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
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.