Bollywood: Manish Malhotra on dressing Alia Bhatt in an elegant 'mehendi' ensemble for her wedding

The celebrity designer reveals what inspired the outfit that is making waves on social media.

By Anu Prabhakar

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Sat 23 Apr 2022, 1:31 PM

Last updated: Sat 23 Apr 2022, 4:02 PM

A celebrity bride’s ensemble is almost never just a dress. It transcends the normal responsibilities of a bridal dress and takes on spokesperson-type duties – the dress has to speak volumes about the bride’s personality, hint at a message or memory that’s close to her heart (think Meghan Markle, Angelina Jolie, Priyanka Chopra Jonas), put an end to all speculation, satiate the curiosity of a million fans and, all the while, make her look great.

When Bollywood actor Alia Bhatt married actor and fellow superstar Ranbir Kapoor at the latter’s Pali Hill residence in Mumbai on April 14, fans remained logged into social media to catch carefully-selected snippets of the ethereal, dreamy wedding. Bhatt first shared pictures of the wedding later that same day. Then came pictures of the mehendi ceremony, where the bride and groom were seen grinning, laughing and dancing with their clutch of close friends and family members. It confirmed a few things – that the ceremony was as private and intimate as it was first reported to be and that the bride wore Manish Malhotra for the function.

The mehendi lehenga created a lot of buzz, especially for being a sustainable ensemble. “When Alia and I met, her idea was to take a sustainable approach and we had to highlight every bit of her individuality by taking this route,” says celebrity fashion designer Malhotra. “She’s a new-age bride and a thoughtful one; indeed, the ensemble was customized, keeping her personality in mind.” Bhatt is hard-working, kind, generous and, he adds, belongs to a “conscious generation”. “She is down-to-earth and true to her origins.”

The custom patches in the lehenga were designed using fabrics that were collected from the actor’s previous outfits, which are of deep significance for her. “Each patch of the 180 textiles, which were hand-woven using a couture technique of cross-stitches with three tar and six tar anchors, takes her back to intimate moments she’d lived before her wedding,” elaborates the designer.

Dressing Alia Bhatt

The whole process of putting the dress together - starting from the brief ideation to designing and completing the ensemble - took around 3000 hours, 20 artisans and a team of 4 to complete. Malhotra says that the “70% Fuschia pink, 30% gold, silver, and multi-hued patched” ensemble “bridges a gap between vintage and the star’s evolved personality”. “The patches, weave, materials and embroidery used signify her roots and diverse origins,” he adds.

He describes the ceremonial dress as an “heirloom lehenga” which draws elements from every corner of India, like Kashmir, Banaras, Gujarat and Kanchipuram. “She chose to personalize her outfit by using materials from the Manish Malhotra brand archives’ most cherished outfits and detailing,” he explains. This includes real gold zari, silver nakshi and kora flowers, vintage gold metal sequins from Kutch, and hand-woven silk from Tamil Nadu. “Additionally, Banarasi brocades, jacquard, bandhani, Kachha Resham knots were woven to make this intricate, upcycled heritage ensemble,” he says.

Malhotra is known for his decade-long association with the NGO Mijwan Welfare Society which trains and empowers young women by teaching them the art of Chikankari embroidery. The Society is headquartered in Uttar Pradesh, India. “The women contribute immensely towards upholding Indian traditions and expressing its historical culture,” says Malhotra. Thus their work, too, found a place in the ensemble – the outfit had elaborate Kashmiri and Chikankari stitches that were weaved by the Mijwan women artisans’ deft fingers, which contributed to Alia’s "traditional values and contemporary life outlook.”

“The embellishments and weaves used are an ode to our artisanal lineage with deep empathy, understanding and love for Indian craft that has been honed over centuries,” he adds.

While choosing the colour of the outfit, the team wanted to stay away from the more predictable colours like yellow and green. “While going over her previous looks from our brand archival diaries, we looked at the pink bridesmaid outfit Alia recently wore to her friend’s sangeet/mehendi ceremony. The colour instantly caught our attention and became the unanimous choice for her mehendi look.” he says. “The most exciting part about the ensemble is the blouse with floral embellishments which were attached using couture techniques.”

As is the case with all celebrity weddings, the dress was kept under wraps. “Till the day of her mehendi, nothing was revealed, not even the colour. Everything was carefully planned and curated as per Alia’s liking and personality,” he says.

A sustainable future

Malhotra has long been a vocal supporter and champion of sustainability – at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) Summer/Resort 2018, for instance, Malhotra and the Woolmark Company showcased a ‘capsule collection’ titled ‘Inaya’ using Merino wool, to draw attention towards sustainable fashion. He has spoken about its importance in several summits and is also known to have insisted on using sustainable paper to make carry bags for one of his stores in India when it underwent a revamp.

“I think sustainability is one of the most critical factors for any company today. As a label and a first-tier designer today, I think it is essential for me to consider factors like technology, sustainability, and empowerment,” he says, while also cautioning that sustainability needs to be a conscious choice and not a marketing agenda. “We curate sustainable outfits that are customized and personalized for a significant number of brides and grooms all the time. Alia’s outfit is one of a kind but we’ve produced many more and continue to do so for our brides and grooms who like to take that route.”

A frequent flier to the UAE, the Bollywood designer describes Dubai as “a land of the future”.

“I love Dubai. It’s my home away from home with so many of my dear friends there. It’s also ever-evolving in every aspect. The city is modest and grand in the most elegant way. The weaves and threads might be glamorous, but their fashion stands the test of time.”

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