“I am six yards ahead of my time.” So reads a tattoo on Dolly Jain’s forearm.
When she started a career as a sari-draper 17 years ago, people thought Jain had no future. But today, she has taken the six-yard traditional Indian garmentto another level with her innovative techniques.
She has come up with 365 ways to drape a sari and holds the Guinness World Record for draping one in 18.5 seconds. Jain has also worked with women from India’s top business families and the leading ladies of Bollywood, from Helen, Hema Malini, Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit Nene to Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone.
Scroll through the gallery above to see some of Dolly Jain's most famous stylings
Her work has taken her to the UAE, as well as Oman, New York, Paris and Singapore, for weddings, events and fashion shows.
Jain says her outside-of-the-box profession is solely based on passion and came about organically. Raised in Bengaluru, Jain moved to Kolkata after marrying into a traditional Marwari household. “I was married into a family where I was only allowed to wear a sari. This became a blessing in disguise as I was so passionate about draping my sari differently, I converted it into a career,” she says.
Most people around her used to wear saris in the traditional way, she says, with pleats and tucked in at the waist. Not being fond of saris to start with, Jain decided she would at least experiment with drapes. Many of her friends and relatives began to praise the way she carried herself.
Spurred on by this appreciation, Jain conducted a workshop for the neighbourhood women, one of whom invited Jain to hold a similar workshop in her home city of Raipur, which she recalls as the start of her journey.
Jain began experimenting with evermore different drapes on a mannequin, and learnt the regional styles of states including Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Orissa. She then melded modern silhouettes with traditional drapes, becoming more innovative as time went by.
Her first professional assignment required her to style 80 women of all shapes and sizes for a wedding party.
While wearing a sari was natural for women a few decades ago, it is now a novelty. Many young women are not well versed with the art of draping, and go to a salon or have a beautician drape it for them for special occasions.
Many also think the sari impairs their mobility and is cumbersome as they go about their daily work, so Jain has reinvented the outfit to suit the next generation, pairing it with short and long skirts, jeans and palazzos instead of a traditional petticoat.
Jain credits social media for popularising the sari in recent times, thanks to celebrity-endorsed DIY draping videos.
“If you want outfits to look prettier and make you look slimmer, Dolly is the girl to go for draping. I work a lot with her,” says designer Manish Malhotra in a video Jain has shared on social media.
In a post on Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s wedding day, the groom’s mother, actress Neetu Kapoor — who wore an Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla sari — said: “Dolly, you are outstanding. I didn't even know there was something like this there. I feel like a princess.”
Jain predicts saris will make a huge comeback. “The sari will become the next thing for young Indian girls as they can experiment with it in so many ways, and wear it with a belt or [trainers]. When youngsters want all eyes on them, they opt for a sari as they have understood the value and power of the different types of drapes, and also because they can invest in something that can be passed on.”
Her personal favourite sari is a 150-year-old handmade silk piece with silverwork, which was passed on by her grandmother (who, in turn, got it from her mother-in-law). “It’s very precious to me, very well kept, and something I would like to bequeath to my daughter. More than the actual value, the sari has a lot of associated emotions.”
Jain ensures her drapes are suited to the location, body type and personality of the wearer, as well as the type of fabric, be it silk, chiffon or organza. “There's a drape for every personality, every occasion and every mood. I have visualised them all,” she says.
Next Jain is bringing out a coffee-table book featuring her 365 ways of draping a sari, one for each day of the year, in order to give everyone a reason to wear it. “You can now pick up a sari and drape it differently with a crop top, skirt or other garment of your choice, so you can no longer complain about not having something to wear.”