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My Big, Colorful Desi wedding

Dec/01/2023 / by elizabeth-marglin
Zian drape sari

Hybrid weddings celebrate dual identities with flair

Weddings can be a tale of two cultures, a mashup of cherished traditions, modernized into a unique, custom hybrid. “In the last decade, there has been a rise of the fusion wedding,” says Elizabeth Priya Kumar, who runs Premini, a luxury event planning company based in New York City, “whether it be Indian-American, Indian-Chinese, Hindu-Jewish (Hinjew). Plus, many first generation South Asian Americans don’t have a strong tether to the India of their parents.” 

They want a wedding to reflect their braided roots, that nods to tradition with just the right amount of reverence—and irreverence. In this brave new wedding-scape, the sandeep might be called a rave, the mandap might be adorned with personal artwork, and the baraat may fall by the wayside.

For a growing number of couples, the idea of entwining two cultures in bespoke ways brings welcome novelty. “We wanted to keep many of the Indian cultural traditions alive but have the freedom to make choices about what was important to us and what wasn’t,” says Kris Jadhav, social media editor for SEEMA and a recent bride. For them, this meant editing down the three-hour Hindu ceremony to one hour.

A South Indian wedding has three main elements: the religious ceremony, the luscious spreads, and the gorgeous outfits. In a hybrid wedding, often those hallmarks will be there, but they might look—and taste–slightly different. Here are some of the tells that something multicultural is afoot. 

Religious customs

Although the havan will have a prominent place in most South Asian fusion weddings, other aspects may be envisioned with a modern twist. The couple may circumambulate the havan but also read personal vows, exchange garlands and exchange rings.

For example, Jadhav had a traditional mehndi ceremony, which the groom playfully ended up crashing.

Culinary traditions

While a traditional South Asian wedding will feature many sumptuous Indian feasts over the course of several days, a fusion wedding may opt for one deluxe Indian spread (Kumar likes to incorporate plated thalis to elevate the meal), then branch out into other cuisines.

Wedding attire

Although many South Asian brides will wear a version of the lehenga, the palette may undergo a subtle revision. The typical fiery reds, worn by traditional Hindu brides, might morph into a Western-inflected color palette, featuring ivories, pinks and pastels. Wedding fashion can also serve as a cultural bridge, such as by the bride choosing to wear traditional Indian attire for the ceremony, then slip into a Western outfit for the reception, as Jadhav did. She wore a red lehenga then opted for a sleek, elegant white silk dress paired with a red dupatta for the evening festivities.

Bridging generations

Despite the fun of creating ad hoc rituals, the challenge of a fusion wedding is honoring the wishes of your parents while staying true to yourselves, says Kumar. Typically, this could mean letting Jyotish astrology dictate the most auspicious time and day for the wedding ceremony. Where are you willing to compromise, and where does it behoove you to assert your own aesthetic preferences? Kumar recommends honoring your parents’ wishes when you can, “because the other 80 percent of the wedding is yours to manage.” Often, she says, “parents are throwing you the wedding they never had. The wedding celebrates the village it took for the parents, as well as their son or daughter, to get to this point.”

Reshaping the Fashion Landscape

South Asian designers and retailers are making their mark on the industry

A new wave of South Asian designers and retailers are bringing vibrant colors, intricate embroidery, and flowing silhouettes to a wider audience. More than ever, these brands are branching into the mainstream, and expanding access to traditional outfits through modern methods. Here are a few of the brands and entrepreneurs making fashion waves. 

KYNAH

Founder Aisha Rawji drew inspiration from her mother’s home business selling contemporary Indian clothing shipped from trips back to India. Rawji formalized this model for the digital age, personally vetting manufacturers and designers to curate high-end pieces on her e-commerce site. She focuses on quality and fit so the heirloom pieces can be passed down generations in the South Asian diaspora community. “I don’t want it to be a one-wear item, you wear it once and that’s it,” said Rawji in a recent interview with Forbes. “I see Indian clothes as generational.”

The company has grown from a passion project to dressing celebrities and expanding to retail stores. Rawji credits the pivot to selling protective masks during pandemic uncertainties with keeping her dream alive. “It not only kept me busy, but it also kept the business and brand name afloat,” she says.

KYNAH x The Little Black Bow 

Shanaya Lehenga

$750

Sani

Sisters Niki and Ritika Shamdasani founded Sani after struggling to find traditional outfits as young South Asian Americans living in North Carolina. The brand puts a modern twist on styles like lehengas and saris, with easy-to-wear touches like built-in hooks. “It gives our perspective as multidimensional people,” said Ritika Shamdasani in an interview with Garden and Gun magazine. 

The Shamdasanis focus on small-batch production and source deadstock fabrics to limit waste. Even as they partner with major retailers like Nordstrom, they remain hands-on in designing and connecting with customers on social media.  

Both companies were founded by daughters of immigrants aiming to fuse South Asian culture with an American lifestyle. The accessible e-commerce experiences and global reach have enabled the brands to thrive. As Ritika states, “Culture is made to be shared.” 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sani/

Zian Drape Saree

$480; nordstrom.com

Season’s Glowing Greetings

5 of the Best Beauty Gifts

The holidays offer no shortage of stress, but the right indulgent gift set can make crossing people off your list easier than ever. We rounded up our favorites for this year, which are sure to brighten up anyone’s season — including your own, if you’re looking for a little self-care. 

Dior Addict Beauty Ritual Set

We love Dior products on their own, but this couture case combines all of our faves, including the Lip Glow balm, a Miss Dior perfume, and the Capture Totale Le Sérum – all for a steal of price.  $85, dior.com. 

LANEIGE Divine Lip Duo Set

With the dry days of winter, Laneige’s luxurious lip products are a nightstand staple. Share the gift of hydration with this combo of lip mask (in festive peppermint flavor!) and shiny gloss. $22; laneige.com 

Sephora Favorites Perfume Sampler Set

For the fragrance-o-phile in your life, we always love the Sephora Fragrance Sampler. This year’s round-up includes samples from Burberry, Gucci, Prada, and more, plus a coupon that your giftee can exchange for their favorite full-size scent. $85, sephora.com

LUSH Christmas Buds Advent Calendar

No one does holiday gift sets quite as unique and festive as Lush. This year, we’re loving the holiday-themed advent calendar featuring 25 fun bath bombs, bath melts, and bubble bars. $220, lush.com

Sunday Riley Superstars Bestsellers Kit 

When it comes to skincare, few products hit harder than Sunday Riley’s beauty-boosting lineup. This set includes the brand’s faves, including lactic acid Good Genes, vitamin C-powered C.E.O., and retinoid-infused A+. $130, sundayriley.com

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