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Manish Malhotra Shares Unknown Details From Radhika Merchant and Anant Ambani’s Pre-Wedding Celebration in Jamnagar

Silk like flowing silver, crystals like the stars –the pre-wedding festivities of Radhika Merchant and Anant Ambani had it all. The man behind the magic? Master craftsman and couturier to the stars, Manish Malhotra.

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

The bride, Radhika Merchant, and groom Anant Ambani are both in bespoke Manish Malhotra. Photo: Stories by Joseph Radhik

Few can rival Manish Malhotra’s unique brand that rests at the confluence of otherworldly celluloid fantasy and grounded craft. He is whom India credits for pulling Bollywood out of the sartorial quagmire of fringe, frill, and frippery of the 80s. Style-wise, Rangeela (1995) remains a watershed moment for Hindi cinema. Films that followed – Dil Toh Pagal Hai (1997), Ghulam (1998), Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), Chameli (2004), Jab We Met (2007), and most recently Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023), to name a small few – have only cemented his place. Through a careful combination of pulling back and pushing the envelope, he offered the world leading ladies they wanted to emulate. If you grew up in India in the 90s and have ever coveted an A-line midi dress, denim dungarees, or a cloth hairband as wide as a single-lane road, it’s down to the designer.

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

Nita and Isha Ambani both in custom Manish Malhotra. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

Malhotra’s creative oeuvre has extended to the Ambani family for a few years now. Their association includes fashion shows at Antila, the towering Ambani mansion in south Mumbai; Isha Ambani’s pre-wedding celebrations in Udaipur back in 2018 (where Beyoncé performed); as well as more than 1,300 costumes for Civilization to Nation, the “great Indian musical” that marked the much-publicized opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre in Mumbai in April last year.

When it came to designing the overall aesthetic of the wedding of Anant Ambani and Radhika Merchant, Malhotra proved a natural choice. While there’s still a few more months to go before the wedding, the pre-wedding festivities in Jamnagar, the Ambani family bastion, have been what March Instagram feeds have been all about. There was Riri bonding with the paparazzi, the three Khans (Aamir, Salman, and Shah Rukh) sharing the stage, the bride’s entry to a super-slow rendering of “Shava Shava,” Orry being Orry (read: omnipresent), Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg in sherwanis, jewels that could have starring roles in bank-heist movies, and clothes to rule them all.

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

A majestic stallion was installed on 30m high walls with floral tapestries and rose ropes. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

Commenting on his first reaction upon hearing of his appointment as creative director of the wedding from Nita Ambani last year, Malhotra says, “I felt an overwhelming sense of joy for the family and anticipation for the celebrations ahead. Collaborating with Mrs Ambani has always been exhilarating, given her visionary approach that transcends conventional boundaries, and I always look forward to aligning my creative vision once again with hers.” The brief was clear: “She wanted the guests to immerse themselves in the essence of India,” recalls Malhotra.

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

Nita and Mukesh Ambani, both in custom Manish Malhotra. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

The role of creative director transcended to include what the hosts and guests wore. The job, he says, spanned everything from drawing up themes to collaborating with industry veterans like set designer Sumanth Jayakrishnan, florists Jeff Leathem, Interflora, and Heena Patel of Amaahyaaj, wedding planner Yogesh Popat, and choreographers Shiamak Davar and Vaibhavi Merchant. Events were centred on themes like Evening in Everland, Mela Rouge, and Hastakshar. There were also thematic experiences like Walk on the Wild Side and Tusker Trails, crafted by Xerxes Antia, Kainaz Sethna, and Darayash Gocal of 70EMG. If it seems like a massive production, it’s because it was – multiple threads woven into one large tapestry. No detail was too small. “We also ensured every wedding collateral, from car decals to chocolate boxes, reflected the event’s grandeur, even extending to inflight menus and comprehensive handbooks on Jamnagar for guests,” adds Malhotra.

For the Evening in Everland theme, a 30m long table was decorated with a silver train and crystal glass fountain, and fowers were flown in from across the globe, with more than 500 florists and a design team of over 80 creating magic. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

Some of the most noteworthy garments in the wedding came from Malhotra’s atelier. Among his creations, he picks two saris he designed for Nita Ambani – a silver-toned Kanjivaram sari like liquid mercury with a pure zari border, and another that turned the sari into a canvas for 102 traditional motifs – both created in collaboration with artisan platform Swadesh. (Isha Ambani’s Kanjivaram lehenga mirrored her mother’s sari, their respective emerald-laden baubles further reinforcing the image.) In other designs, crafts such as Kashmiri embroidery, Lucknowi chikankari, Benarasi brocade, and zardosi came into play. The scale of the event didn’t detract from the painstaking effort in the surface detailing on the garments. There was the gold lehenga for Radhika Merchant that featured a metal mesh drape, where the blouse was corset-esque and the lehenga studded with 20,000 Swarovski crystals. (“It was a labor of love involving the expertise of over 70 artisans.”) A steel-blue lehenga – this too for the bride – took more than 5,700 hours to craft and came dotted with 300,000 crystals sourced from all over the world and influenced by Art Deco. Isha Ambani’s all-red ensemble, a panoply of crystals and sequins, looked dipped in rubies, while Shloka Mehta’s sangeet outfit – a cage-like lehenga topped with an off-shoulder blouse that shimmered thanks to the holographic crystals and rose-gold accents – took 8,000 hours to craft. “Each garment represented a harmonious blend of creativity, craftsmanship, and innovation, showcasing the dedication and passion poured into every stitch,” says Malhotra. “It was an absolute delight to bring these visions to life, and each piece stands as a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship that defines my work.”

Alongside outfits for the family, there were the VIP guests too – so, literally, hundreds of outfits coming together in one synchronous act. There was the special request for Ivanka Trump, outfits for Salman Khan and SRK (both dapper in black as they emulated each other’s most popular hooksteps on stage), and Kareena Kapoor Khan with her all-over sequined cocktail sari as she joined Diljit Dosanjh on stage for an impromptu dance, the former proclaiming on stage, “Let there be Beyoncé and Rihanna; we have our Kareena!” With decades’ worth of knowledge accumulated through making clients look their best, what changes has this master couturier observed in habits, tastes, and preferences? “One of the most significant changes I’ve observed is the increased autonomy and confidence brides display in their choices. Unlike in the past, where brides would often rely on the input and influence of their families, today’s brides frequently attend appointments alone, asserting their preferences and vision without seeking external opinions,” he says. This individuality, he adds, means personal style often challenges traditional norms, seen in the preference for pastels and even white. Comfort and ease of movement, too, take precedence. “Long veils, a signature accessory of my brand, have become increasingly popular, adding a touch of elegance to the overall ensemble.” Welcoming this shift to individuality, Malhotra says, “Overall, today’s brides and grooms exhibit a remarkable clarity of thought and attention to detail when it comes to their wedding attire. This shift towards self-assuredness and individual expression is truly inspiring, and I find immense joy in catering to their unique preferences and witnessing their vision come to life.”

The Mela Rouge theme featured a pillar canopy at the entrance to create a vision of floral infinity in hues of red and blush. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

With so many variables at play in an event like this, how does he deal with curveballs? “Designing a wedding of such a grand scale inherently presented its own set of challenges,” says Malhotra. “Throughout the entire process, Mrs Ambani’s unwavering dedication to perfection was palpable. She was involved in every aspect, paying meticulous attention to detail. We navigated any obstacle seamlessly. While there were occasional last-minute curveballs, our team remained agile and resourceful, ensuring that every aspect of the event was executed flawlessly and on time. Ultimately, by maintaining open communication, staying adaptable, and drawing upon our collective expertise, we successfully overcame any challenges that arose, ensuring a truly unforgettable celebration.”

Aesthetically, how is he tying the pre-wedding festivities to the wedding that will follow? Malhotra maintains that there’s a clear distinction between the pre-wedding festivities and the wedding itself. “While the wedding will exude the same level of hospitality and warmth present at the pre-wedding celebrations, we’re intentionally creating distinct themes and vibes for each occasion. The pre-wedding festivities were imbued with their own unique theme and ambience, carefully tailored to set the tone for the celebrations to come. However, for the wedding, we’re exploring entirely new themes and ideas, ensuring that every aspect of the event feels fresh and captivating.” With a plate piled so high, how does he unwind? “I like to travel,” Malhotra answers simply. “It relaxes and inspires me to work on my next project.”

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

Blue delphiniums (below left) form part of a 15m high floral canopy. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

The glass house (below right) embodies vintage charm with shades of pink and lilac. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

Photo: Signe Vilstrup

The iconic windmill of the Moulin Rouge was reimagined with Indian architecture. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

The carousel was adorned with 12,000 crystal strands, 500 chandeliers, and 45,000 bulbs. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

Guests could also craft baskets with foral tributes tailored to each divine entity. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

The sacred banyan tree planted by Nita Ambani was center stage for the ceremony, adorned with hundreds of bells and scrolls inscribed with Vedic chants. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

radhika merchant anant ambani pre wedding

The 100-year-old, two-tonne chariot (above right) was handpainted with Pichwai art, with every detail chosen to reimagine the Valley of Gods. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

The Hastakshar theme was a mystical realm where ancient traditions blended with modern marvels. Photo: Signe Vilstrup

Originally published in the April 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia

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