Glorious Saris of Gerrard Street

Chayonika Wornette talks about traditional saris and the colourful culture of India with the owner of Chandan Fashion

When I walked into Chandan Fashion, an Indian boutique in the heart of Little India, a warm, familiar feeling seeped into me. The sweet smell of burning incense mixed with the tangy spices of butter chicken, the hustle bustle of boutique workers, the blur of vivid colours; it all reminded me of my childhood in Delhi, with its smoke-filled air and the busy streets. The owner Sarab Singh reminded me of my grandmother, who used to dress me up in her saris when I was a toddler. Singh and her husband have been in the retail business for over 25 years, dealing with intricate, traditional Indian clothing.

Before I left, she wrapped me up in a gorgeous purple and gold sari and told me to come back any time I wanted. I felt at home.

How did you get into the business of selling saris?
My husband had the same kind of business back home so when we came to Canada, we decided to start the same business.

How has your mother influenced your dressing style?
I am from the east of India so that’s their culture, hence, I wore most of the normal styles they wore. When I was in Grade 10, I remember, I used to get really excited when my mother let me wear saris. I even wore one to my graduation. It used to be a big deal to wear saris and it was very exciting for me, you know?

How do you wear you saris?
I use a lot of pins inside to hold them together from the starting point to the end. When I make the pleats, I make sure to put a nice pin in to hold the pleats together. I put another pin on my shoulder to attach the beginning of the train to my blouse so that my hands are free.

What are some of the materials used to make saris?
A lot of different materials can be used: silk, polyester, nylon, rayon, cotton, all manufactured in India. I prefer georgette because this material pleats better, and silk is nice for special occasions and parties.

Do you like how the saris used in Bollywood movies nowadays have a lot of sex appeal, or do you prefer other styles?
I prefer regular, old, traditional saris because they are evergreen and will never go out of fashion. Simple styles are the best. But sexy or modern styles or saris will only be trendy for a few months or a few years before something new comes out again, and the style that is current will go out of fashion. Maybe my age is a big factor as well. That is probably why I like simple saris. My style has also been passed onto my 21 year old daughter. She wears saris and looks very nice in them. I would definitely pick classy saris over fancy ones.

So, do you think modern generations are into saris?
Modern generations are definitely into saris, yes. I sell a lot of saris to younger generations. I even sell them for prom. As soon as it’s prom season, I put all my sari-inspired pieces out on display. My daughter went to a private high school and wore a really pretty sari for her own prom.

Do you have a lot of non-Indian customers?
Toronto is a very diverse, cosmopolitan city, so I definitely have a wide variety of customers who buy traditional clothing from me. I think my customers find it a little dressy. They like to wear saris because they think they’re vibrant. They say, “We are tired of monotone colours all the time.” They think we have a very colourful selection of saris, which is completely true. All the different colours we have on our saris complement each other and never look tacky. It is our culture. People wear them to special occasions and weddings. I once had a lady from Jamaica come into my store and she wanted to wear something traditional for her own wedding. She wanted to buy a traditional lehenga and I custom ordered it for her from India. It was a gorgeous, hand-beaded, white lehenga, custom fitted to her size. And after the wedding, she brought in some pictures and said, “This is your lehenga. Thanks for making me look so stunning.” She definitely got a lot of compliments which made me really happy. Indian clothing is definitely becoming more popular all around the world. I realize that India is a third world country and the bad parts of the country are always highlighted. But now, I think that India is waking up and is definitely better than before. I think traditional clothing lets people escape from the bad parts and focus on how vivid and rich our country really is. If you have money in your pocket, come with me and I will show you all the good parts of India.

photography // Laura Tuttle

Culinary Couture

10 ways food has been used to make clothing

I love eating. Food provides me with many fulfilling joys and enlightens my soul. I also love fashion. It takes me, along with other fashion fanatics, to a whole new, vibrant world. You can only imagine my elation when I found out that Lady Gaga was not the first or only wacky fashion icon to use food as a clothing material. There is a whole world out there of designers and artists who are bringing the kitchen into the atelier. Here are ten of my favourites.

1 // Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic
Before Lady Gaga came along, Canadian artist Jana Sterbak’s original meat dress created national controversy as it portrayed a contrast between bodily decomposition and narcissism. Her piece consisted of $300 worth of raw steak sewn together. This legendary dress has attracted a massive amount of publicity throughout the years and paved a path for modern artists.

2 // Rock The Meat
It wasn’t unusual for a gritty punk rock band from the late 70’s to have a very bizarre album cover. The Undertones’ featured a woman wearing pieces of meat as a dress, held together with saran wrap around her body, and completed with a sausage necklace for their compilation album, All Wrapped Up. Can’t get any more rock ‘n’ roll than that.

3 // Surreal Fantasy
The most famous surrealist of all time, Salvador Dali, created an extraordinary pavilion called Dream of Venus at the 1939 New York World’s Fair which featured remarkable underwater fantasy sculptures and semi-nude women parading around in themed outfits. One of the most prominent pieces involved a blindfolded model with a giant lobster belt and necklace.

4 // WTF, a Wine Dress?
Trying to explain the process of how to make a dress out of wine when I have a word limit can be very hard. So here is a link to satisfy your scientific curiosities. This dress uses biological fermentation to mold itself into a garment; no sewing, stitching, stapling, or glue guns involved.

5 // Lettuce Take a Moment
Project Runway is a favourite pastime that never fails to disappoint. Season 4 finalist, Chris March, created this outrageous yet elegant dress made out of $50 worth of lettuce. Wish-Bone used this dress to promote its salad dressings. Easy on the pocket and easier on the eyes, here is another tribute to the low-calorie leafy greens.

6 // Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Jeremy Scott’s fall 2006 collection definitely turned heads and sparked drooling mouths with this spaghetti dress and meatball accessories.

7 // It’s Gonna Be a Sweet Wedding
Personally, I’ve always wanted a guy who could cook me delicious meals. Imagine my jealously when this baker from Ukraine surprises his lucky bride-to-be by making her a wedding dress out of cream puffs. Made out of eggs, sugar, flour, and caramel, this gown contained a whooping 1,500 cream puffs. I think I hear my stomach grumbling.

8 // Coco Jerky
What does one think of when they hear the word Chanel? Is it the iconic French designer? Or is it a quilted bag made of beef jerky? Nancy Wu has accomplished the impossible. Hand-sewn sheets of dried meat never looked more chic. Made from 100% pure beef jerky, this Chanel-inspired bag is the perfect accessory to nibble on while out for a night on the town. Anyone know where I can get one?

9 // Elegant Veggies
With the vision of promoting vegetarianism in mind, PETA enlisted the help of Cloris Leachman, amongst many others, who sported a long gown made completely of leafy lettuce and red cabbage.

10 // Wearable Foods Extraordinaire
Sung Yeon Ju is a Korean artist who recently created a series called Wearable Foods made out of, well, wearable foods—mostly fruits and vegetables, but also bubble gum and even chicken feathers. The idea behind the collection is to highlight the interchange between actual and perceived reality. The result is absolutely stunning.