Indian brides are letting go of their fixation with heavy and ornate wedding wear and making their trousseaus memorable because of new designs instead of just more glitter. The shift began a couple of years back through a few contemporary garments seen on bridal catwalks and designer Varun Bahl showing beautiful black couture pieces last year hinting at an oncoming transformation. This year—if the bridal shows are of any indication—that “change" is set to become the new tradition. Bridal wear included long, flowy garments in fluid fabrics (not just Indian textiles) cut closer to the body instead of heavy drapes; red carpet-style floor-length gowns focused on silhouette, garments in champagne and ivory, plain, non-embellished blouses with sleeves in net and lace. Even as the Indian wedding remains fat as a social event, the trousseau is becoming likeably light and eminently wearable.

“This shift points towards a more youthful way of approaching design sensibilities. Designers creating bridal couture are bringing together the best of East and West for ensembles with a more global context," says Manish Malhotra, one of the most sought after wedding designers today. If brides had begun wearing rose-gold and turquoise (on their wedding day), they now even wear white or ivory. If they were opting for the embellished sari-gown instead of Banarasi lehnga-choli for their receptions, they are now wearing bolder stand-alone pieces like strappy floor-length couture pieces in silk lycra and chiffon. Five years back, if the bachelorette party was the only event to show off an “ experimental cocktail dress" (read unabashedly revealing), today the mehndi ceremony too is seen as appropriate to wear something daring, light, even risqué. Restraint (not minimalism) seems to be finally dawning on a section of Indian bridal wear suggesting an interest in design as investment. Earlier, an ostentatious lehnga with “more Swarovskis" was perceived as justifying its bizarrely high price. Today, a frothy tulle gown, which may be as expensive, is seen as worthy, with or without embroidery. Bling hasn’t vanished, it has just become smarter; it winks rather than shrilly announcing itself. “Lehngas that are impractically heavy are now out, as are costume-y cuts that don’t allow for freedom of movement. The focus is more on personalizing a design to the requirements of the bride rather than weighing her down with bulks of fabric and unnecessary embellishment," says Bahl.

Gaurav Gupta interprets the trend as a confluence of global design. “The cornucopia of influences whether they be Western, Eastern or middle-Eastern is going to grow now that the whole world is on offer for everybody," he explains. His couture collection “Lightfall" shown at the PCJ Delhi Couture Week last month with new derivatives of the sari and lehnga resulted in a rush of orders for unorthodox bridal garments to be worn during wedding events, particularly the reception. The brides want garments as shown on the ramp, not diluted or dressed-up versions.

Nude, ivory, champagne and dull gold may not have yet upstaged the oranges, maroons and pinks of former days but they are competing fiercely. This is a very significant shift given the ritual importance linked with some colours. “Everyone is looking for something new, not just for the sake of it but because there is an actual need to move forward and push the boundaries. The modern Indian woman wants to celebrate tradition, not be bound by it. Modern colours and cuts allow her to do just that," says Bahl. Designers point out that earlier while the brides would ask for saris and lehngas shown on the ramp to be remade in traditional bridal colours, today it is the reverse—they want a red garment to be created in a “contemporary hue". Nude and ivory are top-selling. Bahl also believes that sooner than later he will be able to convince a bride to wear black on her wedding day.

For now white and light could well be the buzzwords. Falguni and Shane Peacock’s bridal week show upheld this “light revolution" in some saris and suits—in white and beige—delicately embellished with Swarovski and feather touches. “Less is more. This is something brides are beginning to understand today. To look beautiful one does not have to be wearing ornate garments," says Falguni.

So will the trend trickle down to smaller cities? “It is a shift towards a different kind of extravagance, centred on development of thought rather than an overt display of grandeur. It is already being accepted and we have brides-to-be coming to us from all over the country," says Gupta. Falguni echoes this sentiment: “We have numerous clients from tier-II cities that make a trip to Bombay or Delhi to seek appointments with us so that we can customize their outfits. They are already very accepting of this phenomenon."

Lighter bridal wear raises other questions. Would less decoration reduce the craftsmanship that Indian bridal traditional wear boasts of? Would these still remain heritage-worthy pieces? More importantly, would the cost of insanely pricey bridal wear come down? Designer Sabyasachi, whose recent couture collection “Opium" shown in Delhi was created in a palette of champagne and gold, elaborates, “My collection is Indian in spirit but not visually Indian—there are no paisleys or bootis, no pattern; everything seems to blur together. Still it took 372,000 man hours and uses varied embroidery techniques and fabrics locally and internationally sourced," he says, holding up the craftsmanship quotient. Designer Tarun Tahiliani, who showed all-white ensembles, Grecian drapes, even corset-style waist cinchers at his Aamby Valley Bridal Week finale in August, makes a similar point. “These garments are not necessarily less extravagant; they are more extravagant in volume and architecture but just easier on the eye and weight," he says.

In a clouded economy where excessive ostentation may soon look vulgar, this is a welcome shift. More so for other income groups who seem to follow what the rich and famous are seen wearing.

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