Man who gave Indian saris a contemporary touch dies at 79


World-renowned Indian fashion designer Satya Paul, founder of the iconic eponymous clothing brand, died in Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu on 6 January. He was 79.

In a Facebook post, his son Puneet Nanda confirmed that the designer had suffered a stroke in December last year and had been hospitalized. “We finally got clearance from doctors to take him back to Isha Yoga Center, his home since 2015,” Nanda wrote. “As per his wish, he gently passed on with blessings of his Master, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev.”

Born in Pakistan and moved to India during the partition, Paul was a key figure in helping the humble saree get worldwide recognition, giving it a contemporary touch.

A favorite of many Bollywood stars, the designer made his name with his use of contemporary colors, patterns, creativity, and quality materials.

He set up India’s first sari boutique in 1980 and launched his own label six years later.

After making his breakthrough with the launch of the L’Affaire boutique, he went on to produce saris adorned with polka dots, zebra prints and more, as well as championing the trouser sari.

“I always thought of him as an artist,” designer Kaushik Velendra told The Guardian. “He worked with his colors like a painter.”

Masaba Gupta, who served as a creative director for the brand, said his label “will stand the test of time”.

“Fashion schools – please introduce young Indian design aspirants to this brand,” she said. “We can be inspired by the story of Chanel etc but we must learn what happened on our soil first.”

Delhi-based designer Anju Modi said, “Paul’s bold color palette, especially the use of neon and pop colors, became something of a calling card. His usage of geometric prints, and later abstract designs as well, on textiles like jaamdanis, jaamewar, and pure cotton, and his usage of vegetable dyes left a deep impression on me. Not just me, all of India went ga-ga over his very modern approach to design. I used to really look up to him,”

“But the one thing that keeps coming back to me is his matter-of-fact approach to life and work. He didn’t have many airs about himself, but he was proud of his work,” added Modi.

His draw was not just eclectic designs. It was also Satya Paul, the charismatic marketeer. Sethi says: “His presentations to the customers were just impeccable… he would sell his products as if he was selling the most precious stones. And it all came from his belief in his craft, his ‘spiritual’ approach to work, his constant instant search for spirituality.”

Even in his Facebook post on 7 January, Nanda talked about his father’s “seeker” nature.

He wrote: “Most people are not aware, more than as a designer or entrepreneur, he has been steadfastly a seeker… We are sad only a bit, mostly rejoicing him, his life, and now his passing with such a blessing.”