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The Most Coveted Indian Designers Tell Us How To Contemporise The Classic Sari

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Shraddha Chowdhury

Sneakers under your lehenga? A modern jacket over a traditional saree? A hybrid jumpsuit? A kaftan saree? Yes, please! We’re all for how brides today embrace innovation in their trousseau fashion. The most coveted designers in India tell us exactly how!

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In today’s dynamic age, there’s something new that takes over the zeitgeist every day. While the aura of a glorious lehenga or the elegant saree will never die, for modern brides, finding sartorial ways to showcase their personalities with panache, straying from the conventional, is just as paramount as every other detail surrounding their big day. Given the number of different occasions that Indian weddings come with, our brides have embraced innovative ways to up their style ante — with some (or a great amount of!) push for wardrobe diversity from India’s most celebrated designers. A lot of these contemporary trends marry (pun intended) traditional ensembles to fashion unique, beautiful bridal attires that are just as intrinsic to the memories of these special times as the days themselves. From fabulous capes, trails and neo-modern sarees, to jumpsuits and even pseudo-traditional jackets, we bring you the most unconventional bridal wear that reign supreme today.

Anarkalis — With A Twist!

Some look at it as a transition, while others believe it’s the traditional and contemporary coexisting in today’s times. “That’s really the magic of evolution,” says couturier JJ Valaya, who exercises caution in how “I modernise the traditional and make them relevant to the bride of today”. To him, this is a modern, well-travelled woman who is independent, has strong opinions and the world in the palm of her hands, courtesy of the internet; she’s fitter and free-spirited — all qualities that translate into the way she dresses.

His ideology seeps into his designs, including the not-so-classic anarkalis. “The age-old anarkalis is now being infused with modern cuts, fabrics and silhouettes,” he says. I’m infusing a dress-like silhouette into the anarkali and creating something that carries the DNA of both, with each still holding its own... It’s sexy and a hybrid of sorts, today’s contemporary attire of the anarkali.”

Neo-Modern Saris

However traditional, a saree is never out of style. But with this tradition has emerged innovative ways to experiment with drapes and textiles. Driven by a sense of fun, neo-modern sarees were the perfect answer to the feminine urge to break away from convention. And spearheading the trend is innovation master Amit Aggarwal. His unorthodox choice of fabrics — from liquid organza to metallic chiffons — render his designs a 3D quality, making his work as unique as the preferences of the brides of today.

“They have a perfect amalgamation of what makes their choices unique and also have the understanding of culture and tradition. They are representative of the hopes and dreams that make the youth of today so remarkably different,” the designer says. “Neo-modern sarees can take you from a more wedding-like event to something you could even wear to a cocktail. Additionally, the bodices or blouses are quite unique in their own right and can be worn multiple times, styled differently every time you pair them with other things.”

Pseudo Traditional Jackets

It’s established that Indian brides today embrace their individuality, preferring designs that are contemporary but not too far adrift from the ceremonial spirit. And as Pankaj and Nidhi Ahuja — the husband-wife duo of brand Pankaj & Nidhi — explain, designers, too, are fixated on modern silhouettes and breathable, weightless fabrics, in addition to fashionable cuts, embellished sleeves and innovative drapes, giving women the option to explore designs without conforming to orthodox styles that weigh them down. In keeping with this train of thought, the Ahujas fabricate pseudo- traditional jackets, which they say “have become essential to make a statement on any occasion”.

“It adds a bold, modern option to their wardrobe. Whether you pair them with pants, shararas, sarees or a lehenga, these jackets create versatile ensembles — a stylist’s delight,” they add. “In fact, tuxedo-style jackets with shawl collar lapels and a trailing back can look dramatically different to a gown or lehenga skirt.”

Hybrid Jumpsuit

Keeping in mind the chaos that accompanies a wedding schedule, women are determined to feel comfortable in what they wear and enjoy the special time in their entirety. They are open to experimenting with outfits, especially for their sangeet, haldi and mehndi, which has led to a shift from lehengas and sarees to easy cuts and silhouettes like sharara sets and crop tops with interesting cut skirts — and even jumpsuits.

“Jumpsuits make for an unexpected distinctive style that impresses guests. It’s non-fussy, varied and a very fashionable option to explore for a pre-wedding function,” designer Dolly J explains the popularity of what’s traditionally considered a western garment. “It’s easy, yet a style that will always be in vogue. In the end, it’s the print and intricacy of the work that would give this modern silhouette a bridal twist.”

The Offbeat Gharara

Women of the times want it all: feminism, modernity, uniqueness as well as tradition. While she wishes to stay true to her roots, she also wishes to add her own spin to the same. This is a philosophy that Arpita Mehta explains seeps into the sartorial choices of new-age brides. “For example, a bride may want a beautiful new lehenga for her big day, but she may layer it with her mother’s wedding dupatta as her head veil. This incorporates a deep emotion, which is what makes the wedding day so special,” says the designer, who caters to such evolving tastes with her work — including ensembles such as unorthodox ghararas.

“A tiered gharara, paired with a tiny blouse and worn with a cape is the season’s must-have,” she adds. “It’s ideal for a mehndi, sangeet or pre-wedding party because it’s not only fun and dressy, but also has a silhouette that’s distinct from the typical lehengas and adds variety to a bride’s wardrobe.”

Kaftan Saris

Is there any piece of clothing as comfortable as a kaftan? No. Could there be any Indian garment as classic as the traditional saree? No. Now club the two and we have with us the quintessential amalgam of styles that make for head-turners.

“Brides these days aren’t conforming to traditional expectations but are becoming risk-takers and having fun with fashion. They’re not just focused on how they look but place equal emphasis on how they feel. Can they dance in it? Can they mingle comfortably in it?” says Saaksha Bhat of designer label Saaksha & Kinni.

“Kaftan sarees are a popular choice among new-age brides who want to look glamorous yet be comfortable,” she adds. “Gone are the days where kaftans were bulky, shapeless cover-ups. Today, they’re chic, modern and oh-so flattering. They have the right balance between traditional and contemporary, old and new-world glam.” Just like the modern Indian bride!

Trails & Capes

Sheer, intricately hand- embroidered capes or trails teamed with lehenga skirts for bridal looks and other nuptial events are versatile and make a strong statement. As couturier Rahul Mishra aptly sums up the leaning towards these gliding pieces of light fabric: “The bridal segment is opening its horizons to different design sensibilities and versatile silhouettes, and we find that flowing capes and trails with lehengas are a fair representation of the global aesthetic that every bride anticipates.”

To him, the Indian bride has the best of both worlds — they hold onto their tradition as strongly as they admire international fashion. “We find that brides are more conscious than ever about the clothing they invest in and look for relevance in terms of their personal heritage, culture, craft and individuality...” Mishra says, which is why he believes that these trails are the traditional dupatta reimagined, “as it’s more hands-free and pairs beautifully with lehengas and gharara sets alike.”

Think sheer capes with a long train hem, asymmetric detailing and a 3D embroidered scallop border. Classic Rahul Mishra.

Crop Tops

“I don’t see brides wanting to look like the typical Indian bride anymore,” Tarun Tahiliani couldn’t have summed it up any better. “Young girls want to be corseted on their big day; they want to wear a lehenga that’s often simple or sometimes elaborate but comfortable, to be able to enjoy their special day in their garment.”

And this is where crop tops come in. As Tahiliani explains, a choli, or essentially any blouse, is a crop top and has always been. From heavily embroidered ones that do away with the need for jewellery, to metallic pieces that bring with them a touch of avant-garde, we have ladies truly pushing the envelope with their choices, taking it even further with unconventional picks of bottom wear (think dhoti or palazzo pants, or even tulle-filled voluminous skirts).

“People like to flaunt everything in general, and if you have a great body, why not? Girls today are confident and comfortable with their body type, and thus, the growing trend or preference among brides for crop tops!” And for anyone who’s a little more conscious, he suggests beautiful long blouses or the classic drapes that offer more coverage.

This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published in Hello! India’s October 2022 issue. To read the full interview, get your hands on the latest issue right here!