Instep covers the step-by-step evolution of a Misha Lakhani wedding dress
Hunched over a mannequin, wrapped up in intricately worked tulle that looks every bit the ‘fairytale vision’ even in its incompleteness, Misha Lakhani seems engrossed poring over the ensemble for any imperfections. Her office – a 4d moodboard of colourful illustrations, design layouts and fabric swatches; her gaze – thoughtful yet focused, exuding a sense of how deftly she is working out the finest details of the collection. Following the journey, one witnesses this half-embroidered rather germinal tulle morph into a unique and elegant two-way sari masterpiece that Sunita Marshall was seen modeling at this year’s PFDC L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week (PLBW), ever-so-gorgeously.
Misha’s bridals are a trail of wild twists – a mélange of traditional crafts with a touch of modern relevance. A signature Misha Lakhani bride would experience being a Bohemian heiress in a one-shoulder maxi dress or a natural seductress in a delicate kaftaan. But she’d rather be caught dead than seen wearing the ‘ancient’ chatta pattis in glittering jamavar or the time-travelling farshis weighed down by mounts and mounts of kora-dabka.
In a couture industry where artistic innovation is often barred by commercial and economic viability, Misha has been taking calculated risks whilst consistently adding creative spark on the runway and off it. Her collections are reflections of her own dreams and not her customers’, yet they instantly form a visual connection with many a bride. However, behind each beautiful element is months of technical expertise and hours of painstaking work. Instep goes behind the scenes to cover this journey of a Misha Lakhani bridal jora, stitch by stitch, from the ink on a sketchbook to the magic that unravels when it comes together.
As Earl Nightengale said, "Everything begins with an idea," but in Misha’s case, designing a collection begins with not just one but an army of ideas. "My inspiration often just comes from whatever I am attracted to that will lead me to do something different from what I already have," she said. "There are just so many elements to play with – from silhouettes to embroideries and so I try looking for inspiration all over. I’ll pick fragments from flea markets here or over travels for example, a lace sleeve of an old Victorian dress. You just pick on the essence of it and then do something completely different with it."
Perhaps this is why one can see a vintage piece of beautiful zardozi sample pinned on one end of her office wall juxtaposing another that has neon prints flashing pops of bright colour and illustrations of trumpet gowns – a moodboard of sorts that sparks a million ideas in her head and eventually collections that we admire.
Her recent bridal collection titled Nowruz celebrates old-world romanticism and is her whimsy imagination of paradise with colourful splashes of florals, birds and bugs. "I knew I wanted it to be a celebration of colours and new beginnings," shared Misha. "Nowruz basically means a ‘new day’. I was initially going to name it after my newborn, because that’s a celebration for me, but I just felt it was going to be too much of her then. There is stunning, delicate construction of birds and bugs embroidered around clusters of flowers in nets and tulles and silks, thus staying within our philosophy of redefining old world charm in a current context."
Even the fabric of a bridal outfit at Misha’s may be woven completely from scratch, drawing inspiration from references she has collected over time. "We have weavers coming in from Orangi Town and Banaras Colony and I’ll show them either images of old textiles or samples of actual fabrics that I have stumbled across but aren’t really available in the market and we’ll work out what is possible to make," revealed Misha. "It’s an interesting process but it can take up to months because we might have to import raw material like zari from India or elsewhere. In case of prints, we have a screen printing facility in-house as well as graphic designers but digital printing is something we currently outsource."
Once the core is set, it’s time to build on the fantasy. However, unlike textile production where everything is assembly line, creating bridal wear is more of a simultaneous process – almost like solving a jigsaw puzzle with whichever piece that clicks first. "It’s impossible to walk through the process of a bridal jora because it’s not like an assembly line where it just goes and comes back a finished product, that never happens!" asserted Misha. "It always comes back in pieces and parts and I’ll drape it around a mannequin to see whether I want to have higher slits on it, pair it with pants or a gharara. There is just a lot of back and forth which makes it a slow process."
Indeed such fine detail requires precision and precision requires time. One particular bridal outfit needs a team of three to four embroiderers on a loom for at least a couple of months to adorn the fabric with delicate jewels and threadwork. It was during this trip only that we managed to catch a glimpse of Misha’s finale outfit in the making – ethereal ivory tulle being filled with beautiful monotone thread embroidery.
"Initially we just make a small sample of something that has inspired me and then if I am happy with it, which is not always the case, we tweak it constantly and then we will make a life-size dimension of it," pointed out Misha, while showing us around her surprisingly tidy kaarkhana. "There are times when changes are being made while it’s still in process. For example, I might just punctuate an outfit with more colour if I am not satisfied. These changes may be minor for others but are an important part of the process."
Its funny how fashion in this case is reminiscent of a writing job where you are constantly editing until you reach your point of satisfaction. New ideas keep churning and just like one would axe a paragraph to rewrite it, Misha continues making changes to her product for a better impact – innovation over harmony. "It’s not ever so disciplined that what you visualize initially is 100 percent what materializes on the ramp. Maybe 70 percent would be exactly what you imagined and the other 30 percent would be something completely amazing that happened in process," Misha emphasized.
Misha is without a doubt among the rare breed of young designers who dare to go beyond conventional designing and marry East with the West. And she admits that Italian fine tailoring does directly inspire her stitching and styling concepts. "We don’t live in a vacuum today. The world is so small, how can you not be influenced by the world around you?" asserted Misha. "I love traditional craftsmanship but I feel everything gets more interesting with a bit of a twist. The tailoring in the West is amazing so I will look into the detail of how a specific piece is constructed and try to incorporate that. Then I will drape the fabric around me, try it on and style it instinctively."
The detail in her construction is evident in the digital-printed linings that she offers in her bridals or even in a small but significant jeweled button or dori that makes the outfit a lot more cohesive.
Instead of customizing each and every outfit to specifications, Misha prefers working on collection-by-collection basis. One bridal collection once every six months and everything else is then just an offshoot of it. "We are open to customizations but there are certain rules that I stick by," she states.
"For example, if a bride comes up to me with a completely new idea, I will only address it if I feel it will work or say if somebody wants no work on the back and just on the front, I won’t do that because a person is three-dimensional and hence, the work should be all around too. Your back should look just as beautiful."
With such a monumental task at hand, it is surprising to know that Misha works without a team of assistant designers or interns and is truly what you can call a powerhouse of ideas. "I should have a team but I don’t. The ideas all come from me and I work with amazing people who seem to directly understand what I am trying to explain. It can get a little difficult at times to be wearing different hats but with my brand still so young, I feel it’s important that I am immersed into it and driving it ahead."
This, no doubt, is a marvelous example of being a visionary and this is why Misha Lakhani bridals are an expression of unique personal style.