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Indian Fashion Designer Satya Paul Who Gave Traditional Sari a Contemporary Touch Dies at 79

Indian Fashion Designer Satya Paul Who Gave Traditional Sari a Contemporary Touch Dies at 79

Staff Writer
  • Popular among Bollywood and India’s social elite, he made his mark in the world of fashion retail with the 1980 launch of L'Affaire, the first sari boutique.

Indian fashion designer and founder of the eponymous clothing brand, Satya Paul, died at Sadhguru’s Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore, India, Jan. 6. The 79-year-old had suffered a stroke in December. 

The veteran fashion designer is known for giving the traditional sari a contemporary touch. He made his mark in the world of fashion retail with the 1980 launch of L’Affaire, the first sari boutique in the country, before establishing his own label five years later. His retail empire consists of stores in eight cities in India as well as a thriving online business.

His pioneering designs blended handloom techniques with a modern palette, producing saris adorned with polka dots, zebra prints and abstract motifs. Valley of Flowers, a collection of saris with floral prints, either hand-painted or embroidered, is another of his signature collection.  

However, Paul did not limit himself to saris: his collection includes kurtas, handbags, clutches and scarves, and men’s accessories such as neck ties, belts, wallets, pocket squares and cufflinks.

The news of Paul’s death was announced on Twitter by Isha Yoga Centre founder Sadhguru. “#SatyaPaul, a shining example of what it means to live with immeasurable passion and unrelenting involvement,” Sadhguru wrote. “The distinct vision you brought to the Indian #fashion industry is a beautiful tribute to this. A privilege to have had you amongst us.”

Paul’s son Puneet Nanda, in a lengthy Facebook post, revealed that his father was slowly recovering after the stroke, in a hospital. Instead of staying in the hospital, Paul wanted to go back to the center in Coimbatore which had been his home since 2015. “He couldn’t have had a sweeter life or passage, at the feet of the Master,” Nanda wrote. “We are sad a bit, mostly rejoicing him, his life and now his passing with such a blessing.”

Tracing his father’s spiritual journey, Nanda wrote: “Most people are not aware, more than as a designer or entrepreneur, he has been steadfastly a seeker.” In the 1970s Paul was a disciple of Osho (Bhagwan Rajneesh). “After Osho left in 1990, though he wasn’t seeking another Master, he discovered Sadhguru in 2007,” Nanda wrote. “He immediately started enjoying the path of yoga and eventually moved here in 2015. He has been a doorway for hundreds of people towards spirituality and all the Masters he was so blessed to have been with,” Nanada’s Facebook post said. “Those who have been with him at any point in life would recall him as one who showered his love without hesitation or any barriers. I can attest to him having lived in totality and left fulfilled in every possible way. It is the greatest testament to him as he went joyously, without fear.”

The company’s official Instagram account also honored Paul and shared various portraits of him.

In addition to catering to Bollywood and India’s elite, Paul has also been a great supporter of weavers and craftsman all over the country and has taken inspiration from them to weave his own designs.

Paul was born in 1942 in Layyah, in what is now Pakistan, before his family moved to India. “My family was uprooted from Pakistan and landed in India with nothing in hand,” he told DNA India in a March 2010 interview. “From a zero start, my father and I ran a restaurant in Sarojni Nagar (Delhi), which became quite famous at that time. The struggle was intense.” It was then that Paul decided to enter the textile business as he  thought it would be less taxing, though one was to see equally challenging times ahead.

Paul never learned designing from anybody; he was self-taught. “I had to self-teach myself about design and quality as I was not content only with trading,” he told DNA. “Wanting to offer better quality and design, the search took me far and wide and helped shape a life of creation. Later, I started exports and then the first ‘boutique’ store for

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In addition to catering to Bollywood and India’s elite, Paul has also been a great supporter of weavers and craftsman all over the country and has taken inspiration from them to weave his own designs. Most of his collections were based on stories that narrated details of India’s rich, artistic history.  Some of his prints on saris are said to be inspired by the Ramayana, Bohemian Rhapsody and Tarot cards. Silk crepes, georgette satins and chiffons were his fabrics of preference. woven banarasi silks, mugga and tussar silks.In 2003, he designed a limited edition of silk scarves that featured painter Sayed Haider Raza’s paintings.

Paul made several collaborations for a cause. In 2004, he joined hands for Women’s Cancer Initiative with the Tata Memorial Center Hospital of Mumbai for “Called Think Pink.” The project was the brainchild of Mumbai socialite and philanthropist Devieka Bhojwani, who battled with breast cancer. A special collection, ‘Ray of Hope’  was developed as well to represent the strength and struggle of women fighting cancer. In 2006, he collaborated with WWF to launch the Endangered Species collection.

A favorite of Bollywood stars, Paul was also admired for his business acumen. Several Indian celebrities like Mandira Bedi, Aishwarya Rai, Shruti Hassan, Dia Mirza and Sonam Kapoor have flaunted his creations. Paul also hired well-known designers such as Masaba Gupta and Rajesh Pratap Singh to serve as creative directors for the brand. 

Posting on Instagram, Gupta highlighted the importance of Paul’s legacy. She wrote that he was “a true example of an actual (homegrown) brand: put in corporate hands at the right time and one with a signature that will stand the test of time. Fashion schools — Please introduce young Indian design aspirants to this brand… We can be inspired by the story of Chanel etc but we must learn what happened on our soil first.”

Director Madhur Bhandarkar tweeted, “Sad to hear demise of most influenced Fashion Designer Satya Paul sir. His immense contribution in the fashion industry will be always remembered, My heartfelt condolences to Puneet Nanda and the family. #OmShanti.”Popular among Bollywood and India’s social elite, he made his mark in the world of fashion retail with the 1980 launch of L’Affaire, the first sari boutique. 

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