Last October, when California-based Nalini Sidhu came to Jalandhar a month before her wedding, she was absolutely clear about where she wanted to shop for her big day. “It had to be Delhi,” she says. Of the three weeks that she was here, 25-year-old Sidhu spent two weeks shopping like a maniac in Delhi. “And I still didn't get my heart’s fill,” she laughs. “For a bride-to-be, this is a city of endless choices.”
Sidhu isn’t the only NRI who thinks so. “Delhi is by far the country’s biggest wedding market,” says Rajiv Aneja of Shakuntlam, which offers women’s wear collection at Rajouri Garden. “At least 35 per cent of the sale is because of NRI buying, mainly for weddings. Another 50 to 55 per cent is for domestic marriages. Only about 10 per cent is routing shopping,” he says.
Overall, the Indian wedding market is worth over Rs 800 billion and growing by at least 25 per cent per annum. Delhi contributes a large chunk to this market. The capital is home to many of the country’s leading fashion designers such as JJ Valaya, Tarun Tahillani and Manish Malhotra, who specialise in wedding collections. For the rich and famous, they’re the obvious choice.
“You could be from any class or economic background, Delhi is sure to make it a day to remember,” says Sukanya Goel. “The brides in our Baniya community traditionally wear saris. Now, lehengas are becoming more popular,” says Goel, who wore a lehenga for her November 2007 wedding. “Chandni Chowk was my obvious choice to shop for it,” she says.
That’s not surprising, considering that there are some 15,000 shops in Chandni Chowk that cater exclusively to wedding shoppers. “Here, many shops claim to be ‘fixed price’, but good bargaining skills can help you knock off at least 25 per cent of the price quoted,” says Divya Sharma, whose son got married last year.
“Here, you can find lehengas worth Rs 10,000 to a whopping Rs 8 lakh with gold thread work,” says Gaurav Malhotra of Lehenga House, Chandni Chowk. Ask him what’s popular today and he says, “Everything’s selling now — silk, tussar, tissue, net, velvet. Youngsters today do not follow any ‘trend of the season’. They make their own choices and designs,” says Malhotra, whose shop has been a family business since 1964. “Lehengas worth Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000 are standard buy,” he says.
Those in the wedding business say shoppers come from as far as Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Mumbai, off late Himachal and even from the South. NRIs too form a large chunk of wedding shoppers.
Given that Patiala and Phagwara are also popular wedding destinations, it comes as a surprise that Punjabis too choose Delhi over these places. “Imitation work is spoiling markets in Punjab. Delhi, however, remains unadulterated,” explains Aneja.
Besides the traditional hubs — Chandni Chowk, Karol Bagh, Kamla Nagar and Rajouri Garden — a plethora of affordable, but fashionable boutiques are found all around the capital for saris, dress material, men’s traditional and formal wear and more.