Odisha-born Bibhu Mohapatra on his journey in fashion
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