Paris is the epicentre of effortless style. In the fashion world, "Parisian chic" is frequently cited, and Parisian style is referred to as "chic décontracté" or "casual chic." Suchanda Banerjee, a well-known alpana and henna artist (check out her work here) from Kolkata, travelled around Paris showcasing the evergreen Indian garment, the sari. Her photos from the six-day trip have gone viral on social media.
Planning For Paris
"I have been fascinated by Paris since my teenage years when I started understanding the love for fashion," says Banerjee who has a post-grad journalism degree from Jadavpur University. "I have always been interested in art, culture, colours, and styles. I always used to say that I would go to Paris someday, and everyone thought I was just saying it randomly. Today I am 30 years old, and I came a long way to make this happen."
This was her first time travelling by air. Banerjee says she started saving for the trip in 2018. "So yes, it was literally a 5-year plan," she laughs. "I planned the trip by myself with the help of a friend Pankaj Kumar Mandal who lives in Paris. The visa struggle was real because all the big travel agencies refused to take up my profile as I am a freelance artist with no monthly pay slip or a steady monthly income. I do not have much in the way of assets either. And my family is just me and my mother. But my friend and I painstakingly gathered all the documents, and I received my passport with my very first visa stamped on it. And what makes me happy is that I wrote my profession as an “artist” on my cover letter and visa application form!"
Mon Amour, The Sari
Where did the idea of wearing a sari in Paris come from? "I wanted to flaunt my Indian culture," says Banerjee. "Paris is the world's fashion capital, and walking down the roads in a sari was an amazing feeling. I didn’t try to fit in by wearing Western clothes. And people could easily identify me as an Indian woman." Banerjee took around 11-12 saris, mostly handloom and khadi, and nothing expensive. "There was one sari which was just for INR 350. Nothing glittery, very subtle. And I took along a sari belonging to my mother. She doesn’t like it anymore, but I love it," she laughs.
Banerjee wowed the world from the word go. She received compliments everywhere, starting from the Kolkata International Airport (from the flight attendant) to people sitting next to her in a café or a restaurant in Paris and from people walking down streets. "In the tourist spots, I would receive compliments in English. In other places, people would come up and compliment me in French. Some would make a gesture, like the way a sari pallu flows, to deliver the message that it’s beautiful. I would reply with a smile."
Parisian Anecdotes And Encounters
Banerjee would visit a café next to her hotel every day. The people there used to like how she used to come to have a cup of coffee in a sari. "I would request them to take a picture of me. I feel they also enjoyed it, and they spoke with me in English. Even on the last day of my Paris trip, the lady in that café said "See you tomorrow." When I said I was flying out that day, she said, "Then, see you the next time you visit!” I had heard Parisians were rude, but they were really, really nice to me."
Then there was Anne, a woman she met at a café. She had lived in Mumbai for a few months. "I was wearing a black saree that day. She complimented me and shared her love for the sari. And showed me a picture of her mother wearing one. I just decided to gift her a new saree from my suitcase. She was hesitant at first, then agreed to accept my gift. My mom was happier than I was when I told her about the incident."
Banerjee recounts an encounter with "an amazing French mural artist, Kelly Miti (@kellymiti–that's her Insta name and it is what she uses). It was exciting meeting another artist from another country. I love her! As a souvenir, she wrote my name on the wall they were currently working on. Imagine your name on a wall in the streets of Paris. It was an amazing feeling. Paris gave me more than I could wish for."
Banerjee says she is not much of a traveller because she usually has little time to spare from her work. "I am usually busy with some project. I don't get that kind of a vacation where I can go somewhere, sit back, and relax." She has always wanted her first flight to be to Paris and is thrilled that she was able to make that dream come true. Meanwhile, she is already planning for her next trip abroad. "This time it will be Spain because I love how colourful the Spanish are. I love their culture and their food. And I am sure I am going to wear the sari. I am comfortable in it, and we look elegant and sophisticated in a sari."
Brush Strokes Of Heritage
Banerjee has been a henna artist for the past 15 years. "I wanted to earn my pocket money and not ask my mother for it," she explains. She began working on the art of alpona later, wanting to bring back the tradition and heritage of handmade alpona, which she felt was disappearing from Bengal. She makes the works on canvas and ships them to people outside Bengal. "I wanted people to stay connected to their roots and stay connected to Bengal."
You can check out her work here.