Like the rest of the world, Srishti Kapur, co-founder of the Mumbai design studio Floral Art, found out what actor Alia Bhatt wore for her April wedding functions from the photographs she shared on Instagram—the white and gold floral corsages Bhatt wore for her mehendi and haldi ceremonies had been made by her team. “When it comes to celebrity brides, we sometimes know who it’s for, and at other times we only have hints. There are NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) you have to sign with wedding planners, so we don’t know our floral jewellery is going to a celebrity wedding until we see the pictures. And that was the case with Alia’s,” says Kapur.
Floral Art was set up 20 years ago by her mother, Kavita Kapur. In the initial years, the mother-daughter duo, trained in the Ohara and Sogetsu schools of Ikebana, focused on bouquets and floral décor. The idea of floral jewellery, Kapur recalls, came randomly from a client. In early 2016, they ventured into weaving fresh and dry flowers into necklaces, haath phool, earrings, maang tikkas and more. It was, as Kapur puts it, “all experimental and fun” in the beginning.
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“We experimented with different flowers, both traditional (such as jasmine and rose) and exotic (such as orchids). We made a small look-book that contained sketches of the jewellery pieces we had designed to be made from real flowers. When brides would come to us, we would show them the designs.... And because the haldi, mehendi ceremonies have a more fun, light element to them, the idea worked. Our clients liked them and started sharing sketches and pictures online; soon we had other people coming to us asking us to make jewellery for their weddings as well. We became popular through word of mouth,” says Kapur.
TV artist Kishwer Merchant’s wedding in December 2016 changed things for them. “We had designed her floral jewellery, her garland and her floral chadar (canopy for a bride). Pictures from the wedding went viral but we realised the power of social media when we had brides coming to us almost a year after Kishwer’s wedding saying they wanted Kishwer’s floral jewellery and chadar,” Kapur notes. Floral Art has since created jewellery for actors Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Katrina Kaif and Karishma Tanna, among others.
While the tradition of wearing flowers is centuries’ old in India, the trend of jewellery made from flowers seems to have jumped out of mythological serials such as the Ramayan and Mahabharat. A quaint feature in a few weddings till a decade ago, eminently Instagrammable floral jewellery is enjoying its moment in the sun.
The recent spate of celebrity weddings led to a rush of orders. Parthip Thyagarajan, co-founder and CEO of WeddingSutra.com, India’s first wedding portal, notes, “The number of requests we get from brides for information about floral artists in their cities has gone up fivefold in the last few years.” Thyagarajan attributes the popularity to the fact that botanical jewellery is lightweight, lends a fun appeal and, most importantly, looks great in pictures. “Also, not to forget that for the millennial bride, there is a need to look beyond traditional gold or diamond jewellery, which she will be wearing for the main ceremony,” Thyagarajan adds.
Floral jewellery is generally synonymous with weddings and festivals—but some have gone further. Bengaluru-based Leafy Affair, which claims to be India’s first botanical jewellery brand, creates necklaces, bracelets, lockets, earrings, rings, bookmarks and paperweights from a range of pressed or dried botanicals like dandelions, ferns, daisies, maple leaves and lavender buds. Its founder, Supriya Donthi, says she wanted to “bring nature closer to people”. While she may have started it as a passion project in 2016, selling pieces in flea markets, the number of online orders has given Donthi the confidence to take her brand mainstream. “From the initial years, where we sold a few hundreds, today we get over 1,000-1,200 orders every month from around the country,” Donthi says. “People generally associate preserved/pressed floral jewellery with hobbyists or as DIY art sold in flea markets. I want to show people that the possibilities are a million in botanical jewellery/art.”
If you step back a bit, you will notice the diversity. Vendors like Floral Art create pieces using both real and dry flowers; the latter are either preserved flowers or made with materials such as paper and silk. To keep it unique, Floral Art comes out with a new collection of flower jewellery every year, focusing on one kind of bloom. “The dry flower jewellery is mostly for our out-of-India clients,” explains Kapur. Harshita Gautam, founder of the fashion brand Nomad, makes floral jewellery out of textile waste. She began the line of jewellery in 2016, named Makutu, as a “frugal engineering solution” to reuse textile waste. “One reason I started Makutu was that we saw so much amazing quality fabric like chanderi silk, chanderi cotton, mashru silk, going to waste. The second reason I created it is because I love to dance and wanted hair accessories I could wear while dancing.” Today, she says, Makutu’s floral creations, are popular in the 30-plus working women group. “We come with two new collections every year and while we make around 40-50 pieces of each design, we also get bulk orders,” Gautam says.
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Mahalakshmi Prabhakaran is a Bengaluru-based journalist.