Embroidery, sequins, crystals, kundan stones, zardosi, aari, thread work... nothing is too good for the blouse in its new avatars, writes Shilpa Nair Anand

The choli or the blouse is back in the news again, and this time for all the right reasons. And it is not a song, but the blouse (that goes with the sari) that is back in a re-invented avatar or rather many avatars. It is said of fashion that it is cyclical, that nothing really goes out of fashion. Right from the heavily embroidered ones to short puff sleeves to closed neck to backless and even halter necks and bustiers... they are all back. As far as cholis go, all past fashions and some new ones are in vogue all at once. In fact designers and boutique owners take orders for blouses.

Blouse comeback

"I once had an NRI client who came to me directly with a printout of a blouse that she wanted replicated. I assured her that I could do something similar, and I did. There is a renewed interest in the blouse, and the accent is embellishing it with embroidery and so on," says Sheela James of Czarina. Avers another designer Shanti Ram, "At times what happens is that a sari maybe understated, the best way to dress up a sari is with the blouse, do any kind of surface embellishment and it changes the way a sari looks." At times the best way to resurrect an old sari is by going in for a new blouse. Says Indu Radhakrishan of Studio Mrinalini in the city, "A new blouse dramatically changes the way a sari looks, the treatment makes all the difference. Getting a new blouse for an old sari is almost as good as getting a new sari." The style and work on the blouses however vary, in fact to a great extent it is the sari that decides the work and the cut of a blouse. For instance, for light silks such as crepes, chiffons and georgettes, the embroidery tends to be light and the blouse makes up for the saris' understated effect. It is not limited to just the sari's blouse, even blouses for set-mundu are heavily embroidered.Says Gopika Varma, who designs blouses, "The beauty of a heavily embroidered blouse is accentuated when worn with a set-mundu. Set against the simplicity of the set-mundu, an embroidered blouse looks beautiful." In terms of designs on the blouses, the options are plenty - embroidery, sequins, crystals, kundan stones, zardosi, aari, thread work... the list is endless. The popular fabrics, however, are either light like crepe, georgette, chiffon or cotton silks. Heavier fabrics such as silks or velvets are generally no-no. But there are women who still like brocade blouses. As far as the embroidery goes, it is either tonal to complement the sari or contrast to set off the sari. That is not to say that everyone is as sporty as Mandira Bedi when it comes to blouses or cholis. The trend in Kerala at least leans towards the conservative. "Deep neck blouses are quite popular, but backless? No way. Women in Kerala do not go that far as far as necklines go," says Gopika. Adds Shalini Joseph of Mantra, "There are some women and NRIs who ask for blouses with halter necks and the backless kind. But on the whole there is a certain amount of inhibition where the blouse is concerned. For instance, a blouse will be sleeveless for all practical purposes, but for some reason, many people want one-and-a-half inch sleeves. The blouse is never sleeveless then, even though the sleeve is there in name only." Shalini does not take individual orders for blouses, they have to be part of the sari-blouse set. Getting just blouses made is a trend that is catching up, but according to Sudha Suresh of Ashima, "I stock embroidered saris that have similarly embroidered blouses to go with them. If the sari is lightly embroidered then the blouse is heavily embroidered. It is still blouses to match saris, and the trend may get popular, but as of now it appears that the sari decides the blouse." As long as the sari rules the Indian woman's wardrobe, the blouse will be in the news.