CHENNAI: Crisp pleats, perfectly tucked drapes and pallus fashioned in different variations. If you are a fan of flowy saris and wrapping yourself in them, 27-year-old Manikandan’s works as a sari draper will give you inspiration to further dabble in your pursuit of the six yards. “I wanted to become a fashion designer. However, due to my family’s insistence, I studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering. But the heart wants what it wants, doesn’t it? After I graduated, instead of working in an allied field, I started working in clothing stores and that’s when I learned the art of draping saris and understanding the fabric. It’s been 10 challenging yet gratifying years in the industry,” shares Mani, a native of Thiruvarur.
In the last decade, Mani has honed his sari draping skills by observing his ‘seniors’ in the stores, watching YouTube videos and experimenting with self-invented sari draping styles and techniques. “Earlier, I used to a be a sales executive and my responsibility was to only open the saris and place it on myself or the customer, for them to select one of their choice based on the colour, designs and the pallu and how well it falls on the body. Out of interest, I simultaneously learned to drape saris. I started with just four to five basic styles and grew to learn over 100. Now, from dressing up and draping mannequins for the social media account of a renowned retail store in the city to working with models, I have been able to carve a niche for myself,” he beams.
However, in a society with assigned gender roles and stereotypes, recognition did not come easily for Mani. “Sometimes, I get frowned upon for being a ‘male’ sari draper; people tend to question my work based on my gender. But I don’t let it affect the quality of my job. I let my work talk for itself,” says the artist, who has been subtly breaking gender labels. “Saris are now being worn by all and have become gender-fluid. So what is the hullabaloo around a man draping a sari? I want to normalize it,” he asserts.
Discussing how being in an otherwise female-dominated field raised several eyebrows, he shares, “I don’t force anyone to get draped by me. Ultimately, the comfort of the model or the person who is to be draped is important and that will reflect in how they feel in the attire and carry it. But I show them my work and after that, when they are satisfied and comfortable, I work with them. It’s important to create a synergy during draping…it’s not simple!”
A master of over 100 styles, Mani can drape any sari in any style in under five minutes and has worked for brands and clients from across the globe. “Clients have taken me to Malaysia to drape saris for their campaigns and these have been learning experiences. I have also worked on the ad campaign for a Sri Lanka-based brand. In Chennai, I get called for several assignments. Through my social media profile, I have been able to showcase my work, connect with people from all walks of life and get several opportunities. I am grateful for all that has been coming my way,” he says.
Despite doing what he loves, Mani says he is in touch with reality. “The key to happiness is not just having job satisfaction but also receiving fair remuneration for the work we do. During my days as a sales executive, I was underpaid. But I used the time as an opportunity to learn on the job. Now, with many people approaching me after seeing my work, I am getting paid what I deserve. I am happy that people have started acknowledging the work and services of people from this sector…otherwise it often goes unnoticed and a lot of bargaining happens,” he notes.
Mani will soon be enrolling in a hairdressing course. “My dream is to start a small boutique and cater to people looking for hair-do, sari-draping and make-up services. I want to create a mark in the beauty and fashion industry. I will also be learning to do make-up in the future,” he says.
To see Manikandan’s work, visit Instagram page @manisareedrapist