The Sabyasachi lehnga with very traditional work; then two dupattas, one to cover the body and another to cover the head. There’s always a mathapatti or a tika; a pair of jhumkas; double choker — one choker which sits below the neck and the other closer to the neck; a big nath and kadas. We always do a red bindi and there will always be mogras or flowers in the hair, the girls will always have kajal in their eyes. This is basically the traditional Sabyasachi bridal look. It’s a very potent Indian traditional look. It’s not a fashion image, it’s an image of tradition. It is timeless. People want to engage with that timelessness. Had I created something that is fashionable, I don’t think it would’ve had such a far-reaching impact.
A SENSE OF TIMELESSNESS
I would say that the Sabyasachi bride is not a figment of my imagination, it’s a figment of my observation. I have been watching a lot of traditional brides getting married, old photographs of brides… I used to look at these women, heads covered, wearing mathapattis, wearing naths… there was so much of elegance and serenity and beauty. They used to wear gold tiklis in Bengali weddings. My mother used to dress up like that. Then I have seen a lot of old Indian films, like Rakhi in Kabhi Kabhie wearing this kind of a bridal look. So my bridal look is not something that I invented, it is something that I revived. Also, what happens is like during the Pujas everyone wants to wear a laal paar garad for sindoor khela, every girl wants to wear red when they are getting married.
When I had started doing bridal, everything in bridal was very conceptual. And I was like why are people not doing traditional bridal clothes? Why does everything have to be different? I also feel that traditional clothes have a certain sense of timelessness. Your bridal pictures stay in your album, you show it to your children, you show it to your grandchildren, they remain in your dining hall, your living room and your bedroom for people to see.
You see, what happens is that fashion is very fickle. Earlier fashion used to change every 10 years, we have had the ’50s and the ’60s and the ’70s… now fashion changes once in every six months, maybe even once in three months. Why do you want to be fashion forward with your bridal clothes when 20-25 years later you’ll look like an alien? People won’t even understand what you are wearing and where it came from.
I like a sense of timelessness attached not only to my bridal clothes but with everything that I do because I was born middle class, for me money is very important. So I don’t like the fact that people buy clothes and in two-three months they have to do away with it because the clothes have become dated. One of the reasons why our customers love us and the brand is becoming bigger and bigger every day is because people are now understanding the merit of being a brand that is not much about fashion but is more timeless. Like worldwide if you look at the really big brands, whether it’s Hermes or Chanel or Ralph Lauren… I am talking about all the big superbrands, they have all built an aura of timelessness around them. The very same old, same old, same old becomes their big business mantra. So I like the fact that our bridal clothing and our brand reflect a certain sense of timelessness. People know that they can wear the same clothes 10 years later.
WEDDING DAY IS NOT LIKE GOING TO A PARTY
You have to understand something, wearing something for a wedding is as important as owning a house. You know when I was doing wallpapers for Asian Paints, earlier we had decided we would do two collections a year, then I told them, don’t change your houses so fast because houses are not disposable. If somebody has seen an advertisement for a very beautiful wallpaper, they are like okay, next Diwali I am going to do up my house with this wallpaper instead of painting my house. People plan these things much in advance. Like an average middle-class person would spend one week to decide on a trip to Puri but would plan a New York trip six months in advance.
Weddings are the same thing. A lot of girls when they are in the age of getting married, whether they are 20 or 22, they have a set idea in their minds of what they are going to wear for their wedding. Just imagine the disappointment and how distraught they would be if they come into the store when they are actually getting married and find that fashion has changed and their idea of what they would wear for their wedding is no longer relevant.
Wedding day is not like going to a party. A girl thinks about her wedding, fantasises about her wedding, for six, seven, probably eight years in advance. Like this is what I want to do for my wedding, this is what I want to look like, this is the kind of food I want to serve, this is the kind of jewellery I want to wear. These things need a little bit of planning, you don’t do these at the drop of a hat. Not everybody has access to the kind of disposable income that they can treat wedding clothes like disposable clothing.
I meet girls who are like 14 years old who watch Band Baajaa Bride and they have already decided what they are going to wear for their wedding. This girl comes up to me in the airport and shows me pictures she has saved on her phone and asks me ‘Sir, this is what I want to wear for my wedding, I know I might not find you when I get married… tell me, will this look good on me?’ I look at her and ask, ‘Are you sure you are not going to physically change?’ She says, ‘I don’t care but I am going to wear this lehnga.’
So I think it is very important to create a sense of timelessness as a wedding brand. And I think there is a little bit of merit in keeping your customers stable. Too much has been done to create artificial insecurity to promote sales, but I think it’s nice to kind of stabilise your customer.
FOR THE EXPERIMENTAL
What we have done in terms of experimental is, I have done block-printed lehngas for girls who have worn it for beach weddings. Then, we have experimented in terms of colours. A lot of Punjabi girls now want to wear ivory and gold for their weddings… that’s almost like a no-no, because traditionally Punjabi girls don’t wear white for their weddings. So you know what I do is, I never go extreme. If I do a push in the silhouette, I will keep the colour accessible; if I do a push in the colour, I will keep the silhouette accessible. Let’s say if I do a red lehnga, I would probably do it high-waisted and with a noodle-strap blouse, but if I am doing an ivory or gold lehnga, I would keep the blouse traditional. I like to keep one part of the traditional alive, either the colour or the silhouette, so that the woman does not feel completely alienated.
We also have a lot of brides who are getting married late, or for the second time, what we do is, we treat it differently. With age comes a lot of dignity and grace and there’s a lot of things that you could do. So I still keep the silhouette the same, you still cover the head, you still take double dupatta, but instead of an embroidered lehnga you probably wear a woven lehnga, or a Benarasi lehnga, you go a little lighter on the jewellery.
To many girls who are getting married a second time, I always tell them, wear a sari, because there is nothing more dignified than wearing a sari for a wedding. So I always advise them to dress according to their age. Because if you are exchanging your vows at 50, there’s nothing more elegant than going the woven sari route or the woven lehnga route with a little less work.
We keep the brand very democratic; people from all classes can access the brand. You can buy a Sabyasachi bridal sari for Rs 80,000 and you can go up to Rs 30 lakh. It’s up to you what kind of money you want to throw in, we don’t discriminate. We try to keep it as inclusive as possible, till it doesn’t affect our quality of work. Below a certain price point we cannot exist because we don’t want to compromise on our vision of what we want to do with our bridal.
But today if Nita Ambani is buying something from Sabyasachi, so is a girl who is a techie. I know a lot of middle-class girls who buy from us, they will probably buy a Sabyascahi sari or lehnga once in their lifetime, they will not come back again. But it is not totally inaccessible. You might not be able to buy everyday clothing from the brand, but you might want to make that investment for your wedding. We sell around 2,900 bridal lehngas in a year, then there are our bridal Benarasis and Kanjeevarams.[“Source-ndtv”]