COVER: Hyderabadi designer Archana Rao on bridal wear debut, collaboration on Kalki 2898 and more

The National Award-winning fashion designer tells us about creating a minimalist wedding collection, The Frou Frou Bride that fulfills the aspirations of today’s brides. 
Archana Rao's bridal wear
Archana Rao's bridal wear

A bride’s wedding dress is one of the most cherished ensembles of her lifetime. It’s an insignia of memories. While a bride’s emotions with her wedding dress remains unchanged, a notable evolution has occurred in her wedding wear preferences. In recent years, the trend has shifted from heavily embroidered bridal lehengas in traditional shades to embrace the soft hues of pastels. There’s a noticeable transition towards minimalist designs and understated elegance, casting aside the gaudy and heavy-weight pieces. The wedding attire is no longer woven from the threads of societal opinions dictating what a bride should or should not wear. Instead, it has become a canvas for her individuality, a medium for self-expression, and a manifestation of her unique identity.

From The Frou Frou Bride
From The Frou Frou Bride

Understanding such desires of the modern Indian bride, Hyderabadi designer Archana Rao launches her first bridal wear collection, The Frou Frou Bride after almost 12 years of being in the fashion industry! The pieces are minimal and exude understated elegance. Dreamy silks and organza sing tales of enchantment with cutting edge techniques like layering, scalloping and pleating while ruffles and tulles add to a contemporary charm. So what took her so long to make her bridal wear debut? The National Award-winning fashion designer tells us more on this off-beat collection and fulfilling the aspirations of today’s brides. The year 2024 is even more exciting for Archana as she collaborates with her “favourite” director Nag Ashwin for one of the most awaited sci-fi epic, Kalki 2898 AD, the dystopian film starring megastars like Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Kamal Haasan, Prabhas, Disha Patani and others. What’s more? She is soon to debut in home décor and is planning to relaunch her label in Hyderabad with a new vision. Excerpts:

What was the inspiration for The Frou Frou Bride?
We primarily started off with prêt clothing and while I enjoyed it, after 10 years of running the brand, I wanted to challenge myself and push my boundaries by crafting bridal wear. As a designer, I have also evolved with my clothes, and today I see myself designing for a versatile range of personalities while staying true to my design ideology. When I decided to design my first bridal collection, I had to go back to where it all began — Frou Frou. Back in 2011, when I started my brand, it was called Frou Frou by Archana Rao, and as the brand evolved along the years, we came to be known as Archana Rao. Frou Frou means the rustling sound that fabric makes, and I wanted to pay homage to where it all started from.

Pastel hues
Pastel hues

Where was the collection shot?
We shot the lookbook in an old fort in Old Delhi. I’ve always been fond of heritage properties and historic locations. I loved the idea of juxtaposing a modern Indian collection with the timeless beauty of aged walls and overreaching arches. The colours also looked beautiful against the moss peeping out and the wild flowers coming out of the creeks in the wall.

What embroidery crafts and colours have you worked with?
We are known for delicate and lightweight embroidery. Pearls, intricate laces, and a play of 3D flowers are our signature aesthetic. We used our surface techniques and revived them by taking them a step further; experimenting with newer techniques of beading and adding vibrant colours. We wanted to create a fuss-free collection for the bride, something that’s easy to wear, and looks effortlessly chic. I have always been fond of a pastel colour palette, our clients came to us for exactly that. This time round, I wanted to try something new; newer embroideries, oversized florals, and finally, after all these years, I embraced the power of brighter colours. This collection has a flowy colour story, starting off with my favourite, off white, and then delving into pastels but with a strong tinge, a zesty teal blue, a playful yellow and ends with a deep shade of red.

What new styles have you experimented with in the collection?
While designing, I have tried to keep in mind a way to incorporate styles and silhouettes that would work for everyone — from the bride to the bridesmaid. You can see flared pants with a ruffle detailing, playful skirts with layers of silk organza, draped skirts with a play of drama, corsets that can be used in more than one way. For the heavier skirts, we kept the blouses simpler, styling the look with an oversized bow or 3D embroidered shrugs instead of a standard dupatta.

An Archana Rao creation
An Archana Rao creation

What do you think brides want these days for their wedding wear? Also, what bridal wear trends are going to rule in the coming season?
I have been making customised orders for brides for a few years now and I’ve realised that brides these days want to have a very distinct style on their big day. They are not keen on ongoing trends or familiar design concepts. They want their bridal look to be personal, they want it to reflect their personality, tell a little story about them. I love developing a brand new look with each of my brides and conceptualising their outfit with them. A happy bride truly makes every bit of hard work put into it worth it! I think the most outdated trend today is an overuse of design and embroidery, I believe that the bride should wear the outfit and not the other way around. My favourite trend this season and always is “less is more ”. I will always appreciate a well-made corset, it’s such a versatile piece, can be worn with saris, a skirt, a lehenga, and after the wedding, can be reused with an oversized blazer. I believe that Indian pieces should have a sense of versatility to get the most of it. With this collection, I especially like the use of oversized embroidery motifs, or 3D embroidery techniques transforming a simple silhouette into something unique.

Do you think brides in Hyderabad like to experiment?
Yes, I got the chance to meet so many unconventional brides who are invested in curating a timeless garment for their special day. Meeting brides and their families, hearing their vision for their wedding was always such an inspiration. I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of brides who are so open to experimenting. Colour again is such a personal choice, we have brides who want to wear subtle and want the embroidery to blend into the garment, but we also have shoppers who want to make a bold statement.

For the new age bride
For the new age bride

How have you evolved as a designer in the last few years? Tell us a few major decisions you took in your design journey that shaped your label.
As a designer, I’ve always wanted to make pieces that tell a story, every collection of ours has a concept that I’ve developed from things that inspire me. I can only create if I’m truly inspired, I cannot make clothes just to sell them. I need to believe in the piece I am making , and that’s why I make limited collections every year. Over the years, my need to create clothes just to make pretty things has subsided. Today, I want to make meaningful pieces, clothes that make someone feel special when they wear them. My design language has also matured — I believe in simpler and sleeker silhouettes now with surface techniques which I am constantly developing.

There is a vintage appeal in your creations. Where is it stemming from?
I’ve always been inspired by things that have a certain sense of nostalgia. I love browsing through thrift stores for vintage embroideries and lace. Old photographs, movies and music have also been my source of inspiration. I like to travel to places I haven’t been to — watching people and how they style themselves always interests me. Inspiration is truly accidental; it just comes out of the most unexpected places and the pieces I make from them last forever.

National Award Winning designer Archana Rao
National Award Winning designer Archana Rao

You have previously made costumes for Mahanati with Nag Ashwin, and now you’re roped in for Kalki 2898 AD. How is designing for films different from designing for your own label?
Kalki 2898 is India’s first sci-fi film and we have been working on it for the past three years. It’s been an honour working with India’s finest actors and collaborating with my favourite director Nag Ashwin. Mahanati was my first foray into costume designing and once I was onboard, I realised I’m a natural at doing that. Conceptualising for any collection is my favourite process before starting a collection and movies are just like that — designing according to the story! Designing for the character, being a part of the filmmaking process, and to finally see the character come to life on screen is a gratifying experience. My design process is very similar to both films and fashion, except the timelines for films are very short and you have to make it work.

What are your future plans?
For next year, the plan is to relaunch the Archana Rao flagship store in Hyderabad. I’m excited to expand my prêt collection and am planning to venture into home décor and accessories as well. I can’t wait to see the movies I’ve worked on in the past few years release and I plan to take on more meaningful work as a costume designer for Indian cinema.

The Frou Frou Bride collection is priced at Rs. 55,000 upwards. In store, Banjara Hills. Also available online.
Mail: priyamvada@newindianexpress.com
Twitter: @RanaPriyamvada

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