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Sharbari Datta


Sharbari Datta is possibly the only lady in the country who designs exclusively for men.

Dusky Sharbari Datta uses Chinese silk, tussar, matka, Cuttack, raw silk, and sometimes even jute fabrics to create fantasies in traditional ethnic wear like dhotis, sherwanis, kurtas, chaddars, phirans, jackets and angarkhas.

Daughter of poet Ajit Dutta,Sharbari grew up in an environment steeped in poetry, music and dance. A couple of years ago she revolutionized traditional men’s wear and has not looked back since. Originally from erstwhile East Bengal, as a child she imbibed, a feel for culture and tradition and poured it into her products. How did she venture on this unusual path? “I just thought that so much has being done for women’s wear but the man was totally neglected . Under British rule it was fashionable to wear the sahib attire Slowly, after independence, we realized the value of our heritage. In our traditional wear, we have so much for men to suit either the casual or the very formal occasions. Indian men look so good in their ethnic clothes.”

And so, fired with a passion for doing something different and yet drawing from our own rich treasure trove of art, she gave the relatively unexplored world of men’s fashion something to rave about. Each piece is original and unduplicated. She draws freehand directly on the fabric. “Even if you want me to, I cannot make two pieces the same. When you buy a kurta you buy the design too. I prefer to work on silk because it gives my customers good value for money. These are special attires and they last longer on silk. It is a piece of art in your wardrobe.”

Has she ever received any special training in designing? “Oh no. I am totally self trained. Like a Bengali house-wife who draws alpanas on the floor, I draw on cloth. I use all kinds of stitches. ‘Kantha’ is very popular nowadays, but I mix stitches if a particular design shows off better that way. I am like a folk artist who draws spontaneously and from memory. But my advantage is that I am an educated urban person and so I am also aware of the art and aesthetics of the world. So I don’t get limited in my concepts. I use traditional Indian folk patterns and also Egyptian, Mexican and Roman designs. I don’t like to conform to any one style. I also use abstract patterns. Hussain’s horses and the paintings of Jamini Roy have inspired me too. There are Roman lettering, Egyptian graphics, the Arabic and Persian script and even the Calcutta skyline and views of old Calcutta with gas lights, vintage cars, British officers and zamindars. An artist might criticize my lines because many may be wrong in terms of style, but I do whatever I find aesthetically pleasing.”

She is happy at the rediscovery of our heritage through this move towards ethnicity. “There is a jwar, a wave in favour of ethnicity and that is very good for us.”

Like everything else, there are some negative points too as is the case when people distort our traditions. But the original art will always remain because there will always be people who recognize and appreciate it. The rigidity between provinces is breaking down. We are borrowing freely from all parts of India and improvising to create new things.

Even our habits and our interior décor has undergone so much change. Sharbari herself has done up her house very much in the ethnic style with terracotta murals, straw mats, on the floor, folk murals drawn by her on the walls. Even the marionettes wearing and displaying her creations are made of straw.

A group of seamstresses work under Sharbari’s directions. They are needy women with talent and skill who have got the opportunity to prove their worth and also earn a living. Helping them was also an important reason why Sharbari took on the project. As she says, it is her own small way of accepting social responsibility. Some distinguished clientele who wear the Sharbari label are Bikash Bhattacharya, M.F. Hussain, and Sumit Gangopadhyaya. Major buyers are also Rakhe for Gulzar and Shobha De for Dilip De.

Fashion is capricious—there today, gone tomorrow. But the advantage of Sharbari’s products is that there is nothing that she does which is in any way bizarre to be exclusive. She concentrates on time-old wear, suited to our land and climate which has lasted through centuries. She gives them a fresh and distinctive look and a new lease of life—elevating them to the status of ‘Fashion Wear’.