Rahul Mishra is the first Indian designer to be part of the Haute Couture calendar
It’s a proud moment for Indian fashion as the Committee of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (which met on November 20 this year) has invited designer Rahul Mishra as a “guest member” on the January 2020 Paris Haute Couture Week. The Kanpur boy has become the first Indian designer to be welcomed as a guest member in the prestigious and rarefied Haute Couture calendar.
As a label rooted in the textiles of India, this marks a monumental leap for the design house that has time and again represented the craft that thrives in the villages of India. With this milestone the label embarks on a new chapter in its decade-long journey to sustainably empower craft clusters and celebrate the villages of India – the essence of our great nation. Over to the designer:
India is steeped in the rich heritage of craftsmanship and savoir-faire. Why it took so long for an Indian designer to get recognized by the French Federation?
Rahul Mishra:In my understanding, ‘Couture’ stands for more than just ‘handmade’. It stands for clothing that is custom made for an individual’s body and as it is fashion, in turn a representation of their personality. Couture also looks essentially, at a greater aspect of the craftsmanship that comes from innovation, originality and a wider range of traditional skills put together. In order for recognition by the FHCM, a fashion house must show a consistent track record of being able to consistently create an original global voice instead of creating a strong region-specific voice.
A lot of the process for couture houses such as Dior, Chanel or Valentino happens in India and a lot of Savoir-faire or craftsmanship is done by the hands of Indian craftsmen hence, as an Indian designer, it is important to understand that just the craftsmanship is no longer a criteria that will alone take us there. It is important for the brand to showcase a mix of new technology, fresh aesthetics along with traditional value and that kind of communication needs to be projected consistently throughout a few seasons.
You use Couture techniques even for your Ready-To-Wear, extrapolating embroideries and constructions to dramatic effects. What’s new that you are offering in Couture?
Rahul Mishra:At our last two seasons, the FW Couture presentation that we did and our SS 2020 RTW show, we wanted to showcase something which blurs a boundary between Ready-To-Wear and Couture. We’ve always believed in that idea as a brand because, there’re too many brands which are making clothes that are typically trendy,such as Zara & H&M. I think people have numerous options to buy yet another black jacket or a basic white shirt and I think those brands will be closer to what people need when they are looking for just trendy clothes. We have wanted to focus on creating something which is more artistic, something that also represents what we are, and as a brand we also believe in expressing ourselves through our work.
Often our clients,value that characteristic of our clothing. Their outfit becomes much more than just a piece of clothing. For this collection, I find a huge influence from my recent visit to Maldives which surfaces prominently in a part of the collection. I had a chance to snorkel on the trip and I found the underwater world rather fascinating.
Alongside, I have been spending a lot of time with my four-year-old daughter lately and she has just started to understand animation better; she is extremely drawn to the movie, Madagascar and we’ve watched it together for over thirty times. The characters and sensibilities of animated films have also had an influence in the making of this collection. We’re trying to take bigger risks while trying to reinvent our art and embroidery. The last month has been very stressful for us. From the time when we got the first news about our inclusion in Haute Couture, which we couldn’t officially share with everybody but started working on this collection.
Also, because we were trying to invent it along completely new techniques, forms, shapes, which we want to present for this season. Otherwise, this collection has been a very intimate one with more of my time and emotions having been invested in it, it has taken us about a month to create a single sample after numerous hits and trials.We are again, racing against time, with a lot more research and development. It will see a culmination of our own craft as we’ve worked on bettering ourselves throughout the journey since its beginning where we also want to improve the finesse and feeling of the garment in terms of taking luxury to the next level. We are trying to weave far more art in our clothes.
Since you’ve shown at Indian Couture Week and Paris Couture Week, how is Indian Couture different than Western Couture?
Rahul Mishra: I was very happy that I did India Couture Week before getting my first show in Paris Couture Week. I did almost 5 years in India Couture Week before I was inducted for Paris Couture Week just the same way, when I first started Paris Fashion Week I’ve had my experience of five years of shows in India, somehow it helps us to understand what a show would take. But Couture in India is strongly driven by the client base& the bridal occasion wear market which is huge in India. All the brands including us, when creating something consider the shape, volume and intent for the clothing to be Indian occasion wear.
On the other hand, Couture in Paris is completely off bridal. The federation pushes even the top designers to create pieces that are more conceptual or artistic over bridal. Haute Couture seriously defines original ideas, something which can be handcrafted and at the same time something that is very individualistic, created for that particular client. Something that is beyond trends but creates trend setting ideas. So, in that way Haute Couture being a pure form of expression of fashion and art, we are very blessed and excited to put forward a completely new journey for the brand in terms of our expression of art, craftsmanship and fashion coupled with our emotions.
Haute Couture is traditionally synonymous with something made by hand and made in France after multiple fittings on a client. Do you have an atelier in France or do you intend to have one in the future?
Rahul Mishra:Haute Couture is a French exception and in France, the term haute couture is protected by law and is defined by the Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Paris based in Paris as “the regulating commission that determines which fashion houses are eligible to be true haute couture houses” and become entitled to avail themselves of the label haute couture.
There are three kinds of members drawn up in the list namely- Haute Couture Members (such as Maison Margiela, Givency, Dior, Chanel & Jean Paul Gaultier, etc.) which are fashion houses primarily based out of France, Correspondent Members (AzzedineAlaia, Elie Saab, Versace, Valentino & Giorgio Armani, etc.) which are fashion houses based outside of France i.e. are foreign & Guest Members (such as Ralph&Russo, RVDK Ronald Van Der Kemp, Iris Van Herpen, Zuhair Murad & now Rahul Mishra, etc.) which are brands that may graduate to correspondent or permanent members if as/if they fulfill the respective criteria in future.
As we are a homegrown label, that finds its roots deep within the country, we are proudly a ‘Made in India’ label, reigning with support of our impeccable crafts and cultural heritage and it is a pure intention for us to remain thus. However, as we proceed to showcase more regularly on the calendar, our brand may graduate to the list of correspondent members as per the Federation’s discretion.
You’re known for contemporising the India story. What’s the story you’re going to narrate on the runway at Paris Couture Week?
Rahul Mishra:Our last collection was Metropolis, it was all about life in a city and how you look at cities. There were a lot of geometries that came with the buildings.. But this collection somehow reflects back at my journey in Maldives. There’s a beautiful place SonevaFushi, a beautiful resort which is a completely sustainable resort that works on recyclable ideas. It’s almost like an island straight from the movie Madagascar. Somehow a lot of islands also reflects our Indian tropical forests. It has got a very strong connection with some of the French artist and some Indian old paintings. So somehow this draws a parallel, and the narration looks like a story where I am trying to relive the experience which I had in the month of September.
It’s like I’m trying to relive that experience by creating clothes and trying to weave this story through them. We have to weave all the natural stories of this beautiful planet through this collection.I’m super excited about this new journey. We’re also looking at a lot of 3-D explorations in terms of creating new shapes, where the 3-D exploration needs new age tailoring and we’re looking at that as an idea. A lot of engineer natural forms which are going to get juxtaposed to create interesting layers. Often this kind of artistic expression is difficult to describe in words but I am very excited.
Traditionally, couture shows end with a statement bridal look - for example, Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel finale dress made entirely out of a bouquet of camellias comes to mind. Please tell us about your showstopper outfit?
Rahul Mishra:We are still conceiving our entire collection and we work with one of my very well-known stylist friend Elisa Nalin. It’s also a complete teamwork in-house so, till the time we do not complete the collection it’s difficult to say which one will be the last garment. This collection is going to be very directional and focused. We may not do a very serious bridal look, I guess that’s all I can share with you. It’ll be very artistic as of now and is going to be free from trends, commercial viability and any pressure which otherwise most of the brands might have.
Are you specifically reviving any Indian art and craft for the global audience? The French taste in luxury is different from Indian take on luxury. How do you intend to strike a balance between Parisian chic and your core Indian sensibilities?
Rahul Mishra:As a brand, we have created a very different universe of ours which is also ever evolving and we are deeply rooted with philosophy of creating more employment and work for our craftsmen. Right now we work with more than 1200 people. Even this Couture, we want to take it forward in terms of getting more inclusivity. So obviously all the techniques of hand embroidery, even hand cutting are typically Indian where it always reflects where it’s originated from. But my take on this collection is all about taking a kind of art expression which is global.
We are taking inspiration from SonevaFushi, Maldives with the application that starts from some of the medieval Indian paintings, that finally reaches to a painting like Henry Rousseau’s work and try to find a beautiful synergy through our work.
There will be a lot of movements in the embroidery. We’re working on strong and fluid forms, so our embroideries are going to appear fluid. It’s almost like the embroideries will originate from the fabric itself rather than lying flat on the surface. There are a lot of new techniques which we’re trying to explore. We’re exploring a new way of looking at embroidery and a new way of garment construction this season.As we’re closer to the show, we will share a bit more.
The Selection Process
The Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode as a body, comprises three Chambres Syndicales or central bodies (Haute Couture, Women’s Fashion, Men’s Fashion). The executive committee consists ofsix members including Francesca Belletini, President and Chief Executive Officer, Saint Laurent, Guillaume de Seynes, Executive Vice President, Hermès International and Bruno Pavlovsky, Fashion President, Chanel, Sidney, Toledano, Chairman & CEO LVMH Fashion Group.
Thousands of brands send in their applications to the Federation each year out of which a few selections are made by the committee. It was a moment of immense honour for Brand Rahul Mishra to receive a kind recommendation letter from noted fashion critic Suzy Menkes where she had mentioned that she had seen the label’s in the past seasons at the Paris Fashion Week and in India and how she believed that the design house had a strong voice of its own. It was the hard work of 12 seasons in Paris that was recognised to facilitate for the label’s selection.