part of the most-anticipated fashion moments in Indian showbiz, including the two big Bollywood weddings and a stint at the mecca of couture, the Met Gala. “It still feels surreal,” the sari draper tells us. 

Jain, who is not just a draper, but has also introduced her own line of body-friendly underskirts for sari lovers, and is writing a book, has a success story like no other. The Kolkata-based artiste quite literally created a career for herself. 

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Jain first draped a sari for the late Sridevi at a party, when the actor had spilt something on her yellow chiffon. Over the last decade or so, she has draped saris for celebrities like Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja and several others.

“A sari is a zero-wastage dress. It is sustainable, you don’t need to cut or stitch like any other garment, which makes it that much better,” says Jain. My Kolkata had a chat with the draper, who shared some behind-the-scenes secrets from A-lister fitting rooms and also explained why she loves coming home to Kolkata, no matter where she travels.

How did you get into the world of sari-draping?

I don’t quite know how to break down my journey. But I do believe that some things are destined to happen and are planned by god. This was definitely something that he picked for me. I got married into a family where I could only wear saris, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise! 

I used to hate wearing saris, it would take me 45 torturous minutes every morning to drape a sari and I would crave the comfort of kurtas. I thought I would convince my mother-in-law. But by the time I finally did, I realised I had fallen in love with this garment and have been for the last 28 years.

What was your relationship with saris as you were growing up? 

I was born and brought up in Bengaluru, so I did see many women wear saris but most of them wore pavadas. My mother always wore a sari and I remember draping saris on the dolls that I played with, borrowing fabrics from my mother.

When did you first realise that you were skilled at draping? 

People used to love the way I draped my saris and carried them. Every time I wore a sari, people would come up to me and share their appreciation. I realised that if I had worn any other garment, I would’ve missed out on these beautiful compliments. I didn’t realise that this could be a profession until I met Sridevi ji.

I was a big fan, and as it happens, my mama was staying in the same building as her and was invited to the same party. She’d spilt something on her sari and while she was fixing it, I insisted that I drape it for her. 

Once I started pleating, I remember, Sridevi ji was carefully looking at my hands. I was so nervous and was having a fan moment. But when I was done, she said that she had been draping saris for years but she had never seen anyone do pleats like mine. She said my fingers had magic and suggested that I take it up as a profession. That one line from her — a legend with a prolific sense of style and saris — had given me such a thrill. I think that was the moment which changed my life. 

You hold the world record for draping a sari in 18.5 seconds…

You won’t believe this when I tell you, but one day I was just doing drapes and my younger daughter said, ‘Why don’t we record it?’ After she finished recording, she told me that I had done it in 20 seconds. I was so surprised! I told her to record it again and this time I thought, “I can do it even faster!”, and that’s what happened! We sent the video to the people at The Guinness Book of World Records with all the details and it was the record. 

How many different drapes have you created? 

I have come up with around 325 styles of draping and I’m working on some more. I’m working on a coffee-table book with ‘365+1 Styles of Draping a Saree’. I haven’t even left out the leap year! So one cannot crib about not having a new garment in your wardrobe. Just open your closet, pick up a crop top, denim, skirt or an underskirt and a sari, and my book should have a drape for you!

Do you think draping saris for weddings is more challenging?

Not at all… but at weddings, there are veils, additional layers and dupattas which make things different. 

While draping a sari, what is the most important thing to keep in mind? 

Comfort, comfort and comfort. For me everything else is secondary. If someone isn’t comfortable in their sari, I know they won’t opt for it the next time. For me, draping a sari is meant to make people feel comfortable and appreciate the fabric. One can only love the fabric when they are comfortable in it. 

You recently draped a Sabyasachi sari on Natasha Poonawalla for the MET Gala, working alongside Anaita Shroff Adajania…

I still have goosebumps when I think about the MET Gala. When I started 17 years ago, people actually thought I had gone mad because the profession I had chosen was so niche. It was very difficult for me to convince society, but I was sure of myself. So when I was chosen as the drape artist for the event, it felt rewarding.  

The MET Gala was surreal. I used to see so many Indian celebrities attend this event, but I always thought to myself, ‘Why don’t they wear a sari?’ Natasha Poonawalla wore a sari and nailed it. She was looking divine and sexy, and she was on-theme as well.

What are the biggest challenges when draping a sari? 

Picking the right underskirt can be quite difficult. It can make or break your outfit, because your saree will be sitting on it. I have put my heart and soul into creating the D’Coat (a stretchable underskirt with an elastic waistband and an easy fall) which ensures that the sari fits you just right and is also comfortable.

You moved to Kolkata after your marriage, what has your relationship with the city been like? 

I moved to Kolkata 32 years ago. The city has always been very warm and kind to me. People keep asking me why I don't move to Mumbai since I have so much work there. However, I feel that Kolkata has warmth. For me, Kolkata is a place where no matter what I do, I want to come back to. There is something in the air that makes me feel that it is my city. My friends and family are here and it is too sweet a place to ever leave. 

People are experimenting with drapes and ways to style a sari. What's your take?

I’m completely loving it! As long as it keeps the authenticity of the sari intact, I love it. As long as it is something that pushes the young generation to opt for a sari as opposed to a gown, I’m all for it. Saris have had a huge comeback. It is not an expenditure, it is an investment that becomes heirlooms and is passed down through generations. I have a 150-year-old sari that has been passed down to me by my mother and I hope I can pass it down to my daughter someday.

A rapid-fire round

Who was the first celebrity you draped a sari for? 
Sridevi. I still remember the lemon yellow sari she was wearing. Everything about that day still gives me goosebumps. 

Which sari weaves are your favourite? 
I love ikkat, cotton and linens. I also love Kanjeevarams and Banarasis. 

What are your favourite things to do in Kolkata? 
One would definitely be looking for saris! I love the street food too, it’s divine.

Which Bengali weave do you think is the easiest to drape?
I can’t pick and choose but I absolutely love jamdani, baluchari, tangail, Begumpuri, gorod. They look so beautiful draped. 

Advice you would share with the young sari enthusiasts?
Whenever I travel abroad, I carry a sari. Even if one doesn’t wear a sari back at home, try and carry one overseas because that cements your heritage and identity as an Indian. 

Last updated on 19.05.22, 03:58 PM
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