Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 Indian Bridal Wear Designers

After having researched a lot; visiting designers' stores and gathering information from prospective brides who have interacted with many of these leading designers and reading up over the years in newspapers, magazines and online, here I offer you, an unbiased view on my list of the best Indian bridal couture designers.

1. Right on top we have Ankur Batra of Ecru, perhaps not a very familiar name to the mainstream, but ask the super rich and elite, and they'll vouch for Ankur Batra's talent and creations. Ankur offers a very personalized approach to design, his creations are flawless in that they are one of a kind, beautifully crafted and neatly finished. Quietly operating from his studio in Noida, you won't hear of Ecru being a part of couture fashion weeks or find full page ad spreads of the brand in magazines, designer Ankur Batra of Ecru is Delhi's best kept secret.

One particular wedding I had attended, the bride, her mother and sisters were all well attired in their Ecrus and not only did they look divine all those days, they would outshine all their well-heeled guests in the room. Instances like this make you understand how self assured Ankur Batra's clients feel, entrusting him with their trueso needs. Images of Ankur's designs are hard to come by on the web, so here I reproduced a collage from Ecrus's facebook page.

Ecru Brides

2. We are all familiar with Tarun Tahiliani, he needs no introduction. Think of a grand, opulent and luxurious lehenga or sherwani and it usually bears a Tahiliani tag. If it's not for all the Swarovski crystals a plenty, then just the fine, intricate woven embroideries. 'Vinatge Tahiliani' is more memorable than the work TT is doing at present these days. In the past, during the early to mid 90s, an example would be a Hinduja bride decked in a beautiful Tahiliani bridal ensemble, the skirt delicately embroidered with rose petals and the overall effect and look for those days was rather muted and understated. Compare that with what Shilpa Shetty wore in her wedding or Vivek Oberoi and his bride's outfit  recently, and what you see are extremely busy and overdone hand work outweighing overall design sensibilities, in terms of colour, fabric, cut, pattern and proportion. TT needs to rethink; lay off the excesses a tad no matter how much his clients insist on it. When you enter a Tahiliani store however, the experience is different. If not for the heavy lehengas, the prettiness of the saree drapes and saree gowns never fail to take you by surprise, most of the pieces exude class and tantalize with its exclusivity.

Tarun Tahiliani Couture

3. Pallavi Jaikishan's use of colourful rose motifs, ribbon work and other signature embroidery nuances stand the test of time and continue to lure. Pallavi understands what every girl wants and delivers accordingly. Her designs may come across as samey, but that doesn't take away at all from each garment's beauty. It's hard to find one piece that you dislike in a Pallavi Jaikishan store, that's how gorgeous her aesthetic is. Some may accuse her colour sense of bordering on gaudiness, but it's very subtle and the brights do photograph well. Sticking to a safe colour palate usually consisting of peaches, reds, yellow and gold, Pallavi Jaikishan recreates her fabulously pretty lehengas and sarees that every bride would grab to wear, in at least one of her wedding occasions.

Pallavi Jaikishan's couture collection

4. When you think Suneet Varma, you think bright colours and heady embroidery. An old horse in the Indian fashion industry, competition hasn't deterred Suneet the least bit and he goes from strength to strength; expanding his business, entering collaborations and consolidating his brand position. Prospective brides have always turned to Suneet for his showstopping designs that proclaim out and out sexiness and confidence, along with his bright colour palate and trademark eye catching embroideries. Suneet stands firm, unshakable from his position as master couturier, designer and dressmaker.

Suneet Varma Couture

5. Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee quickly became a favourite after his debut in Lakme India Fashion Week back in 2002. His sarees are most sought after, Sabyasachi's designs have an ethnic, rustic, and timeless appeal. Heralding a whole movement of mixing fabrics, textures, prints, surface treatment techniques, embroideries and colour contrasts, which define his signature. One can spot a Sabyasachi from miles away and even identity its copies! Eschewing the notion that bridal wear looks best only in sheer pastels bedazzled with countless Swarovski crystals, a Sabyasachi bride is unafraid of embracing her traditional roots and breaking conventions.

Sabyasachi Couture

6. Varun Bahl is one of the few designers who places equal weight on pattern making besides innovative embroidery placement. Like for instance, Varun's successful experiments with origami folds or the bertha cape; taking risks in design and fashioning unique patterns and silhouettes slowly catapulted Varun to being one of the best in the business. His designs encompass his attention to detail, use of fabric and colour sense enthrall and heighten your interest at the same time. On close inspection of his work, you find that Varun's clothes are not only admirable but bound to make a statement. It's no surprise then that designer Varun Bahl is slowly gaining credibility as one of the top guys to go to for sophisticated bridal wear.

Varun Bahl Couture

7. One look at Kangana Ranaut's show stopping outfit in JJ Valaya's Couture show during Pearls Delhi Couture Week is enough to convince you that any bride would look like a queen in her Valaya! JJ Valaya's bridal designs are not just grand but also very feminine. Being a veteran in the business, Valaya's repertoire of design include his impressive archive of pioneering techniques of the most beautiful and exquisite embroideries, crafts and hand work. This factor works as a major draw to hone in new clients and prospective brides alike. Being an enormous brand with multiple projects and shelves to stock across India and abroad, the designer may not always be present to guarantee that treasured, personal touch to antsy brides to be, the job of which is often deigned to assistants. That maybe the biggest drawback for which Valaya's relatively newer competitors trump him in the business. Case in point, Ankur Batra of Ecru, who assisted Valaya for years before starting out on his own. Personalized, customized designs as a result of giving one-on-one time to clients and prospective brides not only calm their frayed nerves, but also help to instill confidence and faith in a designer's work, where eventually clients vouch for and swear by him.

JJ Valaya's designs

8. Think Rohit Bal and you think great work, words often fail to express how good some of Bal's clothes are. 'Vintage' Bal is so jaw dropping beautiful that it would make you gasp in awe. And judging from his last Couture show which was the best during Pearls Infrastructure India Fashion Week, you would think that the flamboyant couturier is still at the top of his game. Which he might be, because Bal is still the most sought after and cherished designer who is literally running an empire! So he really won't be around to give time to a lot of brides, but his work still stands out and receives those eyeballs. It's very natural for big designers like Bal to turn complacent at some point and not take much interest in innovating new styles after holding a kind of monopoly in the market for years. Another reason why brides feel comfortable with young, new designers. Newer designers possess that enthusiasm, boldness and freshness in approach to design, as they are raring to prove themselves when compared to their more established counterparts, like Rohit Bal. But judging from his last successful couture show, Bal did innovate and he turned to his archives where he put his spin on classics like the wispy white kalidar kurtas and the embroidered long jacket with ghagra skirt ensemble.

Rohit Bal Couture

9. Gaurav Gupta is a relatively new entrant in the bridal couture segment, but nonetheless an able and adept designer at that. Gaurav's signature jersey draped and pleated sarees are hot and still coveted by many soiree attendee fashionistas. Gaurav has a real knack for manipulating drapes and knots, creating exquisite designs that incorporate fascinating details and pattern making techniques all expertly tied together with his restrained and clever use of embroidery. Gaurav's sensibilities are modern and his approach to designing is fresh and exciting. In his last couture show, he played with fringe and chain details; his use of lace, metallics and pretty colours made his collection a strong one without appearing gimicky. Here is one designer to watch out for, making you curious to know what next is he going to pull out from his bag of tricks; of inventive styling, draping and pattern innovation.

Gaurav Gupta Couture

10. By far the most popular designers for party dresses and gowns, for Shantanu & Nikhil capturing the bridal wear market seems to be high on their agenda. If there's something called correctness in design, proportion and colour, then Shantanu and Nikhil often hit the nail on it's head. Their designs are so complete in every respect, that it's very hard to fault a piece, maybe perhaps just on the finishing front, but that's pretty rare too. Their clothes are also unconventional, refreshing and stand out from the usual garish colours, heavy embroideries and overdose of bling that most Indian bridal wear designers fall crime to. Strong silhouettes, draping, pattern making and understated embroideries form a big part of the Shantanu & Nikhil design philosophy, setting them apart from the rest while creating a niche segment.

Shantanu & Nikhil Bridal Couture

Designers I would have liked to include:

Rina Dhaka: Her last couture shows may have been disappointing, but even then Rina Dhaka trumps up designs that are edgy, playful and at times risque.

Rina Dhaka Couture

Radhika Naik: famous and established in her own right as a bridal wear designer, Radhika Naik is known for being 'freakishly' expensive but always delivering 'the goods' on time thus making her reliable and gaining the trust of her large NRI clientele.

Anamika Khanna: in a way, bridal couture is too narrow a segment that limits designer Anamika Khanna from fully expressing her quirky, contemporary and eclectic design sensibilities.

Designer Anamika Khanna during the grand finale of Pearls Delhi Couture Week 2010 with actor Anil Kapoor and the cast of Aisha

Those that missed the cut:

Abu Sandeep: for at times taking the jazzy route and being a tad too over the top!

Abu Sandeep at Pearls Delhi Couture Week 2010

Manav Gangwani: because creating show stopper looks should not be at the cost of blinding colours, a million crystals and overuse of trimming, fancies and details.

Manav Gangwani at Pearls Delhi Couture Week 2010

Manish Malhotra: okay he wasn't even in the reckoning, but one can't discount Manish Malhotra's popularity owing to his work for Bollywood if not his own credence as a great bridal couture designer.

Manish Malhotra Couture 2010

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