This Brand Created The Bikini Sari After Hearing This Story About Body Confidence

Shivan & Narresh is a line based in India, where — for the most part — special considerations toward modesty exist for many labels. Designers Shivan Bhatiya and Narresh Kukreja are the creators of the Bikini Sari, a one-piece maillot with a wrappable fabric sewn into the front that mimics the look and feel of a traditional sari that reveals your midriff, but covers your upper legs and cleavage. That, and the rest of their collections of more traditional maillots and two-pieces, have won the duo a Forbes '30 under 30' award, an Elle Style award, and more, while also proving their worth as international design stars. We spoke to Bhatiya and Kukreja about the one person whose story sparked the idea behind the Bikini Sari, their involvement with Ang Lee's Life of Pi, and what their line has to do with body confidence.
Photo: Courtesy of Shivan & Narresh.
What are you doing that other modest-swimwear competitor brands aren't?
Kukreja: "When we first established the brand in 2009 in India, there was a huge vacuum for this category. There was a culture of low self-confidence among Indian women in embracing their body types, and there wasn't a swimwear brand that truly understood the curves and contours of an Indian body type. The new-age Indian woman is emancipated, indulgent, and more well-traveled."

Bhatiya: "To cater to this demographic, we gave them an international aesthetic built on a modern Indian philosophy of boldness and sophistication. Functionality and fabrics were key to make this happen, and that is why we continued to only use technologically advanced Italian jerseys that we used to work with when we were still studying in Italy to make our collections. The fabrics are not only beautiful to touch, but are resistant to UV rays, sunscreens, body oils, and sand."
Where did the idea to create a modest swimwear line come from?
Kukreja: "Coming from a land that boasts a heritage of women relaxing around water — whether they were at the Mughal Baolis stepwells or the Ghaats riverbanks — along with a love for bold colors and elegant modesty, it was more than natural for us to conceive a brand that truly married our heritage with a Western concept of a swimsuit through a product language that was international, yet deeply rooted in our culture. Our tryst with modesty started with infusing confidence in women to accept their body types and experiment with boldness through colors and strategic cutouts."

Photo: Courtesy of Shivan & Narresh.

How does the Bikini Sari work? How many different ways can you wear it?
Bhatiya: "The Bikini Sari is a landmark invention by the brand that 'counter-fuses' the boldness of a bikini with the elegant modesty of a sari. The inception of the silhouette germinated through a mid-aged connoisseur who had given up on swimwear due to her lack of body confidence. She tried to fit her unique body type into various styles of bathing suits, none of which ever made her feel elegant. She was extremely conscious of being a misfit among all other fit women her age in just swimsuits and pareos. Being culturally relevant while dressing appropriately while holidaying abroad had been a big concern for her, and this became our brief in creating this new silhouette."

Kukreja: "The Bikini Sari has become a tool now to liberate woman from feeling like misfits while on a holiday. How one drapes the sari is what gives its silhouette a unique regional or national identity. It can be worn one shoulder like a traditional sari, you can show your leg through the slit, or even wrap it around you like a cocktail dress."
Photo: Courtesy of Shivan & Narresh.
How did the collaboration with Ang Lee on Life of Pi come about? Who approached whom, and what was that experience like?
Bhatiya: "The cast of Life of Pi was predominantly Indian, and it probably made sense for them to explore Indian talent for costume design as well. This was back in 2010, when we had just moved back from Italy and started the brand in India, and the film needed to re-create the lifestyle of Piscine Molitor. The brief from the costume stylist, Arjun Bhasin, was all about the authenticity that Lee was envisioning — we could only use non-elastane fabrics (think heavy cottons and jacquards), and we couldn't use modern closures like zips or hooks. To add to that, it was to be made for about 80 regular-bodied French women, and about 20 men across varied shapes and sizes, which obviously meant one-of-a-kind swimsuits for everyone. The process involved us exploring a huge amount of ruching and smocking to create these swimsuits for men and women across all sizes for a visual story of recreational 1950s in Paris.

What do you think about body image in India and modesty in Indian culture? What are the requirements of modest swimwear in India
Kukreja: "[We feel like] the female Indian body type is an extremely unique one: Their torsos are shorter, and their busts and hips are fuller, resulting in a quintessential hourglass figure. Women tried to fit themselves into foreign sizing charts, and when they failed to do so, they experienced low body confidence from no fault of their own. Brands like ours have been able to develop specialized bodice blocks after months of research; it has become increasingly easier for women to try intimate wear and swimwear as wardrobe staples that actually fit. Yes, modesty does have a role to play in the scheme of things, since we are allowing women to shed the layers of clothing that past traditions have asked them to wear, but we're also doing this with intelligent design and colorblocking that shift focus away from areas of the body she might feel most conscious of."
Photo: Courtesy of Shivan & Narresh.

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