Weddings: Hyderabadi ace designer Mrunalini Rao on crafting timeless bridal wear, re-inventing and more
The designer speaks about her Bridal 2022 edit and why she goes for timeless luxury instead of settling for passing trends.
What makes weddings a once-in-a-lifetime experience? An idyllic destination venue, ethereal wedding dress, candid pictures, culinary treats, aesthetic décor, a celebration with friends and family or the excitement tinged with nervousness to start a new phase of life? It’s all of that and more. And a bride’s wedding dress is a memorabilia of this special day. It’s a keepsake of love — one that can transcend generations with its timelessness. Crafting such pieces of decadent luxury for the new-age bride, city-based and nationally recognised designer, Mrunalini Rao has carved a niche for herself in India’s ever-evolving bridal wear market. This year, as the ace designer launches her Bridal 2022 collection, we unfold her journey of weaving fairytale-like pieces.
On a cloudy Thursday morning, we reached Mrunalini’s flagship store in Jubilee Hills. The alluring weather and quaint lanes flanked by trees added to the vintage appeal of the mansion-like store. It exuded a colonial design heritage with its off-white entrance, big glass windows and staircase acting as a key design feature. Enter the gate and we find many artworks and design features that can intrigue as well as fascinate the visitor — a tree of life carved at a corner, some birds installed in one of the rooms, a mixed-media artwork on the wall, a cabinet like cupboard — all of which caught our attention. The store looked like an exhibition of not just Mrunalini’s past edits, but a place where one could feel at home.
Despite her busy schedule, Mrunalini sat down with us for a candid conversation about her store being a personification of herself. “I wanted my design journey to be reflected in the store. For instance, the artwork at the entrance shows all the surface work and dying experiments we have done over the years at our atelier. The mural has names of some of our master tailors and craftsmen embroidered on it while the women staff has put their hand-painted impressions there. You can also see a map of Hyderabad in the mural paying homage to my city,” she begins. “There is a tree of life engraving, which, I believe represents wisdom, progress, prosperity and happiness. The flying birds reflect the freedom that I was given to make my choices and look upward in life. The rafters you see on the top are an inspiration from our old village house belonging to my grandmother,” she tells us.
Doctor or designer – the real calling
As Mrunalini takes us down memory lane, we asked her how she got interested into fashion design. “I was supposed to be a doctor and was preparing for my MBBS in class 11th and 12th. At the same time, I was a very creative child. I used to paint and sketch a lot and won many art competitions. I liked biology and enjoyed making diagrams, and studying human anatomy.” However, after class 12th, the meritorious teenager in Mrunalini was on a cross-road — she had cleared the admission for MBBS as well as NIFT. “I had to choose between being a doctor and a designer. While my father left the decision to me, my mother wasn’t in favour of me pursuing fashion as she believed there was no career in it, back in 2008. At that time, Indian fashion was at a nascent stage with just a handful of designers like Ritu Kumar, Anamika Khanna, Manish Malhotra and Sabyasachi defining the scene. Apart from them, there were meagre opportunities for young designers. It was a tough and risky choice that I made purely out of my love for design,” she shares.
Mrunalini soon turned out to be an outstanding student at NIFT, winning many accolades for her creations. “Everything at NIFT was about practicality and not theory, which is exactly what grabbed my interest. We learnt tailoring, textile designing, dyeing techniques, the history of fashion, forecasting trends and more and I fell in love with the environment that encouraged creative thinkers,” she says. By the time she passed out of NIFT, Mrunalini had 10 placement offers in hand! She tested herself in the industry by doing internships with export houses and finally assisting designer Anushree Reddy with her eponymous label.
However, she soon realised that she wanted to open something of her own and that led to the start of her label in 2014. “I started with just two craftsmen and today, we have a family of 410 with a big production unit in Film Nagar. It has been an incredibly fulfilling journey,” she tells us with pride.
Timeless bridal wear
Speaking about her design philosophy, Mrunalini says, “I make sure that the pieces I create last long and have intricate and fine finishing embroidery. I focus on very delicate crafts that are refined to perfection to make the ensemble look like a piece of art that can be treasured for a lifetime. I specialise in Hyderabad’s zardozi craft. However, I don’t want to make traditional crafts look very typical on silhouettes, rather I wish to give them a contemporary spin.”
The designer’s Bridal 2022 collection is all about her idea of timeless luxury. The collection includes colossal flared lehengas with exuberant floral motifs and intricate tessellations. Mrunalini has experimented with new colour tones — from pastels like beige, peach, ivory, coco sorbet to a splash of bright hues like teal blue, yellow and Indian red. Each of the pieces is meshed with embroideries like aari, zardozi and resham that add to its grandeur. “I have tried to play with bright colours as well as pastels because people’s preferences are changing drastically. They are open to experimenting with new colours, designs, cuts and silhouettes. That’s why many brides these days want peach, baby pink or off-white for their wedding outfits.”
Apart from Bridal 2022, the talented designer has just launched a destination wedding edit which is about fusion wear, so we asked her about the trend of resort wear and fusion wear entering the bridal market. “That’s because they are easy to carry, fussfree and come in a slew of contemporary styles. But even if I am doing fusion wear, I want to make them interesting, not just trendy. I want to experiment with sleeves or add more layers to the clothing. People wish to try beyond saris, kurtas and lehengas and such demands keep designers like us motivated to keep on trying new things.”
Zero-waste weddings became a groundbreaking concept during the peak of COVID19 induced pandemic. Designers tried to include sustainability in wedding edits only to find it’s a catch-22 with Indian weddings being all about extravaganza. “I am trying hard to make wedding wear low waste, but it’s a daunting task because the moment I use biodegradable textiles that have muted colours, people do not like them as they lack lustre. So we have to make wedding wear resplendent with sheen which finally leaves us with heaps of waste. However, I am constantly challenging myself to make conscious wedding wear,” Mrunalini says, explaining the challenges she faces.
Burdened by the amount of waste that wedding wear generates, Mrunalini launched a conscious and eco-friendly prêt wear line titled Uri. “I realised that I was only catering to the bridal market. But if someone wants casual wear, I have nothing to offer. Plus, wedding wear can lead to a lot of wastage, so I wanted to create a product line which is eco-friendly. In Uri, we have ensembles made of natural fibres that are extracts of bamboo, soya, orange and milk fibres. I just felt like launching it around the pandemic because people were becoming aware of the importance of sustainability and wanted to own something that adds meaning to their life,” she elaborates.
In addition, she feels that one has to keep on reinventing to meet new-age expectations. Citing the example of Hyderabad, she avers, “The city’s fashion scene has changed unbelievably faster than expected. It has become a hub of multi-designer stores, fashion shows, and pop-ups! People from the city would earlier go to Delhi or Mumbai for shopping, but now they can find everything here. Amid this, experimenting is the key to stay afloat. Many times, I have been restrictive in terms of experimenting, thinking it’s risky. Perhaps, that’s why some of my past 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 brainstorming to bring something never seen before.” Mrunalini is soon to bring some more additions in her bridal wear line by February 2023. So,watch out.
Rs.2,52,000.00 upwards. Available online and in-store.