How homemaker Dolly Jain became the saree-drape artist of choice for celeb brides Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Isha Ambani and others.
I am six yards ahead of my time, reads the tattoo on Dolly Jain’s arm. A drape artist, Dolly has been in the news recently for draping the wedding and reception sarees for three of the most glamorous, high-profile and talked-about brides – Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Isha Ambani.
Kolkata-based Dolly is well known for draping different types of fabric - be it the dhoti, dupattas or sarees - for both men and women. Though brides are her primary clients, she has also draped top models and has worked with fashion houses, designers and celebs. The much-talked-about wedding outfit of Isha Ambani, where she wore her a part of her mother’s wedding saree as a dupatta with her designer lehenga, was Dolly’s doing.
Dolly’s journey started as a homemaker as she wanted to give her time to her family before venturing out to conquer the world as a drape artist. Today, she has become a globetrotter with a client list that includes top celebs and industrialists in India.
Love for sarees
“I used to be fascinated by my mother, who would wear sarees, though in the same style, but could do everything in it - cook, sleep, travel. I used to love draping my dolls in sarees too as a child,” she reveals.
Dolly, who was born and brought up in Bengaluru, moved to Kolkata with her family where she got married. “Ours was a household where we were only allowed to wear sarees,” she says. To keep things different and exciting, she started to drape her saree differently after marriage.
“People really appreciated the way I carried my sarees. Whenever I did something different, I got a lot of appreciation. Women wanted to drape their sarees like me and would ask me to teach them.”
With no background in fashion, she says she channeled her passion and started focusing on draping the mannequins. Every time she did a new drape, she would click a picture.
A conversation with her father on becoming a saree draper got her sound advice that she shouldn't go all out until she has something concrete and big to announce. The multiple drapes she had practiced over the years now came in handy. She put it on a CD and shared it. Soon, she made it to the Limca Book of Records for draping a saree in just 18.5 seconds, and was also recognised for the number of drapes she could do.
From there, there was no stopping. Dolly says she entered the next chapter of her life - that of a saree draper.
A career in creativity and elegance
Fifteen years ago, people didn’t really understand her as an artist and thought she had gone mad wanting to drape sarees for others. Back then, local beauticians helped brides to drape their sarees. But Dolly started showing brides and designers how drapes could change the look of outfits and also ensure that everything was in place and perfect for a bride on her most special day.
Today, fashion designers approach her asking how many yards she needs for a drape since she is no longer just a saree draper, but a drape artist and can drape any fabric to give it a new and different look.
“I can take any fabric and drape it a way that it looks different,” she says.
Between the demands of a client and their style quotient and the designer's vision of the garment, Dolly has found her footing to do justice to both. Dolly says she loved draping Deepika Padukone during her wedding, and recalls how Deepika gave her a lot of freedom to play around with her outfit. However, it’s easier said than done. “Given Deepika’s style and Sabyasachi’s designs, I had to not do something dramatic. I kept the drapes in sync with Deepika’s style while doing justice to Sabya’s designs.”
Making saree sexy
Sarees have made a comeback and become fashionable again in the last few years.
Dolly, who can do 357 styles of draping, is now working on a coffee table book where she will share 365 drapes - one for every day of the year, so that people can’t say they don’t have enough clothes!
“I want to tell people, open your cupboards, take a fabric and see what magic you can do with the drape to have a new outfit every day.”
Dolly says it is people like her who have shown that a lot can be done with a saree. “My target has never been women in the age group of 30-45. My target audience is 20 to 25-year-olds. I tell girls that I can show you how to drape with your crop top and skirt, your pants and palazzo or even a plain kurta that you are wearing. I talk to young people in their language and their fashion, and that has gotten me their attention.”
The secret to her success, Dolly says, is that she is self-taught. “As someone who is self-taught, I know the sky is the limit, and I can create and innovate freely.”
Seven years ago, Dolly realised that it was becoming difficult for her to be there for every bride on her D-day. “I had to start saying no since I couldn’t be at multiple places at the same time.”
That’s when she started training a team of women. Today, she has 25 women in her team who specialise in draping. “Today, even if I am not there, brides can get the Dolly Jain drape on their wedding day.” While she does not share how much she charges, she reveals that in a month they at least do 500 drapes.
While it does not take a lot of preparation for Dolly to drape, she looks at the garments a week or ten days before the wedding. For high profile weddings, she gets to see the outfit only when the makeup is happening and in case the bride is not happy with a drape, it only takes her 10-15 minutes to do a new one.
“Earlier, I used to have designers hovering around me telling me what to do. But over the years, I have won their trust and they know that if I have fixed something then it will stay,” she says. A lot of clips, safety pins, combs, etc. come in handy.
But things do have a tendency to go wrong, and sometimes Dolly has to improvise to save the day. She recalls one such incident with a bride in Thailand. To match a six-foot plus groom, the bride was planning on wearing high heels with her lehenga. But something went wrong and the bespoke outfit was not of the right length. With a tearful bride at hand, Dolly quickly worked her magic, and used other sarees giving the whole outfit the desired length and a look that was much better than the original design.
Dolly says she is aware of the love she has received, but she truly cherishes a few relationships she has built down the road.
She narrates how a father of a bride called her from Bilaspur to say that he clearly couldn’t afford her, but since his daughter had been talking about having Dolly’s drape for her wedding, he wanted her to be there for his daughter because it would mean a lot to her. Taken in by the emotional request, Dolly went to Bilaspur at her own expense.
“The joy I saw on the brides’ face made everything worthwhile. I can’t describe her emotions but it was overwhelming, and till today I am in touch with her. It’s moments like this that you cherish all your life.”
No shortcuts to success
Dolly believes that she has turned her passion into a profession. “You can’t beat me because I don’t give up,” she says. She is also quick to point out the path she has chosen has come with its own challenges.
Attributing her success to her family, she recalls a time when her two-year-old daughter was running a high temperature, and she had to travel. Dolly says, over the phone, her daughter assured her that she had taken medicines and was fine. “She asked me to take care of my bride and come back. When I got home she was still running a temperature. Till today I hold that moment close because my daughter’s support was touching.”
No doubt that brides take priority in her life. But there have been moments when Dolly received support from her clients too. Dolly had flown to Abu Dhabi when her father was hospitalised. A day after she landed, her father passed away. “It meant leaving the bride alone since I could not fly in someone at such short notice, but I left the decision to her. She told me that she would manage, and asked me to go and see my father as it was the last time I would be seeing him. I was touched but also promised that I would return for another function.”
While work and travel keeps Dolly busy, it also means missing a lot of things back home. She misses most birthdays and anniversaries, and she says someday she wants to be able to spend her birthday and anniversary with her husband. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
(All image credits - Dolly Jain)