Unfolding the Saree

How much do we really know about this storied garment?

A Mumbai-based design firm Studio Kohl has delved into the cultural significance of the saree. Unfolding the Saree is a unique piece of graphic design. It is a once-off mini-zine that celebrates this iconic fashion garment in its design configuration as well as its editorial content.

The saree has for years been an instantly recognised fashion garment for women from the subcontinent of India. The endurance of the saree is evidenced by the ancient root of its name as described in the language of Sanskrit as śāṭī, meaning “strip of cloth”.

Unfolding the Saree by Studio Kohl

It is an elaborate drape, often wrapped around the midsection with one end draped over the shoulder, sometimes leaving a part of the midriff exposed. Though many styles of saree have been developed (both in design and how it is worn), it normally consists of a vast piece of detailed fabric up to 8 metres in length and 1.2 metres in breadth. 

Unfolding the Saree explores the context of the saree, how it came to be the garment of choice for so many women of South Asia, its connotations and place in pop culture. The printed design emulates the saree in the way that it is presented, folding open from a neat square to reveal “pallu” style patterns on one side and the biography of the garment on the other. It is printed on locally-produced paper in subdued shades of orange, pink and yellow, reflecting popular colours of the saree. To keep Unfolding the Saree inexpensive, it is produced with single-colour serigraph printing in Mumbai.

Unfolding the Saree by Studio Kohl

The narrative of the fashion-pamphlet was written by Studio Kohl founder Mira Malhotra. She takes the reader through a comprehensive history lesson on the saree, complete with collage images of how it has been worn in different ways. It questions the traditional assumptions of the saree such as whether it is attire for modest Indian women exclusively, and pinpoints the garment’s unspoken impact on politics as well as its relationship to the religions of India and adjacent regions.

Unfolding the Saree by Studio Kohl