MICHELLE RODRIGUES DESIGNS BEAUTIFUL WEDDING GOWNS
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY GENESIA ALVES
Mumbai girls – especially Bandra girls – check each other out. We clock the hair, the muscle tone, the quirks, the classics, the shoes, the clothes. Male attention, pshaw. That indecisive gawking like meerkats at a too-fast sushi conveyor belt; pah. We want the girls to notice. Thar be the win.
My sisters and I have been checking Michelle Rodrigues out for ages. She wears her cheekbones, her gamine frame, her beautiful hair with an artist’s decrepit nonchalance. When, last year, my sister’s wedding-seamstress suddenly took ill, we had a panicky scramble. Seamstresses are booked sometimes a year in advance. Michelle came highly recommended, not least by a friend’s single young brother. He’d never had a wedding dress made but, “I just know.” (Pronounced: She’s hot.)
We looked her up on Facebook. Amazing: a beach wedding dress whose fluidity mirrored the waves, classic white-wedding couture, red-carpet ready gowns nodding to the trend of having one “western wear” night for big fat Indian weddings.
We called. Holy serendipity, a slot was open! (Sorry, Bride Whose Wedding Got Cancelled) As she walked into her studio and we realised who she was, we sucked our guts in and made “cool” Bandra chick talk.
I plot. Maybe I’ll renew my vows. Trick my husband into a big party. Only so I can have Michelle make me a wedding dress I can love.
Michelle grew up in Bandra and started making clothes very early. She moved to Muscat, Oman and taught fashion and design-thought at the Middle East College. Then she came back one “wedding” season, made a couple of dresses and never looked back.
“How crazy are the crazy brides, Michelle,” I inveigle, “tell me cray-cray stories!” Her voice is bourbon. “I haven’t encountered any bridezillas,” she says with a grin, “or maybe I have the amazing ability not to notice.” She puts The Crazy down to performance-anxiety. “Sometimes I see pressure at the start of the process. They’re not sure how they will look on their wedding day. There’s a need to freeze a snapshot, looking beautiful in a beautiful moment, forever.”
There’s also the problem of plenty; dress ideas barrelling out of the internet. “There are so many genres,” she says, “sexy, fun, conservative, avant-garde. One bride sent me more than 20 individual designs with almost nothing in common. She said for each one ‘this is the look I’m going for’ followed by a nervous attack. That’s the only pressure point in my timeline. Once you’ve picked the design, it’s smooth sailing.” Personally, she loves Elie Saab for effortless and fun evening gowns. “Inbal Dror is also a favourite.”
The first wedding dress she made was her own. “Two thousand five, that’s where it started,” she says. "A clean-cut taffeta strapless gown, a little trimming of sparkle. It was an easy, fun to put on ensemble.”
Has she ever had to protect a bride from a disastrous design choice? “One bride couldn’t stop adding stuff to her dress. I put on as much as I could but insisted on stopping when the canvas filled up.” Because she works with most brides on the design though, this happens very rarely. After all, she reminds me, “taste is very subjective. If someone has dreamed of a neon candy pink dress on her wedding day, I usually just give her a neon candy pink dress. My job is to make it work for her.”
What works for Michelle herself is quite another thing. “I’m a minimalist when it comes to clothing, so I love the ’20s and the ’70s,” she says. “The appeal of style for me is function. Climate sensitive fabric and a good fit that allows absolutely uninhibited movement.” She likes Victoria Beckham’s approach to style. “It’s clean, to the point. There’s also Rick Owens, not so ‘to the point’ but super!”
“I haven’t encountered any bridezillas,” she says with a grin, “or maybe I have the amazing ability not to notice.”
Michelle also designs sophisticated, playful silk dresses, which she retails at her store in Bandra. But it’s little girls’ dresses that she loves making, “I have a line of little frocks to keep that lamp alive,” she says. “I’ve designed some interesting textures for kids this year, can’t wait to see them on the dresses.”
My mother treasured her wedding dress so much she refused when I asked if I could wear it at my wedding. I regret my own. A motorcycle riding, boot-clad, green-fringed TV producer, I was too young, too embarrassed to admit I cared about how I’d look on my wedding day. I had no connection with my seamstress. I suffered an ill-fitted wedding meringue.
At my sister’s final fitting last year, I felt a pang. I’d have no excuse to meet Michelle again. But we’re back! Another sister is getting married. I watch Michelle, amongst mountains of white lace, sketching a pattern. I will eventually run out of sisters to marry off.
I plot. Maybe I’ll renew my vows. Trick my husband into a big party. Only so I can have Michelle make me a wedding dress I can love. Something the Bandra girls will check out.
Michelle Rodrigues Clothing, Nelnom II, Saint Veronica Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400 050