Bridal Asia 2005, the six-day long wedding fair (three days of fashion shows and three days of exhibition), has just left New Delhi. And, held over 40,000 sq ft from 4-6 and 8-10 October, it has left some sweeping statements about the state of the Indian wedding in its wake. And it's good news.
For while they have become even grander and more cosmopolitan than ever -- fancy foods, Lebanese chocolates, wedding planners and lingerie have inched onto the stage when we weren't looking -- at the core, Indian weddings are still the same as ever: traditional.
One tradition that will probably never go away is our tendency to rent out the local elephant and retain the services of the town crier for the big day: in a word, to splurge.
Estimates have set the Indian wedding industry at a staggering Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion), and growing at a rate of 25-30 per cent annually. This goes some way towards explaining why we have recently seen so many of these wedding exhibitions -- Celebrating Vivaha and Bride and Groom followed each other in quick succession this summer, and now, of course, there is Bridal Asia 2005.
This year, the number of participants at Bridal Asia went up to 85 (compared with 75 last year), and included designers from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
This is Bridal Asia's sixth year, and founder Diivyaa Gurwaara expanded her offerings to include not only clothes, but accessories, lingerie, jewellery, and services like planners and designers. Even Lebanese chocolate major Patchi was present.
The fashion shows at New Delhi's Intercontinental Grand Hotel set the tone for the exhibition to follow: while some creations were somewhat overly flamboyant, most had very traditional silhouettes and cuts, with the expected amount of embroidery and finery added on.
Most of the collections took into account not just the wedding season but also the festive season, which made the clothes even more ornate than expected.
One of the designers, Mumbai-based Bhairavi Jaikishen, was open about this: "I named my collection La Vie est Belle because it is all about the beautiful things in life. I wanted to instill a lot of romance and glamour into my clothes."
Jaikishen incorporated three main motifs into her designs: a floral European motif, Art Deco, and the traditional Indian motif.
While the first two are not the first motifs that spring to mind when thinking of an Indian wedding, but Jaikishen makes clear that she has met the traditionalists half-way: "Ethnic is really not my style. Still, I think that even if you're dealing with a Western style of clothing, especially for a wedding, the silhouette still has to be quite traditional."
Jaikishen's casual clothes, which she also showed at Bridal Asia ("for the honeymoon," she suggests), start from Rs 3,500, and her saris range between Rs 15,000-50,000. Her wedding lehngas start at Rs 35,000.
Not everyone was in agreement. Another Mumbai-based designer, Prriya Awasthy, who was also at the event, thought that weddings were making a definite move away from the purely traditional: "The Indian woman has become a lot more confident. Because of exposure to so many trends and styles, they too want to experiment a little -- my wedding skirts or ghagras are a lot more fitted and stylised. There will be a piece in the traditional Indian monochrome, but this will always be paired with something that's slightly more vivacious. I think this change is happening across the board, it's not just a couple of elite women at the top of the social hierarchy. It's absolutely everyone."
Awasthy caused quite a stir at her showing by lining her cholis with gold coins (her creation was inspired by the Goddess Lakshmi), and making Puja Bedi walk the ramp in a particularly glittery one. Awasthy's bridal collection ranges between Rs 10,000-40,000.
The glamorous Rina Dhaka was also present, but only on the ramp (courtesy Gul Ahmed, the Pakistani textile company), not the exhibition. And she took this relative freedom to make a very strong, somewhat quirky statement about the state of Indian weddings as she sees it.
"It's all about love, sex and money. I tried to show this by my embroidery, the money garlands and the music (the tune that Daryl Hannah whistles ominously in Kill Bill). I wanted to show girls that are wicked in thought, but innocent in spirit. It's also about hypocrisy though -- Indian weddings are predominantly planned affairs, down to shopping for brides and grooms in the matrimonial," she says.
Dhaka agrees that weddings are still predominantly traditional, and wonders at the designers who think that they have to get sexy to grab attention on the ramp.
"This sends out the wrong message about your collection, and since the market is really nowhere near bra cholis or anything like that, you'll lose out on business," she reasons. Dhaka's "bread and butter", according to her, comes from her wedding clothes, and mostly she sells saris that are priced in the range of Rs 20,000-40,000 off the rack.
Radha Lahiri, a bride-to-be, visited Bridal Asia and says that while she didn't pick anything up, "It was great as a point of reference. I've picked up the cards of a lot of jewellers, and I'll definitely be visiting their stores later. It was also a great place to go to see everything that's on offer. I loved a lot of the Pakistani designers, and everyone seemed to be doing great business -- one shop that I really liked was down to its last three pieces! The one point I would make though is to have more dressing rooms, although there were one or two around, there was a lot of stuff that I would have liked to try on but couldn't."
With wedding exhibitions such as these, with the Omaxe wedding mall, complete with 400 stores, planned to open early next year, with Gurwaraa having even transcended political divides by taking her show to Pakistan in 2002, and with the average budget of middle class income family weddings skyrocketing, it is clear that whatever else happens, the Indian wedding business at least will never go into recession.
It's not just about the sari...
Don't forget about the decor. With the Bollywood-isation of weddings, people are starting to spend more and more on unusual or exotic venues (and with the beach wedding in Salaam Namaste, this is only going to get worse), on decorating the mandap with flowers and with outrageous baraats.
The wedding doesn't just stop when the last guest leaves -- remember to leave enough money over to splurge on the honeymoon as well!
With today's hectic work schedule, who has the time to do all by themselves? Enter the wedding planners. Although underrepresented at Bridal Asia, don't underestimate these people. They will take a lot of the plans off your hands, and, as they are known to charge anywhere up to Rs 100,000-200,000, probably a lot of the budget as well.
... It's also the shoe and the bag
Apparel: People are still very much into saris, although lehengas are obviously also quite popular. Heavy embroidery is also giving way to embellishments with stones and crystals, and red is also (reluctantly) giving way to blues, blacks and creams.
Accessories: Apart from the usual heavy jewellery that there is no getting away from, a space has opened up with all the smaller functions for lighter jewellery as well. Also, while gold was still present at the shows, there was a surprising amount of semi-precious stones, platinum and a smattering of diamonds.
Shoes: Stilettoes are very in now, although the exhibition also saw its fair share of closed-toed shoes to go with Western outfits.
Bags: Those small, shiny ethnic bags are still in. They're cute and you can be creative --this exhibition even saw fluorescent green bags, which are always fun.