Made To Order: Noreen’s Bridal Studio
Noreen Coelho’s workspace is an extension of herself — bright, cheerful and meticulously organised, and the moment you step into this Khar studio, it inspires your creative side. There are circular patio tables and chairs in white with pink cushions. The walls and shelves are plastered with neat cut-outs of wedding gowns, dresses, celebrities on the red carpet and in wedding couture, and thank-you notes from her clients. In the middle of it all, there’s a beautiful white wedding gown draped on a mannequin — a woman is working on the delicate hem, carefully cutting off the fabric around its edge. The dress is made entirely of lace, with a boat neck, sheer sleeves and mother-of-pearl buttons.
Her workshop has tailors who work six days a week, making exquisite dresses for Christian brides and bridesmaids. “My work doesn’t stop there. Once I have made the gown, I train my bride so that she can carry her dress elegantly on her wedding day. I always ask the maid of honour to be present at the final trial so she can help the bride on D-Day. Tips such as lifting the gown before kneeling, how to twirl during a photo session so that the dress follows her and lifting the gown a bit when walking up the altar help in creating a stress-free experience,” she explains.
Now 65, Coelho started her business of white wedding gowns in the ’70s, which reminds me of ace couturier Ritu Kumar who began around the same time with Indian bridal couture. “My first bride was way back in 1977. I was 23 at that time, and the girl was from Santacruz. She has now moved to Canada. Three years ago, her daughter wanted something by her mother’s dressmaker for her own wedding. She came back to India, and had her veil done by me.”
The designer also fashions a whole range of accessories for brides and bridesmaids. This includes beaded tiaras, hairbands, and even flower crowns or fascinators. Then there are the bouquet, garter, mittens and veil. “The longest veil that I have done is about 25 metres long. We also make ties and boutonnières for the best man so that they match the colour scheme of the wedding.” Coelho describes certain traditional customs that a bride might want to make her own. “We have taken a motif of lace from a grandmother’s or mother’s gown and incorporated it into the bride’s dress pattern. I have also embroidered the bride and groom’s initials onto a veil and the sleeves.”
Even today, Coelho makes an annual trip to Bangkok to source materials. This involves a lot of planning — booking all orders in advance, and researching trends for the upcoming season. “Initially I used to go to Singapore, but it became too expensive and so I tapped into the market in Bangkok. I’ve been going for the last 35 years, and I pick up a lot of my trimmings, ribbons and zippers from there.”
After a 15-minute anecdote-filled conversation with Coelho, I have a sense of the whirlwind that is her everyday life. She tells me about a bride who changed her mind about the dress three days before the wedding, about coordinating over Whatsapp with a bride and bridesmaids who lived in different cities and trying to satisfy yet another woman who wanted a gown exactly like Meghan Markle’s Givenchy couture. “I advised her to add piping to the veil hem to lend some dimension to her modest ensemble.” Helpful customisations like these and the dexterity with which she handles the fabrics make her a sought-after name in the Christian community. Coelho’s tailoring repertoire also includes office wear — suits, skirts, jackets and dresses. “Right now, everyone is copying Jessica Pearson from the TV show Suits. That’s how I got hooked onto the series. The cuts are good — very rare.”
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