Amid the shimmer of traditional Indian garb and treasured Diwali rituals, the Chandrans welcome us into their home for a glimpse of heart-warming family moments ahead of the Festival of Lights
Dato’ Sri Bernard Chandran’s son surprised his father once with a candid query: a friend had observed the family’s oft-practiced cultural traditions on Instagram, and had asked to join in the next one.
Free-spirited and fiercely proud of his Indian heritage, Bernard’s strong sense of spirituality has left a mark on even the younger generations.
Having captivated the world with his iconic fashion legacy, it’s clear that family, tradition and culture remain at the heart of his values.
Bernard shares the family’s best-loved Deepavali traditions, the meaning behind them, and why they still matter today.
What’s a Chandran family tradition when it comes to Diwali fashion?
On the night before Deepavali, I lay out all the children’s new outfits on gold trays, each with matching jewellery. The trays are placed on our prayer area. In the morning, after the children have showered and come up to the room, I’ll bless them with a simple prayer over all the clothes, wearing my traditional dhoti.
What happens after that?
Tray by tray, I present the clothes to my wife first, then to my eldest son and then the rest of my children. My wife will then present me with mine. We give one another a kiss, and each one goes off to get dressed up.
We then go outside the house and my wife Mary lights the candles. We start with our usual prayers, holding each other’s hands and start affirming one another with little reminders: to be a kind person, to always love one another, to be grateful.
Tell us about the traditional outfits in this family photo.
I design all our Diwali outfits. What’s important is the fit. The finishing must be flawless too, so that the wearer feels different, both inside and out. Of course, it's never easy designing for the whole tribe every year. Let me tell you a secret: sometimes I ‘outsource’ the outfits to some of my more experienced staff – I’ll give them the Indian pants to do while I take care of the tops.
What colours do you favour regarding Diwali outfits?
I love white. On the morning of Diwali, I love to be surrounded by a lot of white. To me, the colour represents purity, cleanness, newness, a fresh start. I also have a lot of jewellery that can play up the white colour (Laughs). I add gold or silver trimmings – these colours are very auspicious. Of course, I do use green, pink and other bright colours, but they are mostly for the tops.
How important is it to you to pass on these traditions to the next generation?
I enjoy it a lot, and so do the kids. I’ve always believed that you don’t have to force your children to pray. When you yourself pray, they will follow. Everybody gets demotivated at times. When the storms of life come, they turn to one another, and often, rituals like these give them strength. They may be young, but when they’re abroad, they miss it; they actually like coming home and doing the puja with the whole family.
Would you share these traditions with the rest of the world, on Instagram, for example?
I always tell my sons that it’s OK to let your friends and other people be inspired by what we do at home. Just make sure it’s not about being glamorous or to show off. The Diwali puja and other traditions are part of something that’s deep and personal.
At times, my wife and I don’t even want to put our Diwali photos on Instagram. But then I think to myself, I’m in fashion, and I love my culture while respecting other cultures. I should put these pictures up, if nothing else but to inspire others.
So it’s about upholding the meaning behind the rituals?
It’s about being consistent, no matter what. Don’t think that a family like ours don't argue on Diwali - because we do! We're real people, after all. The night before, we may have a big argument and some family members may get upset. But we always work through it together.
Speaking of customs, picking up your kids from the airport is something of a family tradition as well, right?
You mean bringing a flower garland to the airport? Well, 5 years ago, my son Trunan came back for his Christmas break. I said to myself, 'Let’s bring the entire family along to greet him at the airport'. I began wondering what I could bring him to give him a proper welcome home. Then I remembered that when you give a garland, it’s to appreciate people who have done a good thing. So I figured we should present him with a garland as he had taken good care of himself all these months living abroad. The kids are used to it by now.
Any style tips for Diwali this year?
Dress for yourself and wear what makes you happy. Who cares what other people think? If you want to dress up, choose the best shoes and wear the best jewellery. Even if it’s just for you and your family at home, do it!
Lee Poo Lian