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Fashion Designer Gets Brickbats Over Comments on Sari

Fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee with models displaying his creations.

Fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s criticism of women who don’t know how to wear a sari, particularly the younger generation, during a speech at Harvard India Conference, has not gone down well with netizens.

Mukherjee told the students after being asked about the difficulties in draping a sari: “I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a sari, I would say shame on you. It’s a part of your culture, (you) need stand up for it.”

He added that the garment is the “most wonderful dress in the world” and that people across the globe admire it and identify Indian women with it. Mukherjee, known for draping Bollywood stars and other celebrities in the fabric, invoked the example of actress Deepika Padukone, who “wears sari at all places she goes,” thereby making waves in fashion.

Sabyasachi’s remarks on sari can be watched on video below during 3:32:40 – 3:33:11.

While his remarks received a thunderous applause at the conference, that was held on Feb.10, they did not go down well with many people on the social media, with comments such as “One more man, sermonizing woman” coming his way. Here are some of the comments:

Mukherjee responded to the brickbats, saying his comments should not be made a gender issue, PTI reported. “What was intended to be a comment on celebration of our clothing history and heritage became a debate on feminism,” he told the new agency in an email interview published on Feb. 13.

“This is not a gender issue. Since the question was about the sari, women were involved. I would take the same stand on men’s national clothing too. I have not made any statement on a woman’s choice on what she wishes to wear which is always her own prerogative.”

He added: “My observation came from the fact that I often meet those who say it with a hint of pride on how they don’t know how to wear a sari and I find it very dismissive of our heritage. It’s a personal point of view. You don’t need to live your culture all the time but you can merely acknowledge it and celebrate it.”

During the conference, he talked of the “major disconnect” that he found in Indian men and women with their roots. He had said: “Women and men are trying very hard to be something that they are not. Your clothing should be a part of who you are and connect you to your roots.”

He said the sari is, in fact, easy to wear. “It’s a relationship of misunderstanding. It’s easy to wear a sari. Wars have been fought in sari. Grandmothers have slept in sari and have woken up without any folds to it,” he said.

The Indian Consul General from New York, Sandeep Chakravarty, who was present in the audience, asked about dhoti. The designer responded, to general laughter, saying: “Indian women have kept alive the sari, but the dhoti is dead.”

Unless, of course, Zara has a say in the matter, with the fashion retailer recently coming out with a checkered “skirt” that looks suspiciously like the lungi worn by men in India. The lungi sold by the retailer amused many on social media.