Meet master-draper Kalpana Shah

It’s incidental that I am in a sari to meet Kalpana Shah, the master draper and stylist, and every time she looks at me I wonder if she’s thinking whether I could have worn it better.

So does she get annoyed when she sees a sloppily draped sari? “Yes, sometimes,” she laughs. “It’s a natural feeling having worked with the six yards for close to four decades. Actually, it’s not so difficult to get it right if you invest even a few minutes,” she says, relaxing a bit before continuing with the day-long workshop she conducted recently at the Satya Paul store in the city. She answers with a smile the many questions the participants throw at her. In her expert hands, the garment unfolds its traditional charm and contemporary appeal. Retro style, ghagra style, gown style, dhoti style, Parsi style, Bengali style…she knows 300 and more ways of draping. “Even your madisar is lovely. I have given my own little tweak to it,” she says. Like a magician, in the blink of an eye, she moves from one style to another as smoothly as the fall of the garment.

“It’s all in the mind,” she cuts in, as you try to ask her about the sari not being considered edgy and seen as cumbersome work wear. “It epitomises power-dressing and can look as smart as a tailored suit,” she quips, turning the pages of her attractive coffee table book, ‘The Whole Nine Yards’, to show the corporate look. It’s not difficult to be convinced when you see the photograph of a woman walking elegantly in a neatly pleated sari into an office building.

“I feel sad that most women spend so much time and money in buying saris but give little importance to understanding the drape,” she says.

The book, launched two years ago, caters as much to the new converts to sari with basic styles as those who have always sworn by it with experimental draping varieties. The detailed instructions and descriptive pictures are proof of Kalpana’s love for the garment that has inspired her creative journey. “I was keen to revive the sari and worked extensively on the draping pattern to make it a stylised garment for the young, urban woman. It’s my way of telling people to hold on to their roots. It gives you an identity in today’s shrinking world, when everybody is dressing like everybody else. I actually reinvented myself through the sari.”

Hailing from a Gujarati family that shifted base to Mumbai, Kalpana had an artistic bent of mind from a young age, and so she learnt Bharatanatyam. She also loved helping friends and relatives to dress up on special occasions. “They always complimented the finesse with which I applied make-up, styled the hair and draped the sari,” she recalls. It gave her the confidence to take it up professionally. “I really don’t know how to answer when asked where I learnt the art of draping. I honed my skill on the job. My travels and clients have taught me a lot,” says Kalpana, who is much in demand among Bollywood A-listers including Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. She is also part of big fat weddings. But what she enjoys most is addressing girls at colleges when she is invited for lectures. “No, I don’t extol the virtues of the sari; I just tell them to take pride in our heritage.”

Kalpana is delighted that a lot is being done to save the country’s rich weaves. “Look at this handloom sari. Don’t you think the thread work is beautiful?” she asks, spreading the pallu of her red and black sari over her hand.

“With many designers and craft crusaders working with weavers based in remote areas, looms that had fallen silent for many years have come back to life. It’s exciting to see our textiles, motifs and ornamentation techniques taking to global ramps.”

But, she insists, you don’t need an exotic outfit to stand out. “Get me a 500 rupee sari, why even a 300 rupee one will do and I will tell you why the price tag can never come in the way of your attempt to put your best foot forward,” smiles Kalpana.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 2:01:54 PM |

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