Shopping for a wedding in India is near-ceremonial. Often featuring a coterie of curious aunts, parents and friends, the task of shopping for one’s wedding trousseau is an exciting part of planning for brides. Designers catering to this clientele have invested in lavish flagship stores, attentive staff and often an assortment of jewellery and accessories to complete the look. But in the new world order, weddings will no longer be the grand affairs we once knew them to be. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in India, social gatherings of large numbers seem unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. Shopping formats are being changed, making way for Zoom consultations and no-contact deliveries. What then will be the fate of the grand bridal lehenga—carefully chosen, laboured over for days on end—when only a handful can fawn over it?
What’s in a dress?
“There won’t be many occasions celebrated to the scale that we know, because there is a whole new consciousness that has set in. And as a domino, the consumption for occasion wear will not only witness a decline but we are also prepared that some may not consume at all after being shaken so heavily by this global crisis,” says veteran designer Tarun Tahiliani. “While marriages will continue to take place and the immediate family still may want to look good along with the bride and the groom; people will not be wearing the kind of clothes they used to and that will in-turn affect the way we produce,” he says, painting a realistic picture of the industry. Does this mean the end of couture as we know it? Perhaps, temporarily.
One thing is certain; designers are using this time to come back stronger than before. “We understand that all the cancelled and postponed weddings from the past three months would seek to take place after the lockdown is released. In this trying time, we’ve decided to rely on our strength, which is slow fashion. By making our processes slower and documenting them well, we are aiming to provide better transparency of processes to our consumers,” shares Rahul Mishra, whose practise of reverse migration is proving to be an effective one in these trying times. “Having to go through a global pandemic is difficult for everyone, but for some of the craftsmen, it may be a matter of life and death. Creating awareness, demand, and in turn, employment for local crafts shall help sustain it through the crisis,” he adds.
Timelessness of design is another change we are about to witness. Instead of focusing on passing trends, designers are more likely to shift towards a classic, enduring approach to the clothes they create. According to Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango, “The entire seasonality within fashion cycles has been disrupted. However, I do think that this change should be embraced as this gives us an opportunity to edit our offerings and focus on smaller numbers.” Garg has flouted traditional formats of seasons and shows two collections a year. Every design he’s ever made is available for sale, meaning one can never look dated in a Raw Mango ensemble.
Among those that are looking at the pandemic as a bump in their journey and focusing on strategy ahead is the House of Anita Dongre. “E-commerce is the best way to drive business,” says Yash Dongre, their business head. “Brands that are already on e-commerce will up their game while others will now make an effort. At House of Anita Dongre, we’re focussing our expansion efforts digitally. We’re still getting a steady flow of queries. These are smaller, more intimate celebrations but it doesn’t take away from the dream of having a beautiful outfit, the opportunity to get a picture, and celebrate. People are still going ahead with their June-July weddings at a smaller scale and we’re doing everything we can to deliver on time.”
Fashion shows and presentations pose a large question mark. Traditionally an expensive PR exercise, runway shows are an excess many have written off for the time being. “My personal view is that fashion shows began to get redundant since social media [platforms], like Instagram, made such an impact,” says Dongre. “Fashion shows are an expensive platform and this might be the year that people start scaling back and spending that money on Instagram. Having said that, the fashion weeks of the world will get more innovative and maybe they’ll go digital too,” he adds. At the moment, fashion weeks in the country stand postponed and organisers are looking into ways to make the event virtual.
With or without the fanfare of a presentation, the show must go on. It’s obvious that a changed perspective is the need of the hour. As we look at a fairly uncertain future, adjusting the scales and attending to our immediate challenges is equally necessary. Supporting the industry means supporting more than the designers whose work you love. A community of craftsmen, artisans and weavers benefit from the trade. “Just by the virtue of the fact that the sales have been zero and there hasn’t been any new business, it’s been so difficult for many companies to continue their functioning. Even though the skilled and the unskilled workers would have liked a little bit of a heads up so that they could have gone back to their villages; we are trying our best to secure them while they are around,” says Tahiliani, who, like his contemporaries, is doing what he can to safeguard his workforce.
With the lockdown easing up, many hope for things to return to the way they were. But building the “new normal”, to repeat the cliche, will have us all playing a different part. What will really help us through this dramatic pause in our lives are measured steps—taking into account the entire fashion ecosystem and being truly inclusive rather than a rushed exit out of this surreal phase.