Sometimes, unlike the classic Rolling Stones song, you actually get what you want. And then you realize you have no idea what to do with it. Or at least that’s how I felt after getting engaged, when I was suddenly confronted with the task of planning a cross-cultural wedding, blending my Indian background with my fiance’s British-American one. The venues, flowers and food were only slightly harrowing, but I experienced mild palpitations when it came to the most important element: the dress.
At most fusion weddings I’ve attended, the bride wore two dresses, each representative of a different culture. But, in the spirit of our families coming together, I pictured myself wearing just one, an amalgamation of both of our upbringings.
I turned to the runway in search of sartorial help. The Chanel Paris-Bombay collection from pre-fall 2012 (below)? As much as I love tweed Punjabi suits à la Karl, I felt the reference might be lost on some of my less fashionably inclined relatives. Marchesa’s spring 2013 Indian-inspired collection (top) drew on some of the elements I love most about the allure of the Far East; vibrant colors, intricate embellishments and layers of delicate fabric. Some of the looks were even bridal, though my favorite was a periwinkle lace cocktail dress with draping to mimic a sari. High fashion, impeccably crafted and non-traditional? Definitely. But would I look back in 20 years and wonder why I decided to show my midriff at my wedding day? Possibly.
I decided to call in the experts.
"Culture can be infused in many ways – through color, embellishments, patterns and accessories. The way to keep it classic is to create balance," advised the designer Rachel Roy, who constantly draws upon her Indian heritage for her collections.
Roy went into more detail: "For example, find a classic-shaped dress, but in a color that represents your culture; or a dress with a classic color and shape, and accessorize it with jewelry from the bride or groom’s regions."
I previously hadn’t considered venturing too far from white, but the idea of choosing a bright colored dress in a simple silhouette was appealing. It can also be an opportunity to look at ready-to-wear from your favorite designers, which led me to a bright pink silk-faille column gown from Oscar de la Renta. After all, what bride can resist the lure of wearing classic de la Renta?
Plus, the reference might not be accidental. Roopal Patel, founder of Roopal Patel Consulting, who has worked with the CFDA, Loewe and Prabal Gurung, cites de la Renta as one of her favorite designers that incorporates global traits. He "has always had cultural references and influences in his designers and bridal collections," she said. "You can see Latin, European and Asian influences in the fabrics and details of his gowns."
For me, pink usually feels too girly to be timeless, but it’s important to remember the opposite is true in many cultures. “As they say in India, 'Pink is the new black,'" Roy said.
If full-on color is too intense, Patel suggests honing in on the details. "There may also be a symbolic color in the bride’s culture that can be incorporated into the gown. For Indian brides, red is a very auspicious color in the wedding ceremony. Perhaps a red gown may be too much, but a sliver of red embroidered into a belt or sash can be a nice way to tie the Indian culture into a modern-day gown."
Designer Bibhu Mohapatra takes a similar approach when designing his collection (See one of his designs above). "I grew up in India and from a very early age my aesthetics were shaped by beautiful arts and crafts, fabrics and many other cultural influences… So my work today is always informed by that but in many subtle ways. It can be in the form of fabrics, embroideries, colors, etc. It is limitless, really."
Another slightly offbeat option is separates à la Olivia Palermo but with a colorful twist, like Rosie Assoulin’s red silk faille urkle skirt. Practical brides will appreciate that it’s easy to recycle a part of the outfit, without rewearing your entire wedding look.
For the more understated bride, Roy suggested "[choosing] a classic shape dress and have it embroidered in a tonal white or cream with a pattern of cultural motifs that are meaningful to the family."
So in the end, Mohapatra probably said it best. As long as you strike a balance, the choices are limitless.