Tradition has long dictated the ebbs and flows of the typical Indian wedding. This is especially true for the timing of the nuptials, with festivities typically planned between October and January. The reasons for choosing this select window are both poetic and prosaic-while the former regards the season as auspicious, especially given its proximity to Navaratri and Diwali festivities, the latter allows for rich, heavy fabrics to be worn comfortably, while also permitting friends and family from abroad to join in.
But as time marches on, even this long-held tradition is giving way to year-round festivities, all driven by the changing taste and convenience of today’s busy generation. The nation’s wedding industry has developed into a powerhouse of unrivalled proportions, with plenty of scope to grow. Over 10 million weddings a year have resulted in a sector worth an estimated $50 billion, making India the world’s second-largest wedding market. An annual growth rate of between 25 and 30 per cent promises to push this figure even higher, fuelled by a massive, youthful population, rising incomes and an aspirational drive for more stoked by glamorous social media weddings. This has resulted in an industry that is essentially both recession-proof and not linked to season.
And nowhere is this clout more apparent than in India’s fashion industry, which has reconfigured itself to meet the needs and demands of the highly-lucrative wedding market. Leading designers and couturiers across the spectrum have entirely shifted gears to focus on bridal collections, creating both high-end and ready-to-wear options. Indeed, this year’s India Couture Week saw a number of designers admit that 90 per cent of their couture business comes exclusively from Indian weddings. But what are some of the factors that have led to bridal fashion’s dominance over the wider industry?
Although Indian designers have achieved global fame for their highly imaginative and eclectic designs, their commercial ambitions at home have not always come to fruition. This has seen many of India’s best and brightest pivot from the ready-to-wear segment to bridal and occasion-wear. Leading designers such as Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Anamika Khanna, Manish Malhotra and Rohit Bal have all taken the plunge, establishing chains of boutiques across the country geared specifically towards wedding wear. In the process, they have become household names and built thriving-and financially sustainable-empires. Last year, Sabyasachi’s eponymous brand posted a turnover of ₹250 crore, with a projected year-on-year growth of 30 per cent.
The wider fashion industry has also recognised the direction of the wind and taken steps to cash in on this growing trend. The heavyweights of India’s traditional fashion calendar, including the India Fashion Week, the Lakme Fashion Week and the Bangalore Fashion Week, are uniformly dominated by the launch of bridal couture lines. The market is so vast that a parallel ecosystem of bridal fashion shows has developed, with events like the Wedding Show, India Bridal Fashion Week and Bridal Asia, gathering the region’s best designers, retailers and customers.
Even global players have sought to cash in on this segment. International publisher and fashion trendsetter Conde Nast, which counts GQ and Vogue as part of its editorial stable, launched the Vogue Wedding Company in India in 2017. A bespoke advisory service, it acts as an intermediary between families and vendors in the wedding business, including wedding planners. Other international brands, including Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo, have also made moves in the space, either acting independently or through partnerships with local brands and designers.
Weddings hold a special place in the heart of every Indian family, regardless of caste, culture or creed. These represent the pinnacle of a lifetime and are thus financed accordingly. Indeed, the life’s savings of many a family are reserved solely for this occasion, often further supplemented with loans and borrowings from friends and family. It is even estimated that up to one-fifth of the total lifetime earnings of the average individual is set aside for this occasion.
As such, every aspect has to be perfect. And what is more indicative of the pomp and grandeur of the occasion than the bride’s outfit? Recent years, in particular, have seen this concept expand to include not just the groom, but the wider wedding party as well. Parents, cousins, and even friends are all dressed up for the day, frequently in designer and couture wear. These expenditures serve not just to commemorate the occasion, but also act as an indelible marker of the socio-economic standing of the parties involved. A grand celebration, during which money is treated as inconsequential, is the most powerful signifier of wealth and upward social mobility. This mindset has proven invaluable to the nation’s fashion industry, and they have responded to the demand with gusto.
The Bollywood Factor
Aside from the wedding sector, Bollywood or the Indian film industry is perhaps the only other industry to be completely immune from economic downturn. The nation’s largest film stars hold an unparalleled position in the country-revered nationwide, their every word and move closely scrutinised and followed by millions of eager fans. And naturally, no event in a celebrity’s life is more eagerly followed than a wedding. The 2018 wedding of film stars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh was national news, with both traditional and social media buzzing over every aspect of the celebration. As such, their wedding served as a template for further such celebrations in the year to come, significantly impacting consumer trends and driving demand for luxury bridal wear. This is a pattern that has repeated itself since Bollywood first burst onto the scene and is likely to continue far into the future.
The Indian wedding and fashion industries exist in a symbiotic state of being. What benefits one will always boost the other as well, and vice versa. Both industries are well aware of this relationship and have constantly moved to strengthen this state of affairs. In so doing they have cemented themselves as a vital cog in India’s economic story, and are set to dominate the nation’s fashion industry for decades to come.