When I was in junior school, I remember sitting in class and a boy turning to me to ask if my hands had been tattooed (Andrew Gubler, I remember it was you). He was referring to the henna designs on the palms and backs of my hands that I’d had done from a visit to Pakistan. How incredible it is to see the ethnic art of henna (or ‘mendhi’) has been embraced into western society although it’s taken a long time. I guess we have Madonna to thank partially for decorating her hands in intricate designs in her video for ‘Frozen’ in 1998 and to a lesser extent, Liz Hurley adorning it on her Indian wedding ceremony.
Henna is still very much part of an Asian bride’s ritual. Her feet and hands are covered in the beautiful handiwork to beautify her for her wedding day. I’ve got to say that Asian brides are in a league of their own when it comes to the dress, jewellery and of course the henna. If you can bag yourself an invite to an Asian wedding, you’ll be in for a treat.
I recently met Pavan Ahluwalia, Mehndi Maestro and officially the world’s fastest henna artist (she holds the Guinness World Record Holder for painting 314 armbands in one hour and each design was different from the next. The previous record was 100.
The name might not ring a bell but I bet most of you will recognise her work. She’s worked on the first ever Asian wedding on Eastenders and Alesha Dixon on the cover of Asian Woman magazine.
Self-taught from the age of 17, 24-year-old Pavan boasts a CV to be envious of. She mixes her own henna and makes her own cones. She also creates glitter gels to integrate into her bespoke designs, which are a sight to behold.
Pavan has taken henna designs to a brave new level. Where it is traditionally limited to hands and feet for brides, Pavan has shown how the ancient art can sit with contemporary yet daring designs on the body. My favourite is a delicate yet detailed silver glitter design on a bride’s leg, stopping short of where the garter would sit.
Pavan’s aim is to expand henna designs to a wider audience and to be appreciated as an art although she still very much offers bridal packages to clients.
While Pavan and I chatted, she demonstrated how quick her skills are with a design on the back of my hand. It took about 15 seconds and all free-style, doodling as she talked. I’m so envious. To cover the body, the average time is about 2 hours. Within half an hour, the design on my hand was dry and a week later, the colour is still very dark and the pattern prominent.
I’ve always loved henna designing, it looks so stylish and sophisticated, have dabbled in it too but no way am I a fraction as good as Pavan. If anything, I don’t have the ability to think of designs off the top of my head.
The smell of henna is divine too, when it’s been freshly applied and when it crumbles off. It’s also a natural product, derived from a precious plant and it’s been used for centuries to colour hair and of course decorate the body. Pavan doesn’t use any artificial ingredients or preservatives, which is a very good thing. I once had henna applied on my hands which had a deep, red colour but faded the next day so it was apparent the henna wasn’t pure and had colouring mixed in it.
I mentioned how it’s the perfect alternative to permanent tattooing when Pavan revealed she’s been approached to design tattoos too.
Although henna is more recognised and familiar, I do think people are hesitant about trying it. Perhaps people think it’s messy and time-consuming or too traditional but on the contrary, they’re myths. The results are breath-taking and it’s a very expressive form of art just as make-up and permanent tattoos are.
I’m pleased to hear Pavan will be launching her own product line, Pavan Henna Designs, that will include henna powder, diamantes and a range of glitters, which will be retailed online and in select salons nationally. That sounds like just the incentive to encourage me (and many others) to experiment and have fun designing henna patterns.
To explore more of Pavan’s amazing work, visit www.pavanonline.com. In the mean time, I’m going to make a note of her details for my big day…