What does it mean to be a couture designer in this day and age? For Rahul Mishra, the first Indian designer to show at Paris Couture Week, the answer is in the creations themselves. For his latest showing in Paris, Mishra drew on the cosmos for inspiration. “The philosophy that the infinity of our inner mind is similar to the infinity of the cosmos stuck with me,” Mishra told BAZAAR in a recent interview. “And just like human curiosity and creativity, couture must have endless possibilities.”
And endless possibilities there are, it seems, for Mishra and the future of his brand. From his humble beginnings in a village in the Himalayas to the upper echelons of the fashion world, the designer’s footprint on the industry is ever-expanding. Below, BAZAAR catches up with Mishra to learn more about his awe-inspiring journey.
Drawing inspiration from the cosmos, what entrances you most about the infinite? Is it that couture, similarly, has endless possibilities?
Borrowing inspiration from a vast topic such as the cosmos has certainly been challenging. As a science enthusiast, I have been both intrigued and fascinated with several aspects of the cosmos, which led to me watching any and every documentary I found on the internet. I’ve been reading articles and blogs and connecting the dots between the knowledge I acquired and the life around me.
The philosophy that the infinity of our inner mind is similar to the infinity of the cosmos stuck with me. And just like human curiosity and creativity, couture must have endless possibilities.
The fascination with infinite possibilities also reminds me of a recent movie Everything Everywhere All At Once, which is also being celebrated for bringing new perspectives and storylines to Hollywood. As the first Indian designer selected to showcase at Paris Couture Week, could you speak more about what representation means to you in fashion?
Luxury brands across the world have been sourcing raw materials and producing embroideries in India forever. Among the industry, we’ve known the Indian subcontinent as a ‘producer’ of luxury goods for the world but never are we regarded as a ‘designer’ or ‘creator’ for the global markets. So in that way, it is great to be one of the Indian designers showcasing on a prestigious international platform. When we started out in Paris, the representation for brown individuals in the same space was much smaller compared to now.
Each piece finished at our atelier represents over one thousand artisans that are engaged with us, and their employment supports not only their families but also boosts the circular economy in their villages. It gives us confidence in our work and allows us to take longer strides with exploration and experimentation in our craft and workmanship.
At Haute Couture Week, we intend to showcase a collective dream which is seen by a large number of people at the atelier where the team works, almost as a single organism to combine craft, fashion and art. The platform connects a grassroots artisan sitting in a village of West Bengal to an affluent luxury consumer in Paris through our products. Hence, the final outcome remains secondary to us; it’s the process and the purpose behind the piece that adds more value to it.
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How have your culture and identity shaped your approach to your work and this collection specifically?
There’s a Sanskrit saying ‘Yat Pinde Tat Brahmande’ which loosely translates to ‘what lies within us is what surrounds us’. Borrowing from this, I believe that one’s life experiences make them, and mine make my work. I have had very unique experiences while living in different parts of India – I grew up in a village in Uttar Pradesh and went on to study in Ahmedabad before working in Mumbai and now, in New Delhi. I did my masters in fashion at Istituto Marangoni in Milan and have been showcasing in Paris for almost a decade now. All these experiences and cultural influences contribute to the kind of work I produce.
I strongly believe that a collection is a designer’s definition of their own identity. My experiences of living in a tropical nation and being close to nature strongly influence my affinity towards it. My childhood in a village and now, my time at our passive house in the Himalayas, drives me everyday. I have also grown up watching my mother, grandmothers and those around me use only handloom textiles for clothing. We have the kind of culture where no resources are wasted; each of our garments would be passed down to our younger cousins until they aren’t usable anymore, after which they may be restitched to become a cover for say, a table, or become a dusting cloth. I’ve retained these kinds of values in the family for my seven-year-old daughter, and in my brand through our efforts towards sustainability and slow production. Not only creatively, but also fundamentally, I am driven by my cultural influences and hope to be perceived as a unique voice that is global but happens to come from India.
What were the most challenging parts of putting together this collection, and what were the most rewarding?
As a creative director for the brand, my first-hand experiences and my journey in life allows me to dream and imagine a new world, which then has to be shared with the entire team so it can become a common dream for us all. A major challenge may be that one’s ideas may be a complete fantasy, but they need to appear very real and believable for people to work with. The thoughts need to become their fantasies, dreams and manifestations as well. I believe that it’s also a very crucial step and it involves the process of receiving feedback, and months of exploration on the sampling floor.
But the same process becomes immensely rewarding and pleasurable when all 500 of us are riding the same dream. The entire environment of the office changes when we begin the sampling process, new jargon is created and everyone thinks on the same wavelength and listens to similar schools of music. It’s like our atelier becomes a giant organism where each of its sections is working in a beautiful synchronicity.
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What excites you about couture, and what do you think stands out most about your approach to the craft?
Couture, I believe, is a medium for me to express myself. All my creative, philosophical and sociological intentions are put together in the making of each collection. There are many stories that we weave together in each garment and its surface embroidery, which we call ‘artworks’ at the atelier. It’s almost intimidating to have to put yourself out there like that but it is also exhilarating at the same time.
“I am pursuing the impossible,” Claude Monet said in 1895. “Other painters paint a bridge, a house, a boat… I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house and the boat are to be found—the beauty of the air around them, and that is nothing less than the impossible.” Similarly with me this season, it has not been about recreating the cosmos or creating a visual delight; it’s about capturing the soul of the idea and presenting a dream. Couture is about a poetic journey in which art, beauty, design, fashion, and fantasy collide with each other and we intend to create that exact experience.