JAN 15, 2021 | 22:40

Episode 7: Rethinking Wedding Aesthetics With Devika Narain

This week, one of the country's most fabulous wedding designers, Devika Narain, is going to tell us all about how weddings are a modern retake of our traditions, and how dissecting the psychology of spaces comes into weddings. Her take on weddings is super personalized, sustainable enveloped with layers of local craftsmanship, culture, and of course filled with love.


Can you define what the role of a wedding designer entails?

Wedding designers essentially take care of the look and feel of what a ceremony actually feels like. Planners look at the logistics and coordination of the ceremony. What wedding designers do is build experience. If you look back on all the weddings you've been to, you always remember how you feel, right? That’s the idea.

What are the skills and qualifications required to become a successful wedding designer?
Every day of our life is radically different. Each project brings its own set of challenges, roadblocks, or achievements. I don't think on paper, there is any sort of skill sets that you must have because there are so many different skill sets that come together in wedding design. You could be great with food, you could be great at drawing and illustrating, you could be a space designer. You have to be able to think on the spot. Your deadlines are harsh. You have to be quick to think on your feet. I think all you need is true love for what you do and a lot of common sense. Everything else can be learned. You can learn how to look at spaces, about fabrics, about flowers. I learned all of it. There's so much at a wedding that you learn on the job.

What does the creative process look like when you meet a bride and groom, and how do you take it forward from there? 

When it comes to homes or fashion, we think of making a personal statement. But weddings in India have always been about grandeur and showmanship. For me, the wedding is a starting point of when a couple and families come together. It's a very powerful statement. It’s what the bride and groom care for what the families care for. So in terms of our process, it starts with a lot of questioning, getting to know the bride and groom and their families better, and seeing what matters to them. Then we start articulating that into a visual language, seeing what works in a space, looking at the challenges and parameters. We need to work around the timeframe, the season, the light, small details like that. And from these simple likes and dislikes, we begin to build this visual vocabulary around them of what their preferences are, what their personal histories are, and what they want their guests to think about when they come to space. I think the toughest part of our job is actually bringing it to life. 

How do you apply the concept of psychology of spaces to a wedding?

A wedding is for two families and their extended friends and relatives. Personally, I think it's very important to see how they experience the space and how they're influenced by it. At most weddings, when you walk in, most hotels have a pre-function where you put food at the beginning. When you walk in, you have to find the mandap tucked in a corner. That's the wrong impression to give people because when they walk in, they're confused. “Should we eat first? Should we go to the ceremony first? What are we supposed to do?” So many times, the seating is laid out in a way where people can't speak to each other. The music is so loud that they don't get to actually chat with each other. It's very important to build a space that brings people together. You can use the psychology of space to actually influence people to stay longer at an event, to bring people closer, and to actually inspire them to think a little more.

Why did you choose to design weddings for a living?
There’s no straight answer to that, at least not when I was in the process of becoming a wedding designer. I was majoring in English literature. I was very keen to do a master’s that I didn't get admission for. My next idea was to do something in the field of space design. I thought about doing interiors or architecture. I loved doing up my room as a kid. I loved putting the dinner table together. So interiors felt like the most obvious choice. My greatest tragedy, however, is that I can’t draw. Weddings, at that point, was an upcoming field. It was the only field that did not require drawing skills. I wound up at a wedding planner's office and said “ I think you should give me a job. “ And I'm so lucky that they did. That's how I became a wedding designer. Although I trained to be a journalist, I wanted to be an interior designer. And here I am putting all the things that I learned in psychology, philosophy, literature, and history into designing weddings.

You've often spoken about mindful weddings. How do you apply the theory of mindfulness to different scales of weddings?
It boils down to what people truly care for. It's almost like an idea graph. When I sit down and meet someone, I want to know what matters to them. Then I have to see how to ensure those things are echoed through and through, and that they synchronize with your own values as well. People don't hire us because we are the best wedding designers in the country. They hire us because we have the same values. It's a coming together of values of ideas and aesthetics.

There is a lot of content around table styling across your platforms. How can the concept of mindfulness be applied to a dining room or a lounge?

Growing up, the dining table was a very, very important part of our lives. My mother banned phones, books, everything. We all had to have dinner together. We discuss what's happening in the world. We gossip. We sit together and enjoy a meal. The act of sharing a meal is extremely special, with anybody. That's the aesthetic that I wanted to bring to my tables. Table styling has got to do with celebrating. It's such a sacred relationship that we have with food and for me styling a table is honoring that simple tradition. If you were to come to my house, there is no television in my living room. My entire living room is designed in a way where people can sit together and talk. It's not built for grandeur. It's a place where I want my friends and family to come over to have honest conversations. The music is never loud. There's always lots of food and alcohol flowing. Just by turning your furniture a certain way, or adding the simplest of details to a table, you can actually make each aspect of your life more thoughtful.

Is minimalism a concept that flows through you, your life, or your design?
I'm a terrible minimalist. I am a hoarder. I'm a maximalist. I'm actually not even a maximalist, I'm this person who's sitting on a fence. When I'm designing a room, I think it's very important to know where to stop. I question my design and my products a lot. Focus on why something exists in a certain space, but I am a hoarder of memories, and of things. I go shopping all over the world, and I bring back the most useless things, and display them and feel ridiculously happy about it. So I think I'm a minimalist nightmare.
 What is your take on the wedding industry in the post-COVID? 

This lockdown has taught us to surround ourselves with things that make us happy. We've all had time with ourselves. We've all learned what is truly important. And we're going to continue to prioritize that in every aspect of our life. To me, my neighborhood fruit seller is far more precious than any other multinational. He got me everything from batteries to a box of strawberries. He is a lifesaver. I think weddings are echoing the same sort of sentiment. They're becoming a lot more local, not minimal. People are choosing to call people who truly matter to them. Suddenly, there's no pretense, you don't have to call everybody. In fact, you will have the perfect excuse to only invite people who you enjoy spending time with. People are choosing better. You're making something for people that matter to you, thinking more consciously, and more sustainably. This is the best time for weddings in India

How big of a role does technology play in your life?
A lot! We have to communicate with brides and grooms all over the world. Very often, even before COVID times, we weren't able to meet our clients for many reasons. All our designs are given life on computers, using different kinds of software. I live my life in Excel. Technology is helping us connect with craftsmen and artisans and small-town suppliers who are actually creating a lot of the products you see at our weddings. Technology has brought the world closer. It’s important in the world of weddings because I don't have to travel. 

What are three things to remember while choosing your wedding?
Season, time, and light.

What’s a wedding trend that you don't understand?
Vintage bird cages, pearls, and ball gowns on beaches. I don't understand beach weddings. Why am I wearing my Sabyasachi on a beach?

What are three words to describe the wedding aesthetic of any wedding you have designed?
Personal, eclectic, and thoughtful.

What’s your number one tip for wedding planners and designers?
Use your common sense. Just because you've done something all your life, doesn't mean you need to keep doing it. See what works at that moment and not just keep going with something that you've always done.

What’s the most interesting production element that you've ever experimented with?

Wire!

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Episode 7: Rethinking Wedding Aesthetics With Devika Narain