The durability of this flamboyant Indian tradition, especially the way people still wed, encouraged National Institute of Fashion Technology ( NIFT ) to bring the Asian Bridal Summit to Delhi. Says choreographer Harmeet Bajaj, "The Japanese designer Yumi Katsura conceived this summit as tradition is eroding there. This was a way to reinforce ones commitment to it. This is a visual representation." She adds, "No matter how westernised you may be, you dont get married in a pair of shorts, kiss the bride, exchange rings and its all over. Here, its much more than that. We dont want to lose that tradition."
Three days were spent by 134 delegates from countries like Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and India discussing the rituals and endurance of marriages in their respective countries. Two fashion shows and an entire session of mock weddings brought these aspects sharply into focus for the delegates. Next, the summit moves to New York to "show the West the richness of our traditions," says an organiser of the event. For, how many people knew the difference between the local darzi (tailor) and a fashion designer 10 years ago? Or, how many were there willing to shell out many thousands of rupees on something as ephemeral as a wedding garment? Enter the dramatis personae of the bride and the bridegroom. Says fashion designer J. J. Vallaya, who is well- known for his trousseaux and wedding lehangas, "Indian weddings are the mainstay of Indian couture. There are no budgetary constraints. Most clothes that we sell are either directly or indi rectly meant for that grand moment."
And indeed that is what it is. The mehndi, the
chura , the engagement, the rokha , the sangeet, the actual wedding and then the reception are now almost de rigueur with the wealthy Indian. Throw in a party or two and maybe a sit down dinner, and theyre enough to keep a merry band of designers in India happily in business for at least a couple of months. Says Vandana Bhandari, an NIFT faculty member and the author of the book Celebrating Life: Weddings in India , which was released at the recently held Asian Bridal Summit, "Where else would you wear a Rs 50,000 outfit? A wedding is the most formal occasion in India."
There is then a mental scramble in the minds of most designers to grab the meatiest chunk of a mega wedding account. The marriage of steel king Laxmi Mittals son, the Modi- Singhania union, or the Khaitan-Bangur
shaadis are all important accounts to pocket. Designers have been known to be flown to exotic locations either to shop for the fabric or to be at hand at the time of the actual ceremony. Budgets for a wedding lehanga can start at a lakh of rupees to as much as Rs 4 lakh. One familys budget for a wedding could again start at a lakh and go up to Rs 40 lakh just for the clothes for all the functions.
The importance of weddings to the business can also be estimated from the fact that all fashion shows these days conclude with a bride. Cue, which is essentially a western womens line this season, showed a very stylised bride as its finale. Vallaya last season had an entire separate showing of just bridal and trousseau wear.
Some of it, though, is already changing. The clientele that the designers see want something much more than a red embroidered lehanga. Say the Calcutta- based celebrated designer duo Mona- Pali, "Marwaris believed that
maal ka kam (thick gold thread embroidery) was a must. It was considered auspicious. But now they are willing to change." Colours too in some cases have moved away from the red palette. A fashion magazine recently found it difficult to get 10 red wedding lehangas toget her for a colour- themed shoot. Silver, mehndi green, copper and blue are gaining currency. Fashion designer Rohit Bal a few seasons ago sent down a bride dressed in grey with sparkling silver embroidery to much appreciative applause. And pastels continue to rule for the more fashion- conscious in the last couple of seasons.
The cuts, however, still reflect the penchant for the traditional. Says designer Ritu Kumar, whose outfits form an important part of any brides wardrobe, "Old techniques and colours are always exciting. We have not become minimalistic in our way of dressing." While zardosi remains a favourite with Kumar, many like Tarun Tahiliani are experimenting with Swaroski crystals as their embellishments. Tahiliani, who has been known to bag some of the biggest weddings in this country, has even turned the form around by transforming a lehanga into an almost body- hugging gown in pastel shades, yet retaining its essential Indian identity.
And women arent the only ones sprucing up for the show. The ill- fitting, three- piece suit that every bridegroom sweated in earlier is now being replaced by the more Indian sherwani, the achkan and the kurta- pyjama. Says Vallaya, "Men are becoming the ultimate peacocks. They want to look like maharajas, that look of grandeur." And how much do you fork out for a designer wedding sherwani? From Rs 30,000 to anything upwards.
Therein lies the key to the popularity of these designers. For their ability to trans form the commonplace groom into Adonis for that one precious day in his life. Says Bajaj, "A wedding is an occasion to make a statement about yourself." Then there are demands for coordinating His and Her looks or even that of the entire family so that colours and style dont jar in the Big Picture.
Innovations sometimes are known to have their lighter moments. For instance, a bride found the zip of her wedding day outfit splitting a few hours before the actual ceremony and timely help from another friendly designer saved her from grave embarrassment.
So, what did the bridal summit achieve? It served a useful purpose by focusing on the segment from where the Indian desi gner rakes in the moolah. Says Bhandari, "To our students, often what is happening in New York has greater significance than what is going on in the East. We wanted them to understand that what is going on in the East is equally important." Adds the institutes director-general, L. V. Saptrishi, "The event was organised with the view to understand tradition in a modern context." What better way than the Indian wedding to do just that?