Two weeks ago, stylist Rhea Kapoor tied the knot dressed in an ivory Anamika Khanna chanderi sari with a vintage pearl veil from Birdhichand Ghanshyamdas. For the intimate ceremony held in her living room, she paired the muted outfit with a pronounced winged eyeliner and jewellery from her mother’s collection, balancing her bohemian and traditional sides. It got me curious about how, after the long wait, post-pandemic brides are getting ready for their big day. Are they keeping it low-key? Or are they injecting some fun into the gloom and going large? When I ask Khanna, who is readying for her digital showcase at the ongoing India Couture Week (ICW), she shares that there is an interesting bridal dichotomy.
“A section of brides have simplified everything for themselves and their families, and have accepted the fact that the world has changed. For instance, Rhea wanted to go with ivory mulmul and I respect that,” she tells The Hindu Weekend . “But then there’s a category that is not affected and still wants to be the dream bride.”
As I look at the creations displayed at ICW, I find that many of the designers — coming out of multiple lockdowns and facing a new festive season — are courting the latter, letting their creative freak flag fly high. Couturier Manish Malhotra tried to capture that sentiment in his opening show. “Brides are understandably emotional, but they also want to have fun. I’ve tried to convey these emotions in my bridal edit ‘Nooraniyat’, featuring actor Kriti Sanon [in an ornate lehenga with statement-making zardozi embroidery],” says Malhotra, who also made sure he checked the inclusivity boxes by including plus-size models and casting former super model Noyonika Chatterjee to bring in ‘age-less’ style. (At his store, plus sizing is addressed through customisation of each outfit.)
The designer has been dressing a panoply of brides in Jaipur, Mumbai and Delhi, and calls the 2021 woman the ‘opulent bride’. “Today’s bride wants to go all out; she’s living that moment even if it is with just 50 people. And she wants a mix of tradition and modernity: like pretty veils and a bit of glitz for the sangeet and reception.”
Customisation for the win
Interestingly, preferences are leaning towards a heightened level of customisation. The brides are also bringing stylists on board for trousseau shopping. “Will this lehenga skirt look good on me? Do I need a gown with a longer floor-sweeping trail? I see the post-pandemic bride getting very specific about her bespoke requirements,” says designer Shane Peacock, remarking on how “most brides who approach us have a stylist with them, who helps them make that personalised choice”.
- Wedding stylist Aastha Sharma, who recently worked with a bride in Lake Como for a day wedding in a silver Falguni Shane Peacock creation, underscores the revenge shopping sentiment. “The bride wants something fun, grand and exclusive, and doesn’t want to pick anything off the rack because it’s last season and designers were unable to make anything new due to the pandemic. Also, during the lockdown, fashion liberties were restricted and hence she wants to go all out now,” she says.
- Also, in terms of the colour palette, many are gravitating towards hues like aubergine. Wedding stylist Shreeja Rajgopal recently dressed one of her clients for a South Indian wedding in a brinjal-hued Raw Mango sari. “Brides are warming up to new colours and they want the outfit to do all the talking and keep the rest of the makeup and jewellery minimal. Sustainability is also at the heart of shopping, as they want to invest in pieces with the potential of repeat styling — be it a lehenga or a pantsuit,” she says.
While last season, the duo Falguni and Shane had an array of stylists depicting the backstage drama in their couture digital showcase, this season, they’ve let their ‘more is more’ aesthetic take centrestage. “Besides our signature FSP silvers, golds and pinks, we’ve brightened the gloomy mood a bit by inculcating pop hues like bubblegum, pinkish red, and turquoise,” he adds.
Revenge spending is definitely on the rise. While designers haven’t revealed any numbers in India, according to news reports, many of their international stores and pop-ups have been fully booked of late. Monica Shah, co-founder of brand Jade by Monica and Karishma, revealed to Mint Lounge that when they launched in Los Angeles in April, the opening weekend alone had “about 40 bridal appointments”, while Anita Dongre shared that appointments at her New York store have been full since March. And now, with destination weddings picking up again, people are shopping with a vengeance. Designers Pankaj & Nidhi — who made their couture foray last season with an edited take on evening glamour — is focussing on wearability and weightlessness, with the travelling brides in mind. “We have an extra lehenga panel coming into play, which can be turned out faster for a last-minute couture request,” says Pankaj. “In terms of texturisation, we’ve scaled our core narrative to another level and made the textures more defined [metallicising their signature appliqué work, for example].”
Everything is a statement
Individuality is also big now. According to Gaurav Gupta, the pandemic has catalysed individualistic dressing and “the bride now wants to make an even bigger statement — be it in terms of colour, shape, form or embroidery. While she picks a lightweight lehenga for her engagement, she’ll opt for a larger-than-life, sculpted gown for her sangeet- cocktail. Everything has become more glamorous, more dramatic, but with a sustainable heart”. The designer, who’s always initiated a cultural dialogue with each outing, exploring all sides of love, has titled his latest collection ‘Universal Love’. The showcase featured gay models, lesbian couples, plus-size models and even battled ageism by focussing on mature love.
Meanwhile, Amit Aggarwal, known for his push on upcycling and recontextualising textiles, sees a bit of a personal take on how brides want to feel on their important day. “Brides don’t look for embroideries or embellishments any more, but at intelligent design. They look at overall understanding of beauty and value in the product they are investing in, so it’s not about the number of hours spent on embroidery, but on the thought that’s gone behind creating the ensemble. The choice of the outfit has to resonate with their personality,” he concludes.
India Couture Week 2021 ends on August 29, with a finale by Rahul Mishra.