The rising influence of social media is helping Pakistani designers find a niche market.
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Social media is a common feature of our daily lives. It’s no surprise that Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have become the most popular and effective marketing tools for wedding industry. This same complex has led to a rising trend in people spending a lot of money on extravagant wedding celebrations. For a trendy wedding, people seek out top-of-the line caterers, event planners, and photographers. And what’s more trend than a fancy bridal outfit by one of the top designers across the border
The sheer power of the complex can be deduced from the many areas that fall under its ambit — decor, venues, catering, photography, makeup, and most notably, bridal couture. Recent years have seen the rise in interest in the concept of “Bridal couture”. “hashtag weddings” — weddings that go beyond the norm of a two to three-day celebration to span over the course of a few days or even weeks in certain cases, and acquire an identity of their own in the form of a hashtag created with using the names of the couple to be wed.
Among the many things on display at these grand hashtag weddings is the luxurious fashion and, most often, the greatest attention is afforded to the bride’s choice of clothing on each day. In addition to bringing attention to Pakistan’s upcoming designers and helping them get on the radar of brides, hashtag weddings have also allowed for the import of bridal couture from across the border. Perhaps, the most frequently imported bridal couture is that of the renowned Indian fashion and jewellery designer, Sabyasachi Mukherjee —a known favourite of Bollywood A-listers and, now, upperclass Pakistani brides.
Bollywood star Alia Bhatt wore a Sabyasachi sari at her recent wedding — Photo via Alia Bhatt/Instagram
Anuskha Sharma, DeepikaPadukone, Soha Ali Khan Pataudi and Bipasha Basu are some of the most famous Bollywood stars that have donned Sabyasachi brides at their weddings. Katrina KaifVidya Balan and most recently, Ali Bhatt.
Similarly, in Pakistan, we have witnessed a handful of well-known individuals all dressed up in vibrantly-coloured lehenga cholis on their own wedding festivities or while attending other people’s weddings. Ayesha Saif KhanMaryam Nawaz’s wife Junaid Safdar made headlines when she wore a Sabyasachi Bridal on her London nikah. She opted for a pastel-themed Lehnga Choli and matching organza dupatta. Numerous socialites have also worn Sabyasachi bridals to their weddings.
It is not difficult to believe that hashtag weddings have played an important role in highlighting the designs by couturiers such as Dr Haroon and Bunto Kazmi, Farah Tlib Aziz, Shehla chatoor, Sabyasachi, and Shehla Chatoor. Hashtag weddings also have contributed to increasing awareness about high-end fashion houses in metropolises. Instagram has seen a rise in the number of women who like, comment, and share posts. Designer bridal-wear is becoming more sought-after.
“Social media is definitely the reason why I knew so much about Sabyasachi and was so familiar with his designs,”Aimen, who confessed to her guilt, walked down Aimen’s aisle in a Sabyasachi bridal Lehenga choli that was red and gold-worked this past February.
Silkina replied in a similar manner when I asked about the impact of social media on her decision to choose a Sabyasachi wedding outfit. “I knew about Sabyasachi for a long time, you can say word of mouth initially and then I used to see his designs on social media as well. So in a way, yes, social media did have a huge part to play,”She spoke.
Silkina in Sabyasachi on her baraat. Photo by Irfan Ahson via Silkina
“I planned to wear Sabyasachi since the day I saw their pictures on Instagram. There was no going back for me after that…With so many colours and combinations to choose from, I wanted something lively and girlish and ended up choosing a beautiful signature Sabya Lime,”Shahama shared her stunning lime green lehenga-choli with colorfully hand-worked borders at sleeves and hem.
We are seeing more and more brides opting to wear Sabyasachi designs on their big day. This begs the obvious question: What makes Sabyasachi a sought-after bridal?
The anatomy of a Sabyasachi Bridal
Although both Indian and Pakistani fashion can be traced back more than 50 years ago to the Subcontinent’s embroidery and fabric patterns, there has been a steady evolution in silhouettes, styles and embellishment techniques. They share some similarities, but they also have distinctive qualities that make them stand out from each other. The lehenga choli silhouette is one that is indigenous to Indian culture and has made an entry into Pakistani wedding and bridal-wear fashion only recently —undoubtedly, as a consequence of Pakistani designers and maisons being inspired by their Indian counterparts.
Sabyasachi’s lehenga-choli silhouette is what sets it apart from other local bridal-wear. There’s something about the way that the choli hugs the torso, how the lehenga flares out without mimicking a ballgown and the style with which the dupatta is draped over the ensemble that has yet to be adequately replicated in the tailoring of lehenga cholis stitched in Pakistan.
In my quest to understand what exactly it was about Sabyasachi’s bridals that appealed to the modern Pakistani bride, I spoke to a handful of women who had worn Sabyasachi bridals on their mehndi or baraat events. Humna — who wore a green lehenga choli with accents of fuchsia and gold embroidered and embellished motifs on her mehndi — believed there were benefits to designers on both sides of the border.
“I believe designers both across the border and here have their own fortes. Our traditional hand-work is phenomenal and unmatched, but for lehenga cholis and saris, I feel that the way they drape it is something they are masters at.”
Silkina, another Sabyasachi bride had a similar opinion. “The kind of lehenga cholis Sabyasachi makes, I have not seen any other designer in Pakistan doing those. There’s just something about the stitchings and the fittings…
“It took me around four to five months to constantly update my measurements to be on the safe side and just send them the numbers on texts and video calls. When the lehenga choli came, I hadn’t seen any trousseau or bridal fit me that well,”Shahama.
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Shahama in Sabyasachi, at her mehndi. Photo by Izzah Shaheen Maklik via Shahama
The lehenga choli style offers an alternative to the traditional silhouettes of ghararas, shararas, and lehengas —paired with shirts of varying lengths— or the ever-present pishwaas that we have witnessed our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends wear over the decades. Many brides are now opting to wear a signature Sabyasachi lehenga choli on at least one of their wedding events — if they can afford it — for the sake of standing out.
“I chose Sabyasachi since I wanted to diversify my look for each day. For the rest of my events, I chose our Pakistani designers whom I am equally in awe of, if not more,”Shahama.
The growing appeal of a Sabyasachi bridal, therefore, can also be linked to the millennial bride’s desire to stand out amongst the hundreds of brides being dolled up, photographed, and reposted all over social media.
A Sabyasachi bride outfit is different from a Pakistani one due to the choice of silhouette. Another thing that distinguishes it from Pakistani bridal gowns is the use of rich textiles and embroidery patterns. While Pakistani designers and artisans often strive for a heavily embellished shirt with intricate borders and borders on the lower, Sabyasachi brides are more delicate and widespread.
Not only is the embroidery more spaced out — with the needlework often creating gossamer and vine-like patterns that are punctuated with small flower and other motifs borrowed from nature — the selection of decorative material is also distinctive in that there is an emphasis on glistening threadwork, the use of sequins, and coils of embellished lace encircling at the borders of the lehenga. Sabyasachi brides are unique because they don’t have to use heavy embellishments. They allow rich fabrics to shine through.
“His colour scheme, the kind of colours he uses, the kind of fabrics and materials that he’s using, his
These embellishments and designs are truly unique. It’s not the typical head-to-toe kaam sey bhara hua jora dey diya [outfit filled with embroidery]…It’s so creative and it’s so fun,” explained Aimen.
Silkina in Sabyasachi on her baraat. Photo by Irfan Ahson via Silkina
“And it’s more than just the design. I think the entire story around the design is so unique, like the campaign, the music, the way the models are doing all these cool things in the videos…There’s such phenomenal marketing on social media that it’s like an entire Sabyasachi experience,”The bride said, “Like, I didn’t just wear a Sabyasachi outfit, but my jewellery and makeup and hair were also inspired by the Sabyasachi campaign. So I think, yes, like I’ve told you why I think his designs are unique and different, but I also think that he creates a very unique and different bride experience on his Instagram page so when you see it, you kind of want to recreate the whole thing, because it feels so magical and whimsical,” said Aimen.
The courtier of wealth and glory
Since we have now established an unmistakable connection between social media, hashtag weddings, and the hype surrounding Sabyasachi bridals, it is important for us to try and understand the appeal of Sabyasachi’s designs and what they represent in the Pakistani context.
Hashtag weddings have become a social-cultural phenomenon. This is not only a reflection of the South Asia’s generational tradition of marriages, but also a sign of how capitalism has helped to boost the wedding industry. Weddings were once private events that were only meant to be shared with close friends and family. However, they are now being broadcast online to thousands of viewers.
The pomp and circumstance displayed online for the viewing pleasure (or displeasure), of anyone and everyone seems to directly serve capitalist spirit. The hashtag #wedding becomes a symbol of wealth and an opulent life to be aspired to. Even though this level of wealth and grandeur may not be possible, the trap of consumerism threatens to ensnare all of us, to the point that the privilege of owning and wearing a Sabyasachi bride is seen as a step toward this ideal. This begs the question: can Sabyasachi Bridals really be associated with wealth, luxury and the attainment or maintenance of a social standing that would make one a member the upper echelons?
As bridal couture that has to be exported from a another country, Sabyasachi bridals embody a charm that promises exclusivity — exclusivity in the selection of silhouettes, fabrics, and designs, but also in the realisation that Sabyasachi bridals are not readily available for all.
“I don’t think so, there was just one store in Mall 1, Lahore, that had a few outfits by Sabyasachi, but I don’t think that’s much variety to choose from,”Silkina responded to my inquiry about Sabyasachi clothing in Pakistani retail stores.
Shahama in Sabyasachi, at her mehndi. Photo by Izzah Shaheen Maklik via Shahama
Aimen had a similar insight. “I don’t think Sabyasachi bridals are readily available in Pakistan. They used to be. I think about two to three years ago, there was a store in Karachi called Ensemble and they had bought a bunch of ready-to-wear Sabyasachi options but, since then, I haven’t heard of anyone who has ready-made outfits here.”
A Sabyasachi wedding is luxurious and exclusive because there are not many ready-to wear options for Sabyasachi dresses in Pakistan. There are also no certified retailers that can arrange custom orders. A Sabyasachi bride is still a luxury that is not easily accessible to most Pakistanis. However, it is possible to travel to other countries to see Sabyasachi stores or have your outfit delivered to a London or Dubai address.
“If you travel frequently to London or Dubai, I know that there are boutiques where you can pick up ready-made outfits, but if you’re ordering a jora… I have a few friends who have ordered for their weddings, I’ve ordered myself but it’s not an easy process. The payment and delivery definitely make it a hassle,”Aimen.
It is almost impossible for anyone to cross into Pakistan due to the fragile political relations between India and Pakistan. Sabyasachi bridals are difficult to access due both to travel restrictions as well as the fact that the wedding outfit cannot be shipped over to Pakistan.
Fashion comes with a price
The exorbitant prices of Sabyasachi weddings add to their inaccessibility. A Sabyasachi bridal can cost anywhere between Rs900,000 and Rs4.5 million — a price range not unheard of in the realm of Pakistani bridal couture, but still solely reserved for the observably deluxe and top-tier maisons and fashion designers.
“I think Bunto Kazmi is equally expensive,”Humna agreed. Aimen, however, had a slightly differing opinion. “Pakistani designers, the high-end ones like Bunto Kazmi and Faraz Manan, they’re more expensive than Sabyasachi. With Sabyasachi, you have his bridal range between Rs900,000 and Rs1.6 million and his very high-end designs go up till Rs2 million.”
Ayesha Saif Khan wore Sabyasachi to Maryam Nawaz’s son Junaid Safdar’s nikah. Photo by Zehra Photographic
A time when wealthy Pakistani brides could make a quick trip into India for their trousseau shopping and bridal-wear shopping is gone. Despite these obstacles, modern technology and social media are still playing an active role in helping to counter this lack of access.
“I got in touch with them over the phone, they set an appointment for a video call and then that’s how they showed me all the designs etc. When I chose what I wanted, they took my measurements all over the video call as well by demonstrating in front of me how the proper measurements should be done. So the whole process was entirely done over video call,”Silkina.
All this leads us to conclude that Sabyasachi became a household name in Pakistan thanks to the sensational hashtag weddings. Sabyasachi’s brand became synonymous with luxury and exclusivity. This made Sabyasachi’s bridal ensemble even more attractive.
His designs are a result of his unique aesthetic and use of embroidery techniques. He also preferred the traditional lehenga choli silhouette, which was a departure from the fashion trends being used by Pakistani bridal couture houses and fashion designers. It is clear that there is a correlation between the increased use social media, capitalism’s power, the trend for hashtag weddings and the subsequent rise of Sabyasachi Brides in Pakistan.