Mahtani Memo: Powerhouse jeweller Raj Mahtani tells us exactly what desi bridal fashion is missing
There’s a reason why a Raj Mahtani necklace is recognised all over the world - the designer has relentlessly worked to perfect a look that’s globally relevant and is essentially an ethnographic leap which narrates the country’s sartorial history. He hasn’t just modernised the traditional jadau but is also the name responsible for dragging the idea of Indian high jewellery into the 21st century. The designer, whose label Raj Mahtani Couture Jewels is all set to step into its 20th year, has worked with everyone from Anamika Khanna to Roberto Cavalli and is also the first jewellery designer from India to showcase his work at the Paris Fashion Week.
While Mahtani can’t afford to be untethered from his roots, he does acknowledge the need for a breakthrough in the desi wedding memo. “When a woman from another country looks at the Indian bride, it looks almost like a costume. And we're not the land of elephants anymore, we are a powerhouse of modernity. Yet we can't ape the west, and that's where people like me come in, who can use their unique identity to be able to speak to people everywhere,” he tells us. In a free-wheeling chat from his chic Park Street studio, Mahtani opens up about his new collection, the evolutions of his brand and more:
Tell us about your new collection Paris in Calcutta
The idea essentially came to me when I saw the similarities between Paris and Calcutta, you know the whole grunge element and amid all of that, you have culture and music and political discourse. I decided to explore this synergy because the young Indian woman is contemporary, and yet she wants to style herself traditionally and wants to look like a woman of the world.
In Indian bridal fashion, we see one bride who'll be put up like she’s wearing a fancy dress and everyone else around her will be dressed differently. Why not address the modernity of the Indian woman and focus on the idea that you can dress up and yet look chic? A look like this can transcend borders!
Did you want your jewellery to represent India's sartorial evolution?
I think so, yes. When I wanted to modernise traditional jadau I've always wanted to work with its flavour. I've never aspired to make something that looks like a Bulgari or ends up like Chopard. And this is a kind of jewellery that's so Indian but you can wear it with your evening dresses or a white shirt. I think young girls started identifying with it. I wanted to bring a certain sense of undressing to the dressing, you know, making it effortless.
You've worked with international names as well. How is the Indian approach to jewellery different from that of the west?
In the east, we have this really rich culture of weddings which is heavily associated with jewellery. For Diwali and Dussehra women wear jewellery to invoke the goddess, it's a sign of prosperity and good vibes. So, In India, I feel people look at jewellery very differently, the whole approach is if I buy something let me buy something fantastic.
In the west, they would buy one serious necklace when they get married, and then they’ll move on to something light and fun. Here we are constantly looking to buy something important and elaborate because we have a culture and lifestyle that accommodates it. In that way, it's truly a celebration of life here.
Your family has been jewellery innovators for five generations now. Tell us about when you made your start
I took over the company in 2000 and started Raj Mahtani Couture Jewels, I made it more design-centric because I always felt when a woman is looking at a long period of wearing jewellery she's looking for something she can live with, something that's not binding or redundant.
How would you say the language of your label has evolved in the last two decades?
You know, we're still making interesting, heavy jewellery which makes us so sought-after in Mumbai and Delhi's wedding scene. I've managed to make my necklaces versatile, even the elaborate ones. We have these layered, peel-off necklaces, for instance; you can remove a layer and wear a solo layer or even twist the two and make a third necklace out of it! We've innovated extensively, we've become more aligned with the mentality of the fuss-free styling of the millennial crowd.
Which bridal trend do you love for Indian weddings?
I'd say the necklace is back with a bang. And girls now really want to dress up and go for a unique look at every occasion from sangeet to wedding. They make a lot of effort, earlier this wasn't there as much, now people are working to stand out. They want to look like icons on their own. I think that's the trend that everyone is making that effort to look like a different person every day.
One woman you'd love to dress
I'd love to dress Lady Gaga, because we've seen her dress so outrageously that it'd be fun to showcase her in a classic light.