Chennai based DS Aiyyelu


Jun 2000
A dancer's costume is one of the features that add to the aesthetic appeal of a performer and his/her performance. Narthaki Online interviews DS Aiyyelu, master costumer for the Indian dance community the world over for nearly 50 years.
How did you get into dance tailoring?
I joined Gemini Studios in 1944 and worked under costumer Ambedkar. He taught me the basics and I started working on costumes on my own from around 1946.

What was the first costume you stitched and for whom?
Through Ambedkar, I got the order to make my first costume for Vyjayanthimala.
What were the designs in those days?
It was like a sari pattern with loose pyjama bottom and blouse.
Who were your famous clients then?
I worked as personal costumer for Vyjayanthimala for nearly 20 years from roughly 1950 to 1970. I also stitched for Kamala, a dancer called Kanaka from Kuwait…

When did you open your shop?
I opened my first shop in 1962 in Thiruvalluvar Street. I moved to the present premises located at Bharatidasan Road in 1971.
Who are your famous clients now?
Padma Subrahmanyam, Chitra Visweswaran, Saraswati…..Film stars like Revathi, Bhanupriya, Hema Malini….In fact, all Hema Malini's students as well as from Raja Rajeswari Bharatanatya Kalamandir from Bombay place their orders with me. Mythili Kumar, Viji Prakash and many others from the US, some Japanese dancers are my regular clients…Someone from Japan videotaped my shop and work.

People from all over the world come to you. They have to wait till the last moment for their costumes. Have you taken on too much work?
People give last minute orders. Moreover, if it's a regular client, I'm unable to refuse. I manage to do the impossible and deliver the costumes on time, failing which, I post the order if it's a client from out of town. Have I taken on too many orders? (Laughs) I manage!

How long does it take for you to stitch a costume?
A simple design takes about half a day. Something more complicated will take about a day for one set.

So many you have trained have started their own tailoring units. Like Rajagopal, Jayaraman...Your comments.
I can't say I trained them completely. But, yes, they did learn from me. Given the demand for dance costumes, they made their own contacts, branched out on their own and started their own units to earn their livelihood.

Which creative dancers have suggested new designs, colors?
Sometimes they make suggestions. Sometimes, I do. Nothing specific.

Do you think today's dance costumes are simpler, hence easier to make?
I don't think so. The loose sari style was easier to make those days. Nowadays it is more complicated with cut pyjamas and emphasis on fitting.

If you think a dancer's choice of design or color is unsuitable, will you disagree?
In those days, dancers were more open to suggestions. The number of dancers were also few. Nowadays, there is a proliferation of dancers who are very firm about what they want. So, I generally stitch as per their instructions.

How superstitious are you? We hear you once refused to cut a dancer's wedding sari to stitch a costume.
I don't recall that. I'm not really superstitious.

What are your proudest achievements?
I can't think of anything special.

Who is going to inherit your business after you?
I am yet to decide on that. As long as I'm active, the work will go on.
After that, I do not know.
Now that there is computerization everywhere, are you also planning to modernize your unit?
I am happy with the way things are.

With orders from all over the world, how do you cope?
I have about 4 to 5 people working for me. We try and manage.
When do you get the maximum orders?
During December season.

Have you received any awards?
No. There are no awards. But some dancers have presented me momentoes.

Do you think the allied arts complementary to dance, like costume designing should be given recognition?
Certainly. Though prominent dancers like Padma Subrahmanyam have taken the initiative to get the government to institute an award for costume category, the government turned down the suggestion.

What is your birth date? Where were you born?
October 1, 1930..I think. I was born near Vizhupuram.

Do you take off sometimes?
Only Sundays.

Aiyyelu married Dhanalakshmi at age 13 and embarked on his illustrious career at age 14. Though he has no issues, his entire kith and kin regard him as their family head. Aiyyelu's expertise is still in great demand in today's modern world. Yet this publicity shy, modest individual is a devout family man, who still adheres to the old, traditional values in life.


Aiyyelu D S
"D S Aiyyelu Tailors"
9 Bharatidasan Road
Seethamma Colony
Chennai 600018
Ph: (044) - 24354877
e-mail: dsaiyyelu@yahoo.co.in

(as told to LV)