Master at Work

He may have played safe with his first cou­ture col­lec­tion, but with his sec­ond lineup, it seems the king of kitsch is well and truly back By Ami Un­nikr­ish­nan

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR STYLE -

f al l t he shows at the re­cently-con­cluded Shree Raj Ma­hal Jew­ellers In­dia Cou­ture Week, the one that was talked about most was Man­ish Arora’s. Not least be­cause it took place off-site (at the French Am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence, no less), but also be­cause it marked a re­turn of sorts for the king of kitsch. Now in his 17th year in the business, Arora be­came a house­hold name after the launch of his com­mer­cial line Fish Fry. He is the only In­dian de­signer to show bian­nu­ally, as part of the of­fi­cial lineup, in Paris. He was, briefly in 2012, cre­ative di­rec­tor of the sto­ried house of Paco Ra­banne, and launched In­dian by Man­ish Arora shortly after. He showed the la­bel’s first cou­ture range last sea­son, and in his own words, “played it safe”. But this time, he gave his all. He wowed the au­di­ence by bring­ing his sig­na­ture style into his sec­ond show at cou­ture week.

So what was it about this col­lec­tion that stood out? It had all of Arora’s sig­na­ture touches: Madly ac­ces­sorised, colour­ful, and over the top. But above all, he man­aged to trans­late his global life into his eth­nic of­fer­ings. Not by west­ern­ising In­dian de­signs, but by bring­ing world in­flu­ences and adopt­ing them into a lo­cal flavour in a way unique to him. For ex­am­ple, one of the six dis­tinct in­spi­ra­tions be­hind the col­lec­tion was the pea­cock. But not the coun­try’s na­tional bird. It was the Pea­cock Room at the Castello di Sam­mez­zano in Tus­cany that fired his imag­i­na­tion. To trans­late this into clothes, Arora chose mul­ti­colour stripes high­lighted by hand-crafted gold zari. Then there was Temari, the an­cient Ja­panese craft of mak­ing in­tri­cately pat­terned balls of thread, which he trans­lated vis­ually into geo­met­ric, almost fu­tur­is­tic em­broi­dery on lehen­gas and tu­nics. “For the first time,” says fash­ion colum­nist and au­thor of Pow­der Room, She­falee Va­sudev, “I no­ticed that his be­com­ing a global cit­i­zen is more ev­i­dent in his col­lec­tions… His idea of In­dia was strong, but now his idea of the globe is be­com­ing stronger. And he is go­ing via In­dia.”

Ti­tled Kalei­do­scope, the col­lec­tion was bro­ken down into sto­ries, each taken from a coun­try that caught the de­signer’s eye. The Crown mo­tif, from mon­archs all over the world, was de­picted through place­ment pat­terns and em­blems on gar­ments. Jew­ellery, an in­te­gral part of In­dian cul­ture in Arora’s eyes, was trans­lated through gold de­tail­ing. The Light Fan­tas­tic sec­tion came from the Light Fes­ti­vals in Paris and Bel­gium, and he used dif­fer­ently-sized se­quins to mimic the ef­fects light can have. And fi­nally there was Irides­cent, his ode to all that’s sheer, rep­re­sented by del­i­cate gos­samer fab­rics. Through it all, Arora seam­lessly wove to­gether an In­dian aes­thetic with a mod­ern sen­si­bil­ity. “We are for­ward in our ap­proach; we use un­con­ven­tional ma­te­ri­als for em­broi­dery (think old watch parts and plas­tic), and tech­niques like laser-cut­ting, too. We mix this with our In­dian know-how and try and give each gar­ment its own iden­tity,” says Arora.

But the in­no­va­tions didn’t end there. “I feel de­sign­ers have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to take fash­ion into the fu­ture in­stead of con­stantly look­ing at the past for in­spi­ra­tion,” says Arora. And so he did away with any form of a veil or scarf, so far un­heard of in In­dian cou­ture. For him, this was a con­scious decision. “The dupatta was used for women to pro­tect their mod­esty. Why should it be like that to­day? A woman doesn’t need to do some­thing a man doesn’t. It’s 2014! I think the cus­tomer who is buy­ing our clothes comes from an ed­u­cated fam­ily, and doesn’t need it. If a bride wants it out of choice, that’s her pre­rog­a­tive. But as a tra­di­tion, I think it should be stopped.”

So that’s the Arora view for fu­ture brides who are will­ing to dare. His own fu­ture, mean­while, seems busy. “We are open­ing our first shop-in-shop in Bangkok at a big de­part­men­tal store in Novem­ber and hope­fully a sec­ond one in Dubai by 2015, so there is lots to do.” But be­fore all that com­mences, Arora is off to Burn­ing Man in the Ne­vada desert. Per­haps his next cou­ture col­lec­tion will take in­spi­ra­tion from the week­long event known as much for its mu­sic as it is for its out­ra­geous fash­ions. And that is some­thing right up his al­ley.

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