Odisha-born Bibhu Mohapatra on his jour­ney in fash­ion

India Today - - CONTENTS -

In­clu­sive is what comes to the mind be it in ge­og­ra­phy, style or phi­los­o­phy when it comes to Bibhu Mohapatra. The New York-based de­signer who grew up in Rourkela, Odisha, had his first brush with fash­ion when as an 18-year-old he made a dress for his sis­ter to wear at a fam­ily wed­ding. Light­hearted, cu­ri­ous and mod­est, Mohapatra, 44, can barely con­trol his ex­cite­ment when he talks about his re­cent trip back to his home­town. With just a touch of an ac­cent from New York, his home for the past two decades, his mother tongue over­pow­ers his dic­tion and mind as he re­calls: “I had a very happy child­hood and my par­ents gave me ev­ery­thing I am to­day. My mother gave me my cre­ative mind and my fa­ther shaped my tech­ni­cal mind. As I am the youngest of four, I al­ways got away with things that my sib­lings could not. I still do.” Mohapatra who loves his fuss-free tai­lored cotton shirts and jack­ets, as­cribes the sim­plic­ity to his roots. A sense of com­plete­ness and joy ra­di­ate from his choice of fab­rics, pat­terns and bodice. Dressed in a ca­sual mono­chrome pal­ette, he glides through his col­lec­tion talk­ing about the cuts and drapes and the new-age women he de­signs for. Mohapatra says he is in­spired by the women he has met like the for­mer First Lady of Amer­ica, Michelle Obama or his favourite style icon, French singer-song­writer Françoise Hardy.

Rourkela to New York

From an early age Mohapatra was drawn to colour and tex­tile. He rem­i­nisces about his mother’s hand­wo­ven

ikat saris and her heir­loom jew­ellery. His ac­tual tryst with de­sign be­gan when his mother taught him to sew at 13. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Sam­balpur Univer­sity in Odisha, he pur­sued a Masters De­gree in Eco­nom­ics from Utah State in 1996. Soon af­ter, he be­gan to work to­wards his Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy ap­pli­ca­tion af­ter one of his pro­fes­sors, im­pressed by what he saw in Mohapatra’s sketch­book, called her friends in the art depart­ment to al­low him to at­tend classes with­out pay­ing any ex­tra fee.

Deeply in­flu­enced by the tra­di­tional colours and arts of Odisha, Mohapatra moved to New York in 1998 where he be­gan his ca­reer by study­ing fash­ion as an art and busi­ness. That’s where he met his part­ner, artist and dec­o­ra­tor Robert Roane Beard and it’s been nearly 20 years since the two have been to­gether. “I have been liv­ing in New York for the last 18 years and the city has given me a lot,” he says. A suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a de­signer

at fash­ion la­bels like Hal­ston and J Men­del for a decade was fol­lowed by the launch of his own la­bel in 2008 which housed ready-to-wear col­lec­tions and haute cou­ture. His in­ner call­ing brought him back to In­dia for a pro­ject on the Samb­halpuri saris with lo­cal weavers in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Govern­ment of Odisha.

Drapes of Em­pow­er­ment

As nar­ra­tive be­comes a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in fash­ion, Mohapatra’s process be­gins with iden­ti­fy­ing a story be­hind ev­ery­thing. The fine women he has dressed in­clude Lupita Ny­ong’o, Jen­nifer Lopez, Hi­lary Swank, Glenn Close, Priyanka Cho­pra, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Oprah Win­frey, Freida Pinto and Taraji P Hen­son among oth­ers. Says fash­ion scholar and an­thro­pol­o­gist Phyl­l­ida Jay, “There’s a vibe of old school glam­our about his de­sign sen­si­bil­ity when it comes to even­ing wear with heavy silks and satins and nods to the hour-glass sil­hou­ette. His de­signs stand out in a fash­ion in­dus­try where ca­sual sep­a­rates in­creas­ingly dom­i­nate cat­walks sched­ules. Bibhu’s day dresses are strong and pow­er­ful with­out com­pro­mis­ing on fe­male sen­su­al­ity.”

The Road Ahead

Mohapatra’s Spring 2017 col­lec­tion was joy­ful, ar­chi­tec­tural and con­fi­dent, in­spired by Belle Époque—a time pe­riod sym­bolic of af­flu­ence, modernism, and cheer­ful­ness in Europe be­tween 1871 and 1914. The col­lec­tion is an amal­ga­ma­tion of colours and struc­tures in silk and tulle beau­ti­fully em­broi­dered with pearls, crys­tal, and marabou along with artis­tic sil­hou­ettes and drapes.

Cap­tur­ing the in­her­ent beauty and strength that lies within women, his lat­est Fall 2017 col­lec­tion at the New York Fash­ion Week 2017 is another ex­ten­sion of how he un­der­stands them. “The col­lec­tion as a whole, the looks, each and ev­ery de­tail of ev­ery piece of cloth­ing re­flects eman­ci­pa­tion,” he says. A beau­ti­ful stu­dio in the heart of Man­hat­tan in the Garmey dis­trict is packed with clients who not only come to pick up his de­signs but also to hear his sto­ries. The Bibhu Mohapatra la­bel stands proudly at Saks Fifth Av­enue along with Alexan­der McQueen, Balmain and Ralph Lauren as well as at Fur Sa­lon, Bergdorf Good­man, Har­vey Ni­chols and other top re­tail out­lets. Says Mohapatra, “We have cur­rently made brand ex­pan­sions in out­er­wear and fine jew­ellery. He is ex­cited about his next line of cloth­ing which will have a var­ied price point and wider global dis­tri­bu­tion. We are in the process of adding a bridal line and a dif­fu­sion line.” Ac­cord­ing to him, In­dian fash­ion re­flects the per­fect bal­ance of craft, tra­di­tion and tech­nol­ogy. “What’s in­ter­est­ing,” says Mohapatra, “is the bal­ance of new voices in the In­dian de­sign in­dus­try. The in­fra­struc­ture and re­tail sys­tem need some work and that will hap­pen with time and growth.” Among the young de­sign­ers de­sign­ers, Rahul Mishra and Kanika Goyal have his at­ten­tion as they have a unique aes­thetic. Su­nil Sethi, pres­i­dent, Fash­ion De­sign Coun­cil of In­dia(FDCI) says, “FDCI show­cased his ikat col­lec­tion which shows his con­stant con­nect with his home­land. I hope that he en­cour­ages bud­ding In­dian de­sign­ers to find a mark on the global plat­form.”

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of his de­but jew­ellery line with Forever­mark, Mohapatra is look­ing for­ward to the ex­ten­sion of the ver­sa­tile line Artemis. In terms of his next muses, he would love to dress two strong women from gen­er­a­tion next. He says, “The names of Malia Obama and Navya Naveli Nanda come to mind. They both have in­cred­i­ble sense of style.” El­e­gant and pow­er­ful, his aes­thet­ics con­tinue to bring two dis­parate worlds to­gether, main­tain­ing a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween his roots and as­pi­ra­tions.


THE MAN AND HIS COLOURS The model wears a blue gown from Mohapatra’s SS’17 col­lec­tion

THOUGHT PRO­VOK­ING Mohapatra’s Fall’17 col­lec­tion

CHILD­HOOD DREAMS A young Mohapatra with his mother in Rourkela, Odisha

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