Pret-a-Saree

In hindsight, it’s a stretch to say I “decided” to buy a new outfit for this wedding in India. What I actually did was get kind of swept from one scenario to the next until at last I discovered I’d exchanged money for fashion. Or what I’m reliably informed is fashion. It’s not really my area of expertise.

But my friend knows more about fashion and/or social networking than I do, which is how I got the number for Arkini Studio – a small business run by Rohan and her mother, Sukham, who travel back to India several times a year to hand-pick fashions, which they sell to the discerning Indian-styled Singaporean from their home on the East Coast.

Obviously, at some stage, I made an appointment, and then it seems I hailed a taxi and sped off through the rain to what (it turns out) was a truly pleasant Indian shopping experience – not wholly unlike what I’d read about at Around The World With Kids.

The first thing I chose was this churidaar kurta, with a scarf which I slung backwards around my neck; the tails hanging over each shoulder and parallel, down my back. “Uh, we don’t really wear them like that anymore,” said Rohan, cringing slightly and hurrying forward to drape me in a more up-to-date style. Then she stepped back to appraise the effect.

The effect.

The effect.

“It’s really cute and sweet, and the colour suits you, and it fits well, but it’s basically an Indian outfit, so if you wanted fusion…” There were plenty of other pieces.

“Are you into those neon accents which are all the rage in the US at the moment?” I nodded as if I had the slightest knowledge of the trend Rohan was referring to, which probably would have been more successful if I hadn’t been forced to follow immediately with a ham-fisted pretense at any idea whatsoever concerning the Indian fashion scene. “So you know [I’ve forgotten the designer’s name already]…?” She then graciously rescued me from my embarrassed waffling by presenting this outfit:

Neon accents - the world-wide trend which will have to end now that people like me are onto it.

Neon accents – the world-wide trend which will have to stop now that people like me are onto it.

“It’s heavy!” I said, trying to wield it over my head behind the changing screen.

“It’s got a lot of quality fabric in the skirt,” she called through, “but it’s nothing, really. My wedding dress weighed eleven kilograms!”

“Eleven! Was that in case you got cold feet?”

Rohan laughed. “There’s certainly no turning back once you put on that bridal gown.” Those Bollywood dancers must be even fitter than I’ve given them credit for.

I stepped out to catch a look in the mirror, and nearly faltered backwards. “It’s… wow. It’s bold!”

“The accents are quite eye-catching, but the overall tone is still very muted,” she corrected me. I noticed she was picking out jewelry with which to bling it up a little. I began to feel somewhat out of my league.

Reinvention is great, but it needs to be convincing.

My league is down in the corner to my left.

“I like it, but I’m not sure I can pull it off,” I admitted, and although I meant that more literally than figuratively, I did manage to undress again so I could try something else.

The one I almost bought.

I thought this outfit was really something else.

“It’s  a lovely colour, but it needs some alteration for you around the chest.” Rohan gathered me in from behind and called her assistant for some pegs. “Are you planning to wear it for a day service or an evening reception?”

“…I should change between the two? They’re on the same day.”

“I mention it because we would usually recommend this as a day outfit. See how the gold trim is matt? It’s not really glittery enough for evening.” But my Australian any-gold-glitters-and-any-pink-is-bright mentality must have shown through on my face, because she added, “Of course, it’s what you feel comfortable in. My job is just to point these things out so you can take them into account when deciding.” I decided to try the next one.

Rohan described it as  a “classic fusion” piece: the fabric and decoration are Indian, but restrained in (respectively) colour and amount, and the cut is entirely western.

“I’m worried it’s a little too classic, and not enough fusion.”

Not nearly confused enough.

Classic fusion: not adequately confusing?

“It would be the easiest one for you to wear again, though.” She was right. I set it to one side.

“This one looks better on,” she said confidently, handing me a more Indian-style suit – and it did until I did that with my face, but I wasn’t convinced it was my favourite.

No bangles required.

No bangles required.

So, too, with the following:

It's like I want to hate how I look in photos.

It’s like I want to hate how I look in photos.

It was tough to make a final decision, but I managed it in the long run, and so far I’ve had only one piece of negative feedback – from P, who burst into tears and demanded I take it back “because I won’t be able to recognise you in India”. Yeah, that’s how seemlessly I’ll blend in. But after only an hour spent emerging from his room at five minute intervals wearing various “disguises” and using different character voices to ask whether I still knew who he was, even he seems to have grown at ease with my choice.

And the most important news: they have processed our visa applications. I pick the passports up tomorrow. We might almost be ready to go.

Can’t tell your sarees from your salwars? Don’t ask me – ask wikipedia, which knows everything, and is always accurate. Or take these wise words from JD Viharini on clothing for foreign, female travellers to India.

Indian traditional attire style tips I wish I’d read can be found at Indian Roots.

Arkini Studio can be contacted at arkinistudio@gmail.com . (I didn’t get anything off them for writing this except the same care and guidance they give to any of their customers.)

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