India Fashion Week returned to ExCel London last week, for its second consecutive year. The show presented stunning new collections from designers who have come from the exotic East to share their latest fashion trends, combining their traditional Hindu clothing with a Western twist. Among the fashionista models floating down the catwalk, there were Indian brides and grooms modelling traditional bridal clothing, hoping to find couples in search of ideas for their own wedding.
In Indian culture, the most auspicious colour is considered red, and brides adorn themselves in this special shade to commemorate the occasion. Watching the women get ready is fascinating because of the meticulous craftsmanship involved; there are so many steps to achieving the perfect look. The process may appear laborious but the twirling soon-to-be Hindu brides don’t seem to mind. Each girl has a team of girlfriends working on her face – and on her saree or lehenga – as she anticipates her big day.
The process begins with the tying of the Keshapasharachana – a special kind of hairstyle – on the bride. The hair is oiled, washed and then sectioned into strands ready for braiding. These represent the three rivers flowing through India, or the holy trinity of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. The hair can be transformed into a modern up-do if preferred, but the traditional braid is still ornamented lavishly, with jasmines and jewels strung into the hair.
Essential adornments for every bride consist of the Solah Shringar which is a set of traditional 16 pieces that every bride must wear, the bridal attire ranges from the sindoor at the top of the bride’s hairline to traditional make-up and a wide array of magnificent jewellery pieces that would make any girl envious. Brides can also wear a stunning Maang Tikka; a giant jewel worn in the middle of the forehead and attached to a stringed headpiece so it may be placed on top of the hair parting.
The bride’s face is then transformed with lustrous colours to match the vibrancy of her and all the other guests’ outfits. From every corner of the show shines a decorated woman in ceremonial wear accompanied by the groom adorned in dhoti – a traditional men’s garment – on whose face plays an expression of anticipation and excitement but also a slight hint of anxiety. Meanwhile, one of the bride’s little helpers tames the bride’s desire to perfect her own look, as the beautician demands a closing of the eyes: it’s time to apply the Kajal. This is a thick, noir eyeliner that frames the eye by being applied to both the upper lid and the waterline. The ultra-dramatic look lights up the perfectionist bride’s face as she is pleased with her eye-popping finish.
One facial decoration she could opt for that may puzzle the Western onlooker’s eye is the large Nath, or nose ring, that is clipped into the nose and then hangs over the mouth and cheek. It is an elegant piece that accentuates the bride’s beauty, but the chunky accessory must be on the uncomfortable side. The whole look comes together seamlessly as the epitome of religious devotion and adherence to culture.
It is truly beautiful to feel invited into exploring the secrets which make a culture what it is. Walking through the procession of stalls, selling traditional jewellery and enticing food, it’s easy to strike up conversation and learn a little about the culture you have been submerged into. This may not be for everyone, but if you do choose to dive in then make sure it’s headfirst – and completely.