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A refined lightness is taking over wedding couture and designers help us understand why you should try minimalism this season. 

Recently, several brides from tier-two cities like Nagpur, Coimbatore and Surat picked up designer duo Shivan & Narresh’s minimalist black-and-white neoprene lehenga. When this kind of experimentalism moves away from the metros, you know something big is going down. “A lot of young Indians are travelling today and are exposed to good design, so they are starting to appreciate cuts as much as surfaces,” says Narresh Kukreja, explaining why the western minimalist look is now the trend du jour. “Indians have an inherent desire to always stand out. This is also getting addressed in this new search for minimalism. There is so much excess in wedding couture, that, to stand out, people are cutting down,” he says.
Moreover, the principle of ‘less is more’ is quite practical—a pared down canvas means the focus is on the bride and groom. So this year, we can state that the fall bride will be staying true to the season: shedding the layers, but keeping the colour. And helping them ‘wear the clothes and not let the clothes wear them’ are designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Varun Bahl and Nachiket Barve, who are creating collections where the accent is on clean cuts, unfussy silhouettes and subtle embellishments. With India Couture Week opening next week (July 20), we speak with designers and top wedding planners to understand why minimalism should be your new mantra.

Payal Singhal Profile PictureDo the black
High-waisted lehengas with off-shoulder crop tops. A dupatta reborn as a cape. Or a choli that looks like a cropped jacket. Payal Singhal’s silhouettes are fun, contemporary and chic. And, of course, minimalist. “Much like a diamond (cut, colour, clarity), clothes are now about fit, silhouette and colour, rather than ornate embroidery,” says the Mumbai-based designer. “Brides are going  for comfort, something they can have fun in. But, of course, they also want their outfit to look rich. So I work a lot with mukesh work as it looks heavy but doesn’t feel it,” she adds. Since a lighter feel also means moving away from heavy silks and velvets, Singhal works with unusual choices like mul (“which I make ornate with the accessorising”). While pastels are in, the designer says many of her clients are making a statement with unusual colour choices. “A bride recently placed an order for a black wedding outfit. I embellished the high-waisted lehenga and choli with a little zardosi and mukesh work,” she signs off.

Making a statement
Minimalism is not a new idea, says Nachiket Barve. Most traditional weddings—like the Maharashtrian or Bengali—are not about “ostentatious embroidery and over-the-top performances”. But in the last few years, he feels, there has been a homogenisation (read, generic Bollywood-style  weddings), and so now people are exploring tasteful ways to make the experience personal. “Being minimal does not mean boring or unglamorous. It is all about understanding what elements to remove and what to keep,” says the Mumbai-based designer, elaborating, “Minimal can also be a nine-strand polki necklace set off with a pale pink Benarasi. It is all about balance, where things come together harmoniously, rather than being stripped down and bare.” Advocating a mix of the old, the new and the future, he suggests that you pick a keepsake, like a piece of heirloom jewellery, and team it with a silhouette that defines your personality. “Our embroidery is lighter, sometimes tonal or used as a motif. Last year, I did a lehenga that was ostentatious as it needed 1,800 hours of embroidery, but it was blue on blue, so it looked really clean and minimal,” says Barve, who believes that with exposure, opinion and confidence increasing, the interest in minimalist designs will only grow.

Decor decoded
When everything else is minimal, how can décor not follow suit? From thermocol cut-outs and garish flower arrangements, it is moving towards a more refined, contemporary look. India’s first wedding planner, Neeta Raheja—whose clients include top industrialists—says wedding décor is all about letting the setting speak for itself. “I definitely feel there is a shift towards natural décor, clean lines and complementary colours. And when the venues are as amazing as the Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur, the Tamarind Tree in Bengaluru or a beach in Thailand, people prefer not to do too much,” she explains, recalling a recent wedding where the theme was white—from the flowers to the drapes, with the lighting adding a dash of colour. According to Vidya Singh of Chennai-based Sumyog, eco-friendly is also the watchword of the new crop of brides and grooms. “We don’t use plastics or synthetics, and our props are made of wood or fibre. Flowers are often made from silk, so they can be reused,” she reveals, adding that couples are also particular about the number of guests they invite. “They want the numbers to be smaller, and the people invited to be known to them and not just their parents.” Meanwhile, when it comes to food, Raheja says it has moved towards a more gourmet experience. “I went to a wedding recently where there was sushi and a choice of bird meat, including duck and quail. People are well-travelled, better informed and know exactly what they want,” she concludes.

Men in focus
“New-age Indians are looking towards the indie side of India, which is experimental with a touch of traditional,” begins Nikhil Mehra, of Mumbai-based designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil. This means pure silhouettes and great textiles interpreted in a contemporary manner. “This season, we are putting more flavour into our menswear in terms of silhouettes. Younger men are looking for clothes that are fitted, sexy and edgy. So you can’t put hand-embroidered and over-embellished elements there,” he says, giving an example. “We’ve taken the classic bandhgala and given it a stylish drape around the shoulder. We’ve also done draped kurtas with structured waistcoats (Ranveer Singh and Hrithik Roshan recently wore the look), which gives a nice silhouette.” The duo is incorporating minimalism in the embroidery and colours, too. “A man doesn’t wear too many bright colours, so we’ve done away with the unnecessary oranges and peaches, and gone back to the basics, like beige, navy, black, bitter chocolate, military green, etc. As for embroidery, we deconstruct it—like muting a traditional zardosi with cotton thread,” he shares.

Pastel perfect Tarun's Image
Tarun Tahiliani’s reasoning in favour of minimalism is simple. Most youngsters wear well-cut western clothes on a daily basis. So why do a 360 degrees and dress like Jodha Akbar on your wedding day? “Heavy embroidery fit an era when brides just sat there, with their heads covered. No one got up and walked around, no one wore stilettos, and no one danced after the pandit moved away,” he laughs. Today, it’s all about comfort and lightness, he says, so techniques are being reinvented. The cuts give structure to the silhouettes, silk and cotton threads are replacing heavy zari, and Swarovski stones are being soldered on. “We do a lot of gota work because it is light. My bridal palette is very pale elegant colours. Of course, there are the reds and burnt tangerines, but there are a lot of beiges, ivories, golds and blush pinks,” says the Delhi-based designer, who, while designing rich and opulent collections, is also focussing on clean lines and structured drapes. “Our concept sari, which you can team with a choli or corset, is a popular silhouette. Then there is the long sherwani coat with the lehenga underneath. We also have a sleeveless anarkali catsuit, where the pants are attached inside, so the stomach is not exposed. There are a lot of cool new cuts,” he adds.

Experts unite
Check out more minimalist designs at the Vogue Wedding Show, a three-day exhibition that will showcase exclusive wedding services from over 50 brands. August 5-7, at the Taj Palace, New Delhi. By invitation only. Details: vogueweddingshow.in

Many today don’t want to wear clothes with bling or heavy embroidery—they are just for one-time wear. Indian handloom textiles, however, are lifetime pieces. Our traditional weaves are rich—with ‘bling’ woven in as zari—and is quite minimalist.
—Gaurang Shah,designer

Brides are moving away from the bigger uncut stones and picking cleaner designs with beautifully-cut smaller diamonds. So it is no surprise that New York brands like Nirav Modi are doing extremely well here too—there is no need to create a separate collection for both audiences.
—Narresh Kukreja,designer

India is a mix of different people. I don’t think minimalism will catch on wholly and solely. A small section with a discerning eye will follow it, while for the masses, it will still be red and gold and bling.
—Varun Bahl, designer

By Surya Praphulla Kumar 

—With inputs from Rashmi Rajagopal Lobo

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