Wednesday, April 21, 2021
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Plan B for bridal wear

A few weeks before the lockdown, when Raj Kapoor’s grandson, Armaan Jain, got married, the occasion was fittingly grand. The mehndi was at the Jains’ South Mumbai penthouse, the sangeet graced by the who’s who of Bollywood, and a large reception in the ballroom of a five-star hotel. Guests mingled, sporting designer names such as Sabyasachi, Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla, Anita Dongre and Raw Mango. It was a celebration of the best of Indian couture.

This is now going to become a rarity. One of the major benefactors of the country’s estimated $50 billion wedding industry is Indian fashion. But with Covid-19, “it is not possible [or is highly unlikely] that any large gatherings will be allowed past 20 or 40 people. Therefore, all the industries associated with weddings are in deep trouble,” says couturier Tarun Tahiliani. This includes fashion. “Weddings are a huge part of our business; couture is driven by it.”

Tarun Tahiliani and a few of his designs

Eye on value

With existing orders cancelled or tweaked to be appropriate for more intimate weddings, bridal wear is set for a complete makeover. Ritu Kumar, the doyenne of Indian fashion, says, “The ornate and the theatrical must take a back seat now and so things are going to get much simpler and more personal.”

Dressing for digital

  • Clothes will now be made for the camera, as live streaming will be the socially-responsible route. Malhotra notes that dressing up will remain important “whether on or offline, but digital aesthetics will mean you need to pay attention to details”. Brides will have to shop with a keener eye.

Naturally, this will result in less profit for designers, especially couturiers. “Couture in India is only made for weddings, unlike the West where they have galas or big black-tie fundraisers. Designers will now have to look at making more ready-to-wear separates,” says Tahiliani. The post-Covid bride could, in fact, be far more stylish than her pre-Covid counterpart, who was in need of a style correction. “We will go back to greater delicacy and elegance. I was amazed at how some brides wore clothes that they could not walk in or that could bruise them. It had become like The Emperor’s New Clothes,” he observes.

Most designers have stopped receiving enquires during lockdown. Manish Malhotra, one of India’s top designers, says that among the few brides-to-be who reached out, he’s seen a change in mindset. “They want value — be it the money or the outfit. They want something that is made responsibly and is repeat worthy,” he says, adding, “The aesthetics of my design won’t change, but it might just adapt.”

K Radharaman and saris from The House of Angadi

K Radharaman and saris from The House of Angadi

The nostalgia card

A simpler aesthetic, however, could benefit designers who work with handloom. “Anything handmade will become more relevant in times like this. People want to go back to their roots and old-world values,” says K Radharaman, founder-CEO at Bengaluru’s The House of Angadi. Stressing that because they use pure zari and silk yarn, there is no difference between a new sari and one made a 100 years ago, he adds that customers are looking at sustainability in a practical way. “As a design house working with handloom, we provide designs that will become cherished heirlooms.”

Designers are also more open to working with pre-loved and heirloom textiles. “Couture is likely to see a revival of pre-owned classics, such as the Banarasi sari,” says Kumar. Repurposing — something Kareena Kapoor kicked off in 2012, when she had her mother-in-law’s gharara restored for her wedding — could become a bigger trend too. Kumar says she will be “happy to work on a mother’s lehenga that she’d bought from us”. In fact, Malhotra recently convinced a bride to go with an heirloom piece for her wedding rather than buy a new outfit. “Repurposing, recycling and upcycling are at the core of sustainability, and we must practise it in our business,” he says, explaining that he would be open to reworking heirloom pieces as separates.

Manish Malhotra’s designs

Manish Malhotra’s designs

Social distance shopping

Post lockdown, shopping remains a scary proposition. Wedding shows and exhibitions — a key revenue generator for small and mid-size fashion labels — aren’t scheduled, and standalone flagships are considered safer than malls or markets. “Those with large stores can work with brides-to-be, by practising social distancing and using temperature control and disinfectants. Even during sales, we will allocate slots; no more than seven clients in an 8,000 sq ft store,” says Tahiliani. Virtual consultancy is also picking up, as is concierge-driven shopping. “It actually makes the interaction more personal and more comfortable. We need to adapt and understand how to use the digital space,” says Malhotra.

The silver lining? “When we have a vaccine, this whole conversation will become irrelevant,” says Tahiliani. Meanwhile, Malhotra expects things to go back to a “new normal” after two seasons. Perhaps our love of weddings could become the reason that the fashion industry recovers faster than expected.

A home wedding, with designs from Sanjay Garg’s Raw Mango

A home wedding, with designs from Sanjay Garg’s Raw Mango

Looking ahead

Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango weighs in

Will the big fat Indian wedding change?

It certainly will take time for things to recover and, in this case, for a new normal to likely emerge. We all know that there is too much out there already. This is a great time for us to edit our offerings and reflect on the way forward. Weddings will still be celebratory and joyous, but there will be a behavioural change and more considered choices made when it comes to what to wear. I hope people support local, homegrown businesses and craftsmen, which will lead to a sustainable ecosystem for all.

How important is bridal wear to your business?

It was the general perception that saris should be restricted to ceremonial occasions like weddings and festivities. I wanted to question both the garment’s functionality and what occasion wear stands for in our society. Our brand is not necessarily driven by this market, but it is certainly an important part of it, which is surely going to be affected with many weddings and events standing cancelled or postponed.

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