What makes weddings a once-in-a-lifetime experience? An idyllic destination, an ethereal wedding dress, candid photos, culinary delights, aesthetic décor, a celebration with friends and family, or the nervous excitement of beginning a new stage in life? It is all of that and more. And a bride’s wedding dress is a memory of this special day. It is a memory of love, one that can transcend generations with the timelessness of it. By creating such decadent luxury pieces for the new-age bride, city-based and nationally recognized designer Mrunalini Rao has carved a niche for herself in India’s ever-evolving bridalwear market. This year, as the star designer launches her Bride 2022 collection, we unfold her journey of weaving fairy tale pieces.
On a cloudy Thursday morning, we arrived at Mrunalini’s flagship store in Jubilee Hills. The seductive climate and picturesque tree-lined pathways added to the mansion-like store’s vintage appeal. It exuded a colonial design heritage with its off-white entryway, large glass windows, and staircase acting as a key design feature. Enter the door and we find many works of art and design features that can intrigue and fascinate the visitor: a carved tree of life in one corner, some birds installed in one of the rooms, a mixed media artwork in the wall, a cabinet like a closet, all of which caught our attention. The store seemed like a display not only of past editions of Mrunalini, but a place where one could feel at home.
Despite her busy schedule, Mrunalini sat down with us for a candid chat about her shop as an embodiment of herself. “I wanted my design journey to be reflected in the store. For example, the artwork at the entrance shows all the surface work and dyeing experiments we have carried out over the years in our workshop. The mural is embroidered with the names of some of our master tailors and artisans, while the female staff have put their hand-painted prints on it. You can also see a map of Hyderabad on the mural that pays tribute to my city,” she begins. “There is an engraving of the tree of life, which I believe represents wisdom, progress, prosperity and happiness. The birds that fly reflect the freedom they gave me to make my decisions and look up in life. The beams you see above are an inspiration from my grandmother’s old town house”, she tells us.
Doctor or designer: the true vocation
As Mrunalini takes us down memory lane, we ask him how he got interested in fashion design. “I was supposed to be a doctor and I was preparing for my MBBS in class 11 and 12. At the same time, I was a very creative kid. I used to paint and draw a lot and I won a lot of art contests. I liked biology and enjoyed making diagrams and studying human anatomy.” However, after class 12, Mrunalini’s meritorious teenager was at a crossroads: he had passed admission to MBBS and NIFT. “I had to choose between being a doctor and a designer. While my father left the decision up to me, my mother was not in favor of me going into fashion as she believed there was no career in it, back in 2008. At that time, Indian fashion was in its nascent stage with just a handful of designers like Ritu Kumar, Anamika Khanna, Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi define the scene. Apart from them, there were few opportunities for young designers. It was a difficult and risky decision that I made simply because of my love of design,” she shares.
Mrunalini soon turned out to be an outstanding student at NIFT, earning much praise for her creations. “Everything in NIFT was about practicality and not theory, which is exactly what caught my interest. We learned tailoring, textile design, dyeing techniques, fashion history, trend forecasting, and more, and I fell in love with the environment that encouraged creative thinkers,” she says. When she passed out from the NIFT, Mrunalini had 10 placement offers available! She tried herself in the industry by interning at export houses and eventually helping designer Anushree Reddy with her eponymous label.
However, she soon realized that she wanted to open something of her own and that led her to start her label in 2014. “I started with just two artisans and today we have a family of 410 with a large production unit at Film Nagar. . It has been an incredibly rewarding journey,” she tells us proudly.
Timeless bridal clothing
Speaking about his design philosophy, Mrunalini says, “I make sure the pieces I create last a long time and have fine, intricate finishing embroidery. I focus on very delicate crafts that are refined to perfection to make the whole look like a piece of art that can be treasured for a lifetime. I specialize in Hyderabad zardozi craft. However, I don’t want traditional crafts to look too typical in the silhouettes, rather I want to give them a contemporary twist.”
the designer’s bride 2022 collection is all about his idea of timeless luxury. The collection includes colossal flared lehengas with lush floral patterns and intricate patchwork. Mrunalini has experimented with new color tones, from pastels like beige, peach, ivory, and coconut sorbet to a touch of bright hues like teal, yellow, and Indian red. Each of the pieces is woven with embroideries such as aari, zardozi and resham which add to its grandeur. “I have tried to play with bright colors and pastels because people’s preferences are changing dramatically. They are open to experimenting with new colors, patterns, cuts, and silhouettes. That’s why so many brides these days want peach, baby pink, or off-white for their wedding gowns.”
Apart from bride 2022, The talented designer just released a destination wedding issue all about fusion wear, so we asked her about the resort wear and fusion wear trend entering the bridal market. “That’s because they’re easy to transport, uncomplicated, and come in a variety of contemporary styles. But even if I do fusion clothes, I want them to be interesting, not just trendy. I want to experiment with sleeves or add more layers to the clothing. People want to try things beyond sarees, kurtas and lehengas, and those demands keep designers like us motivated to keep trying new things.”
Zero waste weddings became an innovative concept during the peak of the COVID19 induced pandemic. The designers tried to include sustainability in the wedding edits only to find out that it is a catch 22 as Indian weddings are all about extravagance. “I try very hard to make wedding clothes less wasteful, but it’s a daunting task because when I use biodegradable textiles that have muted colors, people don’t like them because they lack shine. So we have to make the wedding clothes sparkle with glitter, which ultimately leaves us with heaps of waste. However, I constantly challenge myself to make conscious wedding wear,” says Mrunalini, explaining the challenges she faces.
Loaded with the amount of waste bridal wear generates, Mrunalini launched a conscious and eco-friendly ready-to-wear line entitled uri. “I realized that I was only catering to the bridal market. But if someone wants casual clothes, I have nothing to offer. Also, wedding clothes can be very wasteful, so I wanted to create a product line that was eco-friendly. In uri, we have sets made of natural fibers that are extracts of bamboo, soy, orange and milk fibers. I wanted to launch it around the pandemic because people were realizing the importance of sustainability and wanted to own something that would give their lives meaning,” he explains.
In addition, he feels that you have to keep reinventing yourself to meet the expectations of the new era. Citing the example of Hyderabad, he says: “The city’s fashion scene has changed incredibly faster than expected. It has become a hub for multi-designer stores, fashion shows, and pop-ups! Before, people from the city would go to Delhi or Mumbai for shopping, but now they can find everything here. In the midst of this, experimenting is the key to staying afloat. Many times I have been restrictive in terms of experimentation, thinking that it is risky. Perhaps, that is why some of my previous edits have failed. But now I am open to new ideas and we have a young team of artists and designers with whom we are exchanging ideas to bring something never seen before”. Mrunalini will soon be bringing a few more additions to her bridal wear line for February 2023. So watch out!
Rs.2,52,000.00 upwards. Available online and in store.
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