Neha Assar is a California-based henna artist whose name is famous enough for her work. The artist specialises in mehendi, the traditional painting which South Asian brides undergo for their wedding day. The 35-year-old mother of two paints the brides with elaborate henna designs which swirl from a bride’s fingertips to her forearm, and from the tips of her toes to mid-calf. The groom’s name is hidden somewhere in the design for him to find on their wedding night—a task, which Assar says, she enjoys thoroughly making as difficult as possible!
She has already traveled across Texas, New York, Canada and Mexico for her work, and does 80 to 100 events a year; though she mainly works in an around Los Angels (LA) and California, as LA is her native city.
What inspired you to start mehendi design and how did you get started?
In 1994, my little sister attended a carnival where there was a henna artist under a tent. The artist was a salon owner and had a sign that said, “Help Wanted”. My sister got her henna done and came home to tell my mom that this salon owner needed help and she was confident that I could fill the position. I was a freshman in high school and wasn’t really interested in finding a job. My mom forcefully took me down to the salon against my will to speak with the owner. The owner handed me a “henna cone” (the apparatus used to apply the henna) and said to show her my skills. This was the first time ever holding a henna cone and my sister gave me her hand to use as a canvas. The salon owner said, “You’re a little slow but I will hire you anyway.” That was it…. I got the job.
I went home still thinking nothing of it. I figured she would just call me in on an appointment basis and I would end up doing little tattoos like the one my sister got at the carnival. Three days later, the salon owner called and said she had a bride waiting for me at the salon. My jaw dropped and I was super nervous. I had never worked on a real client let alone a bride that needed extensive henna. I showed up to the salon and did what I was supposed to do. The client and the salon owner were super happy and I gained so much confidence just from that one appointment. I still look back and think, “Wow! My first client ever was a bride!”
Neha works 4 – 9 hours on a bride depending on the customisation of the design. She begins by laying out her silver henna cones and spending the first 15 minutes making sure the bride feels comfortable. They discuss wedding themes, how the couple first met, and other elements that are crucial to conveying a story through body art. Many times, Assar says, it feels like she’s catching up with an old friend as she applies a cold batch of paste derived from dried henna leaves and a mix of eucalyptus and essential oils shipped from India. She sketches freehand, incorporating what the bride has in mind while staying true to her originality.
Assar — who is usually booked one year in advance for bridal events — said she is often the first person the bride sees before the week-long wedding festivities begin, and many times the first to help calm the nerves of an anxious bride. She’s laughed, cried with her brides, and even cracked jokes to distract her clients from fidgeting or letting the anxiety settle in, she said. She always strives to challenge herself and make sure that every new henna design is authentic and unique. Occasionally, she gets special requests from brides for unconventional designs, such as golf clubs, cheetah prints, alma maters, and landmarks. She also travels internationally for her clients.
What is the inspiration behind your designs?
Being an artist, I look at everything from an artistic perspective. I find patterns and beauty in everything around me. It could be a certain leaf, or a geometric sequence on a building. Sometimes when I work on my clients, my mind says to draw a straight line but it comes out curved. I often think about why it is that way. Maybe it’s the shape of the hand or body part that guides me to draw out the designs the way I do.
What is the most popular bridal mehendi design?
This is a tough question to answer. All of my designs are unique and created on the fly. Therefore, I don’t duplicate a previous design. The only way for me to determine whether or not a design is popular or not is for me to see the response on social media once I post the piece. The USC Trojan in the bride’s palms were definitely really popular. Also, the hip hop themed mehendi – East Coast vs. West Coast, was also a huge hit amongst my followers.
What is your favourite design?
I personally don’t have a favorite design. Honestly speaking, after spending countless hours on a piece, I tend to get really attached and I fall in love with all of my pieces. The reality of it is that I have to let go as I know the piece is going to look good while it lasts and will eventually disappear. Photos don’t necessarily do justice, but I have favorite patterns and looks from each piece I create.
What mehendi design trends do you currently see?
The trends are not necessarily in the designs. The trends are more in the placement of the mehendi. People are now seeing the versatility of mehendi. Artists are now applying mehendi on various parts of the body. I personally like to think out of the box and create editorial type pieces that are eye catching.
What are your top tips for taking care of mehendi after application?
Definitely make sure the mehendi sticks to your skin. Do your best to avoid cracking and flaking. Avoid water on the day of application and the entire day after. Apply oil and external heat over the coarse of the days to maintain a beautiful stain.
Celebrities & Popular Events
About two years ago, Assar was hired to paint henna designs on models at a trunk show for jeweller Haati Chai where celebrity stylists were also set to attend. These encounters led to Hollywood gigs such as Oscar parties and L.A. Fashion Week events, where Ms. Assar did henna body art for attendees. After this her Instagram following exploded.
Last month, Assar worked at a birthday party hosted by Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Drake for his tour manager. She has also done mehendi for G Eazy, Kylie Jenner, and Rihanna to name a few. You can view more on www.nehaassar.com/celebs.
To keep her works alive, Assar incorporates her designs on canvas to make sure they live on forever.
“I just want a couple of minutes to admire the little details.”
Neha Assar is reachable at email@example.com