what will the bride choose?

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Fabric innovations, ornate embroideries and lost techniques… this wedding season, designers are reinventing the trousseau, says Asmita Aggarwal

This year at the India Couture Week 2017, there were many firsts – the lehenga-gown by designer Gaurav Gupta with superlative finishing; Anita Dongre replacing the choli with the blouson and adding pockets to the lehenga; the lovely Anamika Khanna making a splash with her Banarasi brocades, which she has collected for decades; and a rather refreshing ingenuity by Rahul Mishra, with his washable couture (yes, you can put it in the washer-dryer!) along with his ode to satrangi tile works, floral motifs and Meenakari seen at the Taj Mahal, or the blues he saw in the Blue Mosque in Turkey.

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Innovations ruled the ramp at the fashion extravaganza organised by the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), as the event celebrated its 10th year with aplomb. And experiments are essential for couturiers to sustain in the Indian wedding market, estimated to be worth over `1,00,000 crore and steadily growing at 25 to 30 per cent annually.

The front runner among designers who are thinking differently is International Woolmark Prize-winner Rahul Mishra. Some seasons ago, he had added the bomber jacket as an able and armed accompaniment to his floral lehengas, telling women that they can be adventurous on their D-Day. “Couture is, for us, one of the most sustainable forms of expression. For this collection we have used a lot of handloom and khadi fabrics as a base for the embroidery. We have also used resham embroidery; in fact, we prefer thread embroidery to embellishments,” says Mishra. Always subtle and impactful, he believes that bridal wear must add to a bride’s confidence in more ways than one, rather than leaving her overwhelmed with embroideries and metres of fabric.

the New-age bride

The changes in the way designersthink today are also due to the modern, new-age woman who knows her mind, unlike in the past when she was guided by the demands of the family. Anju Modi, the style guru who has always paid homage to woman power, in keeping with her Bollywood trajectory (Bajirao Mastani and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela) is taking a trip to Rajasthan to salute the brave Rajputana spirit this year.

She believes that women today want to wear something that they can have fun in. It needn’t be too heavy or too extravagant, but instead something that is a bridge between the two. “The quintessential red, a classic saree, the A-line lehenga, zari work and indigenous motifs are things that have withstood the test of time, because they are fuss-free and you can’t go wrong with them,” says Modi.

Traditional with a twist

This wedding season, designers are balancing the fine line between commercial viability and artistic pursuit. That’s why Mumbai-based designer Monisha Jaising believes that fabrics and embroideries such as lamé, velvet, tulle, chikankari, Italian organza and Banarasi can find some common ground with metallic satin. She is offering brides a leather and cutwork lehenga teamed up with a button-down white shirt, crop tops and ball skirts, and colours such as lilac, vintage green, blush pink and mint blue instead of the traditional red.

“Crop jackets with lehengas, cocktail sarees and kaftan sleeve gowns will keep those who want a little bit extra from their look, satiated,” says Jaising.

Bollywood’s favourite, Manish Malhotra, played with the back of the cholis, as Anita Dongre came up with natty interpretations of the humble blouse. It is now a top, a cape, a button-down white shirt and also a hybrid between a choli and off-the-shoulder wonders, hich reflects that women are also ready to experiment, even within the constricting space of a trousseau.

However, the question remains – what can be done to keep up the momentum that couture needs in light of the number of international houses like Christian Lacroix, that have had to shut shop? This also raises pertinent concerns about how many embroidery houses in Paris are struggling to stay afloat, like Lemarié, the home of some of the most skilled and specialised craftspeople in couture, the plumassiers, or feather specialists, where a Dior Boa or Chanel’s ostrich plumes are exclusively handmade.

Even though India has a wealth of labour in both the embroidery and stitching departments, it still needs consumers who are discerning enough to know what it is that they really want. As designer Rina Dhaka says, “In the past, for example the 1980s, wedding trousseaus were wonderful but very different in style. Today, the world has come a long way in terms of technological advancement. We can use different, new and smart materials like stretch fabrics and designs that are in sync with new-age brides and what they want. The brides of today care for tradition with a flash of modernity.”

The author is a senior journalist and the views expressed in this article are her own

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