**This blog post has now been updated to include 2 featured wedding videos. Please scroll down to watch**
A few weeks ago, I had a bridal appointment ‘Style First’: When a bride requests an unusual and distinct style that is slightly outside of my portfolio. The excitement I felt for this was two-fold as 1) I LOVE to try new designs, new ideas AND 2) it is an absolute honour for a bride and family to place their absolute trust in my ability as an artist to be able to deliver on their design expectations.
Our consultation was arranged back in January – proof once again that it is never too early to be prepared for your bridal mehndi! Kiraan came to me through mum Nahida’s incredible organisation and planning skills. Being a make up artist and mehndi artist herself, she was well aware of the detail and work required for a job as important as Bridal Mehndi. Wisely, Mum was opting not to take this task on herself in order to allow herself time to be able to enjoy the wedding. In making this decision she vetted and consulted with a selection of her preferred henna artists before carefully finalising an agreement.
As the first daughter, and first granddaughter on boths sides, the wedding was set to be a major event in the family timeline. Being an artist herself, Kiraan had a strong creative ideas for the style of bridal mehndi required for her very big day. During our consultation, Kiraan showed a distinct preference for two styles: The Persian influenced jewellery style from contemporary Russian and Ukranian henna artists (Veronica Krasovskaya, Tatyana Kilinskaya et al) and also the modern khaleeji style which is currently taking the Arabian countries (and instagram) by storm. We discussed the two very distinct styles and listened to Mum’s observation that the Persian influenced style was perhaps a little less dramatic for bridal henna, so decided to go with the Arabic modern khaleeji. Though they won’t know it, internally I was already SUPER DUPER excited to take it on.
As the big day drew nearer, I prepared my designs to bring to the session, fresh henna paste in new cones, sent the confirmation reminders and exercised my hand muscles ( – yes, that’s a thing!)
When I arrived, I was welcomed by Nahida in a typically busy mother-of-the-bride situation. I don’t think I have ever arrived to henna a bride where the mother/elder has not been up to her neck with things to do before the wedding. And each time, we all advise her to delegate more, take a load off, enjoy the wedding preparations a little more. And each time we learn that when you want to do something right, you should really do it yourself. Sage advice for us all, really. And we all know that Mother Always Knows Best.
With my bridal henna table and seat set up I sat before my bride with sheer and utter glee, ready to get started on one of the most admired henna styles on social media at the minute. Kiraan was a breath of fresh air from the moment she sat to the moment we completed. Sometimes, people forget that for the amount of henna needed for a bridal henna session, artist and bride will need to spend an approximate 6 hours together, working closely on what often becomes a collaborative process at occasional awkward angles. During this process, so many conversations happen – about the bride’s preparations so far, their wedding outfits, their packing, how they feel, how the family are preparing, what do they know about their mother’s bridal henna experience, or their parents wedding. As a non-traditional henna artist and an outsider to the culture of the Asian wedding it is fascinating to learn some of the unique details that can vary from family to family, as well as the commonalities across the board.
For example, I have learned that there are 3 main events in the Islamic wedding events diary: The Mehndi, the Nikkah and the Walimah. My limited understanding (so far) is that the mehndi is a bit like an islamic version of the hen/stag do in the western wedding. There is a Mehndi for the bride’s side and a Mehndi for the groom’s side. This is also when mehndi/henna is typically applied to the bride and guests (or the groom’s relatives and guests on the other side). As henna takes 2 days to mature, the mehndi event usually occurs 2 days before the Nikkah, which is (again, as I understand it so far as an outsider with limited experience) when the wedding vows are agreed upon by both sides of the family, like the declaration of the wedding vows in other weddings. At this point, they are Islamically married. Then finally, after the Nikkah is the Walimah. This is the day when the bride departs her family home for good and officially moves in to her marital family home. On some occasions this is with her husband and new in-laws. On other occasions this can be in to their new home together. It marks a huge change and transition in both families, but the biggest impact I always feel is on the bride, moving from the shelter and familiarity of the home she grew up in, to a brand new loving, welcoming but different and unknown home.
As my bride was the eldest of 4 sisters, with a wonderfully close relationship with her mother and father, and set to move approximately 1.5hrs drive away, I was keenly empathetic to the huge change that was facing them. My time during the henna with them as a family saw a beautiful connection and joy between them all. It was palpable that the sisters were keen to be in the presence of their eldest sister, that everyone was cherishing the moments together as something very special – even last minute requests for a late night supermarket trip were granted. It was clear that her departure would be keenly felt by everyone in the family.
We chatted about her paramedic hubby-to-be and his quite frankly AMAZING proposal which involved an elaborate plot requiring Oscar-worthy acting skills from one particular sister plus the entire family which culminated in an ambulance being called to attend to the situation, only for him to appear at the door adorned in a suit under his paramedic’s uniform and asking for her hand in marriage. (Yes, I very nearly cried when they told me the story). We chatted about the honeymoon plans (equally as epic). And we chatted about the moment when you just know you’ve met your future other half.
There are times in my life when I have met a couple, and know that they were cut from the same cloth and meant to be together. And though I only had the honour of meeting and getting to know one half of this couple, it was clear from the light in her eyes and the family’s happiness that together, they form a very adorable couple. “He’s basically the female version of me!” Well, I haven’t had the honour of meeting you, lucky Osman (only the privilege of hiding your name amongst your bride’s beautiful mehndi!) but it has to be said, you have gained a real and treasured gem of a wife from a much beloved family. May you both continue to nuture such wonderful family relations on both sides, together, and enjoy a long, enduring and happy marriage, enlightening others with your joy until the end of your days.
And finally let me say a Big, Big thank you to Nahida, for trusting me and bringing me in to be part of such a special occasion for you all. You’re truly an amazing Mother.
Top and centre photograph of Mother and Bride by Usman Afzaal Photography featured with many thanks.