“Sari will always stand for our identity as Indians” : In Conversation with Anavila Misra

The ‘sari renaissance’ initiated by Anavila Misra has changed the way we think about the quintessential Indian sari.  Her experiments with its designs, drapes, textures, and colours have given Sari a fresh identity. Anavila’s handwoven saris are a result of her innovation with linen, a fabric, she worked with as a menswear designer. 

Born and brought up in Karnal, Anavila pursued knitwear design in NIFT and graduated in 2000. As a designer she was always intrigued by fabrics, hence he started working on a craft cluster project for NIFT in association with the Ministry of Rural Development in 2004. Her rigorous groundwork fuelled her passion for working with craftsmen. She took up many developmental and research-based projects which allowed her to work extensively with a number of weavers and artisans. She created her first signature line of linen saris with some weavers in Phulia, West Bengal. 

Since the launch of her label in 2010, Anavila Misra has pinned her position as a seasoned designer, who understands the requirements of modern Indian women. From hand loom enthusiasts to Bollywood’s elite such as Sonam Kapoor and Konkona Sen Sharma, everyone has given her saris a welcome nod. 

As we explore her journey so far, she tells about her experiences working with craft clusters in India, her challenges and what intrigues her about linen. 

Sari’s significance: Sari is an extension and expression of my personality. It’s about taking a piece from my roots and creating something that is relevant and timeless. Sari is for me, all that a woman stands for: feminine, strong, yet delicate, elegant and mysterious all at the same time.

Working with Linen: Linen has always intrigued me as a yarn. I love how it’s raw and luxurious at the same time. It has a wonderful feel and fall and is comfortable next to the skin. I worked with it during my corporate jobs for men shirts. After I decided to work with Indian textiles and crafts for my line and create contemporary textiles, linen was an obvious choice.

Working with weavers: Everything new takes its time. The climate and region where we work with weavers are ideal for linen weaving. The weavers there were used to weaving cotton. While the craft remains the same, the challenge is to find a balance between showcasing it as a key element and yet presenting an urban, commercially viable collection. We had to get the weavers to start afresh. Their outlook and approach had to be renewed to suit the market demands. Overcoming reluctance and apprehension to this change to produce a new yarn with new color aesthetics and a new design was a task worth our time. Today it is the way forward and the way of life for the weavers.

The importance of craft clusters: The craft clusters carry a vast heritage, working with them is very enriching in so many ways. It’s a symbiotic relationship of mutual respect and learning.  Over the last few years of working closely with these weavers, we are like a big family. And it now feels like an adventure to push our own boundaries together and create something fresh and new. They have now come to understand the aesthetic space we are in and also the brand language, it makes the work easier.

Sari and Indian identity: I feel that a few decades back when we living in Indian cities filled our wardrobes with western apparel, sari became a piece of heritage and identity which showed itself up in formal or festive occasions. I always felt it was a very versatile and feminine garment and my attempts have been to make it an everyday easy wear. I know see a lot of young girls embracing this garment and making it their own. Today with so many options and looks created by designers, I feel sari has become like any other garment in our wardrobe which can be pulled out and mixed and matched in various exciting ways. Having said that it will always stand for our identity as Indians.

Summer must haves: Invest in separates – a fuss-free tunic, a light sari, and linen trousers are ideal for summers

Inspiration:  Yohji Yamamoto: designer/ Ayn Rand: writer/ Passenger: music band

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