When Dolly Jain, the celebrity sari draper, moved to Kolkata from Bengaluru after her marriage, the women in her house were only allowed to wear saris. She would daily pray to god, asking for a miracle that would make the elders change their mind and allow her to wear a kurta. “I used to spend 45 torturous minutes every day draping a sari,” she recalls. Practice due to compulsion soon made her quick with the pleats. But it was actually a chance meeting with late actor Sridevi that sowed the seeds of turning sari draping into a high fashion profession.
“I was at my mama’s (uncle's) house in Mumbai, and Sridevi, who lived in the same building was attending a small party at his home. Something fell on her sari and she went to the washroom to correct the drape. I had a fan moment. I followed her to help her. I was so scared in my head that she would never speak to me again. But the moment I finished, she said ‘I have been wearing saris since childhood, but the way you do pleats is magical and therapeutic. Why don’t you do this professionally?’ And here I am almost 15 years later at the MET Gala in New York,” Jain narrates about her early May experience. She was also the draper for Deepika Padukone at Cannes, which concluded on 28 May.
Jain made international headlines earlier this month for draping a Sabyasachi sari, worn by Serum Institute of India’s executive director Natasha Poonawalla, at the MET gala. Poonawalla wore a custom sari with a Schiaparelli metal bustier, keeping with the dress code for the event, which was Gilded Glamour.
Jain didn’t know what the look would be until she met the designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee. “When I finally got to see the whole look with the cape, corset, headgear and jewellery, I was so happy with the interpretation. It shows that a sari can be modern, sensuous and sexy.” It didn’t take her much time to drape the sari, she says. It was the corset that they needed to be careful with. “I had to make sure that she was comfortable because it was a long night and not being able to move easily wouldn’t do justice to the sari. We had to check that even after the corset, she could sit, walk and do everything comfortably,” says Jain.
How it all started
In a country where a lot women wear a sari daily, how did Jain convince people that they needed a stylist for the drape? “Convincing people was the most tedious job. The society behaves so weirdly; they will only accept you if you have film stars backing you. The initial years were the toughest time in my life. People told me that I had lost my mind. I used to get a lot of, ‘What is the need?’, as I came from a financially stable family. My dad was my strong pillar. He said to work hard with your ears closed and eyes open and if you can devote four years of your life to this and succeed, open your ears then to hear the positive comments,” says Jain. So, she spent six months learning different drapes on a mannequin. During her initial days, she would convince people to let her drape them for free, to spread the word. She also needed to practise on real women. “We don’t get mannequins with the Indian body type, which is curvier,” she points out. She then made a CD with all the different kinds of drapes she could do to showcase her work to future clients (there were no Reels she could go viral with back then). She also approached the Limca Book Of Records and has set a record twice since then for the number of drapes she can do.
There was no looking back after that. It was designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla who introduced her to many business families, including the Ambanis. She thanks Sabyasachi for introducing her to bridal clients, including Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Katrina Kaif and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
Jain credits a part of her fame to Internet as well. “It is a game-changer,” she says. The reason sari is such a classic, she says, is that it can be worn on a crop top, jeans or a skirt.
Here are her quick tips for better sari draping:
Your underskirt is the foundation of a good drape, especially a heavy sari. Don’t buy body-hugging petticoats that won’t let you bend down, fold legs, or just do your usual chores easily. Cotton is the only fabric she favours for a petticoat.
Buy good stainless steel pins to avoid tearing of your sari.
Save your blouses by wearing underarm pads, as sweat can make your blouses discoloured under the armpits.
For flowy fabrics such as satin, georgette or crepe, make narrow pleats. Stiff saris such as organza, Dhakai or linen saris need broad pleats; too narrow pleats will make you look bulky around the stomach.