The word henna is used to refer to the dye which comes from the plant of the same name. Historically henna was used in Ancient India for cosmetic purposes, as well as in South Asia, North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Today however henna dye is used to create temporary body art. In India it is a key part of the wedding preparations and takes centre stage in the mehendi ceremony, which celebrates elegance and beauty.
The ceremony takes place just before the wedding and culminates in the bride having henna applied to her hands and feet in elaborate designs. To find out more about the Mehendi ceremony, visit out ceremonies page.
If you're searching for an outfit for the mehendi ceremony, do not hesitate to check out our Wedding Outfit Generator page, which will give you some much needed inspiration.
We caught up with Sara, the founder of Sara’s Henna to learn more about the intricacies of henna design.
Sara’s Henna began by chance in 2009 when Sara got invited to run a small henna booth at Hong Kong’s Arts and Crafts Street Fair. She describes sitting at a booth with her henna equipment with a lot of anxiousness and enthusiasm as she waited for eager customers. However, henna was not really heard of in Hong Kong at that time so she ended up spending half the day sitting in an empty booth. It wasn’t until she offered two passing girls a “temporary tattoo” that people started to take notice and from that point on for the next 48 hours there was a non-stop flood of people. After becoming inspired by the rapturous response she received, Sara created a brand logo and brand name (with the help of her dad), created a team of henna experts and worked hard to create a hugely successful global henna business.
Sara fell in love with henna when she used to watch her mum applying it for brides when growing up in Pakistan. She started creating her own henna designs at age 7, and hasn’t really stopped since then, apart from when she hits a creative block which happens if she hasn’t travelled or been around nature for a while. However when this happens she looks through other henna artists’ designs for inspiration, but usually once she has a henna cone in hand her designs just emerge and the patterns are unique every time.
Travelling is the main source of Sara’s inspiration. She keeps a small sketchbook handy everywhere she goes so that she can copy down a pattern or feature that catches her eye. This can range she says from ‘an old iron gate from local Colombo homes, or a funky church window, or a dried autumn leaf in NYC park, or the tile work & mosaic in mosques in Istanbul.’ All of these things help influence patterns that work great as henna.
Having lived in Pakistan, the UK and Hong Kong, it is clear that Sara’s multicultural upbringing has had a big impact on her art. Being exposed to western influences has broadened her outlook allowing her to view henna as an art form and the huge creative possibilities it holds, rather than just as a traditional paste used to adorn hands and feet during festivals.
Depending on the size and level of intricacy simple hand henna designs generally take 10 minutes to do (although Sara’s personal record is an impressive 48 seconds) or around an hour for a creative body piece. Right on the other end of the timescale is a traditional ‘Signature Love Story bridal henna design which takes up to 10 hours to create. Sara’s favourite type of henna to create is the creative body pieces since having such a large canvas to work on provides the most creative freedom.
Sara’s Henna offers a huge variety of henna designs for parties, brides and corporate events. Among the many events that Sara’s Henna has catered for, two of the biggest collaborations have been with Dolce & Gabbana and Karen Millen. Dolce & Gabbana was one of the first brands that Sara was asked to work with. She was asked to create 10 henna designs based on their Spring Collection, which involved having to observe their designs, cuts and textures to create a collection of henna designs especially for their launch event. While this has its challenges and stresses, Sara said it was a wonderful experience to see so many overjoyed faces as their clients were able to walk away from the event wearing their motifs on their hands as souvenirs. The same can be said for Karen Millen which involved designing a range of tattoos for them using a range of their merchandise.
While Sara truly loves working with fashion brands because it gives her the chance to experiment with renowned designs by giving them an exotic look, her favourite events to provide henna for are the smaller ones such as baby or bridal showers or birthdays because the clients are normally happy for her to come up with the designs.
One type of henna that does require a lot of collaboration between the henna artist and the client is bridal henna. Sara tells us that when working with brides she prides herself on creating bespoke bridal designs which requires lots of information from the bride such as knowing how they met, hearing about the proposal, knowing what the wedding theme is and what the motifs on the bridal outfits are. All these elements are then used to create a personalised unique bridal henna design.
The most memorable Henna experience that Sara has had was when she designed a henna crown to adorn the bald head of a young cancer survivor in Karachi. She says that the smile she received when she’d completed it and the image of the young girl happily twirling around is something she will never forget.
In the last few years Sara’s Henna has transformed from a one woman business to a team of dedicated henna artists in Hong Kong and a growing network of freelance artists in the Middle East, with plans to open Pakistan’s first ever Henna Institute in Karachi. From the outset Sara wanted to create a better awareness of cultural art in Hong Kong since in 2009 there were no other Henna Artists there and the majority of her clients had never heard of henna before. From taking henna art to local islands, fairs, markets and corporate events she feels that her and her team have really been able to create a name and market for Henna Art. Now you see Henna Artists in malls and schools all over Hong Kong and frequently see men and women walking around with Henna Art. Mission accomplished.
Image source: Sara's Henna