Shevvangi Saxena is a chirpy 26-year-old from Udaipur who cannot hide her exuberance. She is prepping up for her destination wedding on November 30; the guest list, though, has been slashed to 50. But she is most excited about a pair of sneakers—a peachy, flowery affair in sequins and zardosi. “This is going to be the highlight of my wedding. I am so excited to wear them with all the henna, jewellery and makeup. My parents don’t know I will be wearing them. It will be a surprise for them when it comes. Although I am more worried about the reaction of my in-laws,” says Saxena with a nervous laugh.
A former Ms Udaipur, Saxena is 5’8”, athletic and was a national-level tennis player, having won gold medals while studying at Amity Business School. “Remember Channel V’s P.S. I Hate You? I was in it. I also have a few background scenes in the film Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani,” she prattles on. Saxena eventually wants to grow her jewellery brand Boho Banjaran. She currently works in a Dutch human resource consulting firm in Gurgaon, where she met her future partner in a nightclub four years ago. It was in that same club last year that he popped the question. “We won a free, pre-wedding photoshoot offer in February from a wedding planner Instagram page. That had to be cancelled because of Covid-19,” says Saxena with a sigh. “When I told my fiancé this morning that I would be wearing sneakers with the bridal sari, he was like ‘Are you mad?’ But I told him this is what I am most comfortable in. How else do you expect me to dance all night?”
Sporty, bubbly, daffy and daring, it is possible to work out a personality type for women who pair sneakers with their saris and lehengas on their wedding day. The trend of brides ditching high-heels and strappy sandals for snug sneakers surely has not picked up in a pandemic year. The quirky bridal style has been around for the last two years. Saxena recalls how Deepika Padukone danced in white sneakers at her wedding reception. More often than not, wedding sneakers are custom-made, gold-sequined; sometimes they are winged metallic Jeremy Scotts and rarely phosphorescent bright with LED lights.
Fashion designer Shruti Kasat’s one-year-old company, The Saree Sneakers, is going swimmingly in a lean wedding season. “After September, the business has been great,” says the mother of one from Kolkata, who remembers wanting to wear sneakers with her sari at a friend’s wedding last year. “Primarily because I had to run after my one-year-old toddler,” she says. She could not find the appropriate design to match her outfit and, hence, embellished her own sneakers. That is also how her company was born. It now retails online throughout India with prices varying from Rs3,500 to Rs8,000.
Out of all the metros, Kasat says, Mumbai brides are the most sneaker-savvy. Her karigars (craftspeople) have carved the bride’s initials on the back of a shoe. “One bride wanted her maiden surname, Singh, on one shoe and, Reddy, on the other,” says Kasat. “Some put the names of both partners and their wedding dates. I have embroidered words like ‘Gundi’ and ‘Pataka kudi’. Another wanted the Harry Potter spell ‘protego maxima’ for shield charm and magical protection.” She says Swarovski-laden sneakers are modern heirlooms. “They have to wear it for their wedding. They are more saner than I am,” says Kasat. “I got married eight years ago. I would have had so much more fun with sneakers.”
With degrees from NIFT Kolkata and Domus Academy in Milan, Kasat started off with her apparel brand, Origgo, and later added The Saree Sneakers as an accessory outfit. Wedding exhibitions are where she really gets to showcase her lavishly embroidered shoes. “Why were you not there when I got married?” is a reaction Kasat often gets in fairs and exhibitions. The look of surprise on faces of mothers and daughters is source of great pride for her.
But Gaurang Shah is unimpressed with sneakers. His saris at the Lakme Fashion Week have sashayed from monochrome colours to khadi with pallus of Raja Ravi Varma paintings in 600 shades of natural dyes. “As a traditionalist, I would never explore beyond traditional juxtaposition. The sneaker is certainly a non-starter for me,” says Shah. “If you wish to make a statement, you can still make it with a beautiful sari which speaks much more about your personality than a sneaker.”
Eshna Kutty, the 24-year-old hoop dancer whose ‘Genda Phool’ video in sari and sneakers became a viral sensation in September, does not own fancy footwear. Just “juttis” and sneakers. In fact, she prefers to wear sneakers everywhere with any outfit. “For me it is an upgrade that I am not wearing my bathroom chappals,” she jokes. For her, pairing sari with sneakers is either very cool or just not cool enough. “It is unconventional, quirky or bold, yes. I get that a lot,” she says. “But on the flip side, it is just not stylish enough. You kind of went a little too casual below and did not wear something expensive or fancy.” She has not attended too many weddings, but has gone to temples in saris. Outside the temple, her sneaks are not in blacks or greys, but one eye-popping explosion of colours amidst a sea of chappals. “And my grandparents would go like ‘Aiyyoyo, why are you wearing this? All the gods won’t be happy.’”