Founder of fashion rental service, By Rotation, Eshita Kabra knew she wanted her wedding to reflect both her Indian heritage and the British background of her husband-to-be. Here she tells us how she designed her big day to be the perfect cultural blend.
I knew James was going to propose, it was only a matter of when. One Sunday we went for lunch at Bocca Di Lupo, and then he suggested going to his favorite hotel, the Connaught, for a martini. He went off to pay and came back with a room key, and said, "We’re staying for the night, but don’t worry, I’m not proposing – the ring isn’t ready." When we got up to the room there was a record player playing my favorite song and he got down on one knee. I had already chosen my ring – I have a friend who works in the diamond industry, and so he had strict instructions about what I would want when the time came. We set a wedding date for six months later.
A countryside venue was a non-negotiable. I wanted something a little different from the traditional Indian wedding, which often takes place in a big London hotels to accommodate numbers – we had 220 guests which, by Indian standards, is pretty small. I wanted a grand space that wasn’t tacky. James’ family lives 10 minutes away from Hedsor House, which gave it a personal element. When we got engaged, I was describing to James’ mum what I wanted – something in the country, but not too rustic. That’s when she recommended the space; I went to see it a few days later and loved it. The bridal suite is one of the largest in Europe. I’m very decisive, so I said yes there and then. I didn’t even look at any other venues!
We made a website ourselves to explain all the details to our guests. Then we used Papier for the stationary – they had a design which featured two peacocks in a garden, which felt both very British and very Indian at the same time. We subsequently incorporated two peacocks into our wedding outfits to reflect that.
We had a civil ceremony in advance of the weekend itself at The Old Marylebone Town Hall – I’ve always loved the venue, and it gave us a chance to do something small and intimate. That was our opportunity to incorporate some more Western elements too – I had a bouquet and even wore blue underwear! I also wore a Jacquemus dress with a low back and high neck.
The first event was the Mehndi, which is when you apply henna to both the brides and the guests. The dress code for that was ‘blush pink and gold’, but James and I wore green so we would stand out. That evening we had our Celestial Ball, or a Sangeet – it’s when you have musical performances, from both sides of the family. Our cousins, friends and wider relatives all did dances and songs. Because traditional Indian weddings tend to be arranged, the Sangeet the night before the wedding would usually signify your engagement – it’s when you would exchange rings. Because we were already engaged we took that opportunity to have a cake! And that’s when I wore an elaborate white dress, and he wore a tux, to nod to Western wedding conventions. We asked the women to dress in sparkles, and the men to dress like Don Draper. The third event was the Holi, which is a purifying ritual pre-wedding. Guests put a turmeric mix on the bride to bless her and clean her, so we made the dress code for that Marigold Sunrise – we wanted all our guests in shades of yellow, orange and red.
The fourth and final event was the wedding itself. The theme was Indian ethnic because we wanted everyone in authentic dress. The only rule was no red – traditionally, that’s what the bride should wear, but considering James’ pale skin tone I decided against it. I ended up wearing blush pink and teal, with a bit of gold, and he wore similar. We did speeches, which is quite Western, but otherwise it was a very traditional Hindu religious ceremony. But because we knew we had such a mix of guests, we found a priest who delivered the ceremony in both Sanskrit and English, which I know everyone really appreciated – including myself! James had been to my sister’s wedding in India, which prepared him nicely for ours. Hers had a guestlist of 700, so I think he was pretty relieved at the size of ours!
I went to India to shop for the wedding and I couldn’t believe how much some of the outfits cost – you could easily spend £10k on one look and have four or five events to cater for. So, in the end I had mine made. I couldn’t imagine spending that amount of money on something that’s just going to sit in the loft! I wasn’t one of those brides who had a Pinterest board or who imagined the whole thing well in advance, so my sister just sent me some pictures of what Bollywood actresses had worn to their weddings, and we took it from there. I also used a photographer who exclusively does Indian weddings, and he gave me some great suggestions about which colours would work best for each event. I’m from Rajasthan originally, so all my jewellery featured traditional Rajasthani uncut diamonds.
A friend of a friend recommended my make-up artist and she did every event for me. You can’t wear make-up for the purifying ceremony so I had three looks in total. I wore my hair down for the Celestial Ball, but it’s traditional to have it up for the wedding ceremony itself – it’s a bit more modest.
I filled the space with jasmine fragrances throughout the weekend to make it as reminiscent of India as possible. We used Diptyque’s large Tuberose candles in all the rooms and I wore an intense jasmine perfume by a very Indian brand, Forrest Essentials.
You don’t have bridesmaids in Indian culture – your mum and your sister are traditionally by your side. But I did have a hen do, so I incorporated all my closest girlfriends into some of the official pictures on the day. We had flower crowns made for all of them for the final event but we ended up so rushed and completely forgot about them! We repurposed a lot of the flowers from earlier events to ensure we didn’t have to keep starting from scratch for each one. We tried, where possible, to match the flowers to the themes – so green and pink for the Mehndi, for example. For the Celestial Ball, each table was named after a different planet and our florist created incredibly elaborate decorations to reflect each one. We also used lights to project a Galaxy-light arrangement onto the ceiling, and transparent, light-up balloons to decorate the space.
The daytime events weren’t sit down – we had food carts instead of formal dining. But we did different table plans for the two evening events and served food that incorporated both Indian and Western elements. We did everything from afternoon tea at the Mehndi – finger sandwiches, scones etc – to pizza, pasta and sandwiches to cater for everyone. The most important factor was that everything was vegetarian.
I don’t like live bands but we had a DJ with a saxophonist, as well as a sitarist for the ceremony itself. We also had a magician, a cotton candy machine, a popcorn machine and a photobooth too. My mother-in-law has an allotment at home, so she made fresh raspberry jam as wedding favours. People are already asking for a top up! My mum designed scarves and pocket squares with our wedding logo, which we also used as a wax seal on our invites. There were quite a few traditional elements we didn’t have. My sister had an elephant and a camel at her wedding - I could only get a horse! Fireworks were our compromise.
The Hard Part
The seating plan was the hardest part because I had to mix people from two completely different worlds. We also had to separate our guests into two rooms for dinner because there were so many of them, which was tough, logistically. If I could have done anything differently, I would have spread the events over three days instead of two – I barely got to eat because it was all so rushed. And in the rush, I ended up not actually wearing the right jewellery. Finally, my advice would be to always negotiate with every vendor. That’s how I stuck to my budget.
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