Profile: Shehnaai Couture interviews Shirin from Shehnaai Couture.
Shehnaai Couture pink orange suit

Tell us about yourself. How did you get into this profession and how did Shehnaai Couture start?

As cliché as it sounds, it actually just happened; I never sought it out. I was born and brought up in Mumbai and so I have always felt the need to be fashion savvy and socially active. I have been gone from India for 9 years now and since my family is still in Mumbai, I make 4 trips a year to India. Five years ago during my trips home, I started sourcing designer wear from India for friends and acquaintances as a favor. We had been dealing with the designers for years and so it was not too hard.  One referral led to another and it started taking more time out of my life than my job.  I love working with my clients. I know their husbands, their kids, even their dogs. Even when I did this informally, a client coming in would spend an average of 2 hours with me and the smile on someone’s face when they suddenly look so gorgeous is what I cherish. So, 5 years later, on the insistence and encouragement of my husband and my family back home, we finally set up base in the form of Shehnaai.

Where is your boutique located and what are the store hours?

Incidentally when we set up Shehnaai, we lived in New York City and Long Island was quite a trek. But there was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted the boutique to be based in Long Island. For the kind of products we offer and our selling methods, we needed to be based in a smart, chic and socially conscious society, which is what Long Island, NY is. We therefore set up shop in a charming little space at 420-A South Broadway in Hicksville, NY - right next to House of Dosa. We are open 11am to 7pm Tuesday to Sunday. But we’re all about what the client wants; you can come in by appointment whenever you want, even later in the evening or on a Monday. I have actually come into the boutique at 9pm on a Saturday because my bride feels like her hair doesn’t look right and wants an opinion.

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How is Shehnaai Couture different from other Indian bridal clothing boutiques?

Shehnaai breaks away from the ordinary concept of an Indian Boutique. We function more rightly as a fashion house that works with various designers, each with a distinct style and an overwhelming brand presence. Before us, New York primarily hosted boutiques and stores that either displayed the collection of a single designer or had a production unit that churned out standard pieces by the dozen. There was a vast void in the Indian designer and branded wear market. Shehnaai sells international level Indian Designer wear from over 13 designers. Each designer has a brand presence in India just like a DKNY or a Gucci would have here and I encourage the brands and their individuality being recognized. It gives us a much greater variety and keeps us in line with the fashion circles in India. We sell what you would buy at an Ensemble, or a Kimaya or a Gyaans in India. We work by the season and offer jewelry and complete wedding-planning services as well. In essence we’re a 1-stop shop for anything you might need for the perfect celebration, no matter how big or small, all in an extremely personalized manner.

Which designers do you work with? Do they all have distinct styles?

When we started, we had a portfolio of 9 designers; now we carry more than 13 designers. Ritu Kumar, Payal Singhal, Nisha Sagar, Satya Paul, Priya & Chintan, Neeta Bhargava are just of a few of the names that adorn our racks. And yes, each designer is distinctly different. For example, I don’t need to tell you that you would recognize a Ritu miles away for her prints and the traditional embroideries. Payal Singhal is a much more fun designer, she’s all about bright colors and trendy styles unlike any other. Nisha Sagar is actually a Bollywood designer rather than a fashion industry designer. She is a part of a big Bollywood family and has dressed the likes of Jaya Bachhan, Hema Malini, Raveena Tandon, Juhi Chawla and others. Her forte is floral work in extremely camera friendly designs and colors. Neeta Bhargava does beautiful hand painted designs with little embellishment and so on. The New York market is still a little unfamiliar with the styles of some very good Indian designers who are not amongst the top 4 or 5 and they don’t recognize them. But as Shehnaai completes 9 months in the market, it seems like our clients are gradually becoming more brand aware!

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Do you custom design wedding outfits?

Oh absolutely. We carry a range in bridals that you can buy of the rack but custom design is actually our forte. Each designer styles the cuts of their lehngas differently and follows trends in an equally different way. So when a bride comes in for her first appointment, we talk about the different styles in bridals, the trends and her dream picture of herself as a bride. I encourage brides to try on all the cuts and styles in bridals from the more traditional kalis to the very fashionable fishtail skirts to the –A- cut lehngas, the Shararas, the Gararas and the works.

Once she decides the look that makes her feel comfortable and beautiful, we then get down to selecting a suitable designer that caters to the bride's look. From there on, we make it possible for her to have the designer customize her outfit and she can be actively involved in every aspect of the design process, from picking the perfect color to approving embroidery samples. We bring in custom created jewelry and bangles to match her ensemble and sometimes even do the hair and make-up trial together to make sure it all sits just perfect. On occasion we have actually had a designer recommend a certain color in contact lenses to complement an outfit.  It’s about creating a complete look, not just an outfit.  The process takes time but it ensures that the bride looks exactly like she wanted to. The joy she glows with makes it all a very worthwhile affair.

What is the most important aspect of dressing a bride?

Her dreams and her comfort!! All brides look beautiful. That is because you never make as much of an effort on your appearance as you do on your wedding day. It's really about how you always imagined yourself looking as a bride. And believe me every girl has that dream. In 5 years and over 100 brides, I have never come across one that doesn’t. Sometimes it just takes a little coaxing and some laughs. My goal is to make sure she and I become friends and she can tell me anything, including her dreams and her fears for her wedding day. And I can promise you, I do my best to make all those dreams come true.

Shehnaai Couture green sari

Are brides more comfortable purchasing their bridal wear form here or would they rather travel to India?

They used to be more comfortable shopping in India, for the sake of variety more than anything else. If the bride couldn’t make the trip herself, she would have her mom or sister or aunt or somebody shop for her in India. But I see a change there now. Most brides are now so pressed for time with jobs and short vacation times (which they would rather use for a honeymoon than a shopping trip) that they are finding it harder to make the trip to India themselves. And no more does the bride want to rely on anybody else to make the ever-important bridal purchase. Especially now, with all the variety and expert guidance available here. Plus, there is a comfort level in knowing that if they realize they lost weight in the last week before the wedding, there is someone they can run to and have their outfit fitted.

Shehnaai Couture blue sari

Do you provide trousseau ensembles and packages for your brides?

Yes. For brides where we do complete trousseaus with her desired outfits matched perfectly with jewelry, bangles and packing or even substantial outfits for the bride and her family, we do complete wedding planning as well, free of charge. This is a service that would otherwise cost you anywhere from $500 and $5000. We will help you source your vendors, set up your trials and proof your contracts. Anything at all that you might need. We also do custom designing for complete bridal parties including bridesmaids and groomsmen within a budget suitable to you.

What is the price range for your bridal wear?

Typically bridal wear starts at $1100 and goes up to about $3500. You can also pick a piece worth $3500 and we can customize it to a lower or higher budget that suits your needs.  Bridesmaid outfits start at $200 and can go as high as you like.

Shehnaai Couture blue lehnga

How often do designers release their collections at Shehnaai Couture?

Designers typically work by the season; that means they introduce a new line 3-4 times a year. Because we source based on their schedule, we too work by the season. We change a season every 4 months. This means I personally go to India and bring back the best 12-20 pcs from each designer’s new collection and the season starts with a whole new collection of about 200 pieces. This happens typically in Jan/Feb, April/May, and Oct/Nov. Beyond that we still bring in about 90-100 pieces each month.

Do you hold any special events at your store?

Yes, we start off each season with either a Preview Sale where the entire new collection is 20% off or with a Designer Trunk Show. Each designer puts together a collection of 80-125 pieces each season of which I can only carry about 12-20 pieces per designer at any given time. A Trunk Show is when a designer personally visits from India and brings with her/him their entire new collection for the season. Such an event will happen 3-4 times a year and are at Shehnaai itself and we will e-mail and mail out invitations to all our regular clients.  Once a year in June-July, we also host an extremely exclusive Fashion Show where we invite the designers to fly in from India. This is held at a Hotel or a Banquet Facility and the marketing for it is a lot more extensive. Events like these are the best time to get an idea of what is in fashion for the time to come. And should you be looking to buy, the prices are always better at such a show. This summer we are actually doing our first tour after the summer Fashion Show. We will be taking our collections to Delaware, Atlanta, LA and possibly Chicago for an exhibition.

Shehnaai Couture red blue lehnga

Do you have any tips for brides when making a decision about their bridal outfit?

This is one of the hardest decisions you will make while you plan your wedding. Love and trust the person you order your outfit with completely. Take your time. Try and retry an outfit till you are completely convinced it is what you want. Brides always look gorgeous and you will too, no matter what, but under no circumstances are you to let go of your dream. You can look exactly like you want at your wedding, even if it is a movie star. I promise you that so don’t feel embarrassed to tell your designer exactly how you want to look and then trust his/her judgment on how to make that possible for you. Give yourself plenty of time. I recommend a 3-4 month ordering time for a bridal piece. This will make it possible for you to be involved in every aspect of the design process. This is an important time for you. Enjoy it to the fullest and make sure you go out and celebrate the day you get this task done. Good Luck!

Shehnaai Couture breaks away from the ordinary concept of an Indian Boutique. We function more rightly as a fashion house that works with various designers, each with a distinct style and an overwhelming brand presence. We carry a range in bridals that you can buy of the rack but custom design is our forte.


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