Gira Sarabhai, a British Hindu design pioneer who became one of India’s most famous designers and whose eponymous brand featured a range of “unisex” clothes with slogans such as “I want to be seen as a male and female at the same time”, has died. She was 97.
Born in India in 1915, she married an Irishman and moved to the UK as a teenager, where she met and met with Jules Carver, a British designer she married.
Despite the couple’s different cultures, they married, had four children, and ran their fashion company in Calcutta, India, and then later in London, where it went on to establish a catalogue and design business that became a pioneering entity in the fields of commercial womenswear and men’s separates.
In England, she became involved in the organisation of the first expo, Women’s World Exhibition, which took place in London in 1970, which the Sarabhias hoped would create “a lasting message for both gender and western society”. Gira Sarabhai herself was a strong supporter of equal rights, declaring: “Having no particular place in this cosmos, I only dream to be known in some way for inspiring others.”
In many ways she was a pioneer in her field, in modernising traditional Indian clothes. She began to look more and more to Paris, eventually creating a more cosmopolitan look in line with the desire of Indian women to seek ways to blend into the western world.
Earlier, however, there was much debate about the appropriateness of dressing up Indians of a certain class: “Many well-heeled Indian men would rather dress down and dress only for ceremonial occasions,” the Indian writer Janaki Palanisamy wrote in a 1958 magazine article.
Aware of the debate, the Sarabhias were keen to emphasise the fashion potential in their business. Her business, which was later called Gira Sarabhai, was founded on a philosophy of tradition combined with modernism.