When Delhi fashion photographer Karishma Bedi decided to get married earlier this year, she was certain that she didn’t want a Big Fat Indian Wedding. “I was clear it would be intimate [and have] limited functions,” said Bedi. She had three events – a kirtan, a cocktail party and a gurdwara wedding. Rather than buying new bling for the occasion, she saved heavily by remodelling her mother’s jewellery. Even though she received a 50% discount on outfits from friends in the fashion industry, she ended up spending Rs 5 lakh on two outfits.

Bedi wasn’t spoiled for choice. She said that since her brother got married five years ago, the Indian wedding market – specifically the fashion aspect – seemed to have doubled both in terms of number of designers and the cost of clothing. “There are only three things in India that are totally recession proof – cricket, Bollywood and weddings,” she said.

While there are no confirmed numbers to back up her impression, a report by by the financial consulting firm KPMG in 2014 valued India’s wedding services market at $54 billion. According to one estimate, there are 10 million weddings in India each year. With India set to become the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years, the demographic divide will invariably help the wedding industry grow even bigger.

The women’s-wear market made up approximately 38% of the total apparel industry, fashion watchdog site IndiaRetailing.com estimated in 2017. Of which ethnic wear – saris, salwar kameezes and other related wedding wear – was the principal money earner, amounting to 66% of sales.

Photo credit: Yogita/via Wikimedia Commons [CC Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported].

Vogue Wedding Company

The market is so lucrative, even designers who did not specialise in wedding wear are starting to create custom wedding clothing. Among them is Sohaya Misra, the designer behind the upcoming brand Chola, who mainly makes western clothing with a Japanese twist. She has started making custom Indian wear when her buyers ask for them. “It seems to me to be a natural progression for any designer,” said Misra. “People are simply more willing to spend on festive clothes. My only aim, if I do actually expand from pret to couture would be to keep my style aesthetic intact.”

The latest mover in the wedding market is Condé Nast, the publisher of the Vogue magazine. For the past five years, Vogue has been holding a special wedding show every August, showcasing Indian bridal and groom wear. In July 2017, the publishing house launched the Vogue Wedding Company, a “a bespoke advisory service which connects families with the best vendors in the wedding business, including wedding planners”.

“India is a unique market with regards to weddings so we have developed a business in the area,” said Arjun Mehra, chief operating officer of Condé Nast India. “Each Condé Nast country runs its own initiatives beyond magazine and digital publishing.”

The Vogue Wedding Show. Photo credit: Money Sharma/AFP.

The Wedding Company is expected to help boost the media company’s portfolio due to this distinctive demand in India. It is no secret that Condé Nast has been consolidating magazines across the world in an effort to stop bleeding profits. In mid-August, the editorial teams of Condé Nast Traveller UK and Condé Nast Traveller US were integrated in a bid to plug a leaky profitability portfolio.

“We don’t do event planning or execution,” said Mehra. “We only connect families to brands and event planners that suit their requirements.”

Vogue Wedding Company’s customers “are in the very top end of the market”. This is no surprise – among those have showcased in Vogue Wedding Show are leading designers such as Tarun Tahiliani, Sabyasachi Mukherji, Rahul Mishra and Anju Modi.

Bollywood and weddings

India’s love for lavish weddings is well known. Bollywood films such as Veere Di Wedding, Band Baaja Baaraat and a raft Karan Johar movies have also helped cement the idea. Celebrity weddings are closely followed by Indian audiences, especially on social media. “Within days of Sonam Kapoor’s wedding lehenga being unveiled on her social media, the markets were flooded with similar designs being called Sonam ka Lehenga,” said a salesperson at Chandi Chowk’s Om Prakash Jawahar Lal.

Such movies have also helped boost the prospects of the fashion brands – the clothes and jewellery – featured in them. The customised pyjamas worn by the female actors in Veere Di Wedding were made by loungewear brand Dandelion. There was a buzz around the brand thanks to the movie, and they still feature the collection on their website. Similarly, the movie lifted the profiles of younger designers like Bhoomika Grover (clothing) and Mrinalini Chandra (jewellery.)

A few years ago, a prospective bride would spend around Rs 4 lakh-Rs 5 lakh at Tarun Tahiliani’s stores, but now, he says, “a bride...is very comfortable spending Rs 8 lakh”. Over the last year, sales of bridal lehengas across his stores have gone up by about 25%.

The average wedding lehenga or sari from designer Sabyasachi – the Indian girl’s Vera Wang – can cost up to Rs 3 lakh. And that is without customisations, which according to all designers has become a big trend for Indian wedding clothing.

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The 'Sayuri' lehenga. At the heart of Sabyasachi lies the pride of Indian craftsmanship. A museum-quality lehenga takes its inspiration from Varanasi brocade lehenga panels from the 1910s. With a distinct art nouveau inspiration, this lehenga is made with padded zardosi, hand-dyed velvet appliqués, crystals, rhinestones, oversized pearls and matted bullion. Dramatic Indian flora, talking cockatoos and exotic butterflies set the tone for investment-quality embroidery that takes 9740 man-hours to produce. This technique of embroidery remains closely guarded by master craftsmen and we at Sabyasachi are working round the clock to train the next generation of karigars to uphold this almost extinct tradition as a part of our skill development project. This winter, we bring colour and meenakari back to our Heritage Jewelry Collection. Desi meena, Burmese rubies, emeralds, yellow sapphire, uncut diamonds and Japanese cultured pearls come together to clash and contrast and create exuberant Indian jewellery that is classic and yet Bohemian. Jewellery Courtesy: Sabyasachi Heritage Jewelry Collection. For all jewellery-related queries, kindly contact sabyasachijewelry@sabyasachi.com @sabyasachijewelry Photo Courtesy: Tarun Vishwa #TarunVishwa Location Courtesy: Samode Palace, Jaipur @samode_hotels #Sabyasachi #KesribaiPannalal #SabyasachiJewelry #TheWorldOfSabyasachi @bridesofsabyasachi

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Spending on the rise

According to a 2018 survey conducted by the website Matrimonial.com, 20.22% of the women participants indicated that they were likely to spend more than Rs 1 lakh on their wedding clothes, while 40.67% of them said they would spend between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh. The survey also found that 50.98% of the women and 66.24% of the men spend up to Rs 3 lakh on wedding jewellery.

Lavish weddings are not the domain of solely the fabulously wealthy anymore. According to Jermina Menon, vice president marketing for Virtuous Retail South Asia, “on an average, a middle-class family might spend as much up to Rs 10 lakh to 15 lakh [taking into account the clothes and jewellery]. In destination weddings or multiple weddings, it could go up to at least Rs 20 lakhs or more.”

Menon’s company stocks popular high street brands, catering to the upper-middle class and the middle-class sections of Indian society who cannot afford haute couture like a Sabyasachi or Tahiliani. They have malls in Bengaluru, Surat, Chandigarh and Chennai. A trend that Menon has observed is that “South Indian weddings have changed to include a sangeet and a mehendi function”, once seen only in weddings in North India. “We call it the Yash Chopra effect here in the South,” Menon said.

Other outlets such as the DLF Mall of India see an increase of up to 30% in profits during the wedding season. “It’s a big occasion based season for retail,” said Pushpa Bector, executive vice president and business head, DLF Shopping Malls. And it’s not just fashion. Even luxury lifestyle hotels are seeing a boom with an increase in destination weddings. “...This season also means an influx of pre and post wedding ceremonies and events which adds to the overall revenues,” said Shikha Singh, director, sales and marketing, at Andaz Delhi, a luxury lifestyle hotel.

Veteran fashion designer Payal Khandala has noticed that clothing made for more formal occasions – such as her brocade lehengas – fly off the shelf after October, when wedding shopping ramps up. “I’ve noticed that in Delhi especially, those pieces will go faster during the festive season,” said Khandala. They are usually more expensive than her pret collection as more work goes into it.

“India is the only country in the world where designers have to make haute couture lines if they want to be economically viable,” she said. “Everywhere else, if you see, it is the pret lines that are a designer’s bread and butter, while haute couture is the money drainer. In India it is the opposite.”