Threads of a golden memory

Delhi-based couturier Rahul Mishra, the only designer from the city and the country to make it to Paris Haute Couture Week, left his distinctive stamp on the very exclusive event

Aurulent Style: An iconic golden dress from Mishra's new 'Tree of life collection

Aurulent Style: An iconic golden dress from Mishra's new 'Tree of life' collection

Delhi is known for its opulent taste, which is why it boasts of the most significant designers and the biggest couture showrooms. No wonder Rahul Mishra, who belongs to Uttar Pradesh, opened the gilded doors of his flagship showroom in Mehrauli some years ago. 

Mishra, the only designer from the city and the country to make it to Paris Haute Couture Week, says, “Delhi has been special for me, as it is where I have my craftsmen, factory, home and family.” He has been working out of the city for a decade, which is why he can say with authority that Delhi is a hotspot for wedding shopping. “To tell you honestly, bridal is where we achieve the highest sales”, he adds. 

In his small village of Malhausi near Kanpur, where he would often sleep on the terrace in summer, there was a huge banyan tree about 100 metres from his home. His grandma used to tie a sacred handspun thread around it, praying for the family’s health and prosperity. In the mornings, a young Rahul would notice the golden hue of the sun reflecting on the leaves.

MASTERMIND: Rahul Mishra
MASTERMIND: Rahul Mishra

It is this childhood memory that was translated into his tailored, delicately constructed ensembles for the Paris Haute Couture Week 2022.

Mishra’s ‘Tree of Life’ collection moves away from his usual subdued offering: it’s more commercial and soaked in blinding shine. 

“I don’t like to be stuck with a signature look. I want to challenge myself, fail and wake up to doing new things. That’s my nature, I am a risk taker”, says the 42-year-old designer.

Though Mishra’s love for gold is not new, it began in 2012 with his Baroque line. The couture is an ode to the golden hour, and if you look closely there are many shades of gold, matte, shiny to muted, giving the wearer gradations to choose from.

Floral Glitz: A model wearing a black and golden co-ord with colourful flowers designed on it
Floral Glitz: A model wearing a black and golden co-ord with colourful flowers designed on it

Like the banyan tree leaf, or the tender sprouts that emerge during the monsoon, he interpreted this spiritual time in the mornings with gold zardosi, recreating the tree trunk’s heaviness through fabric manipulations. 

“Art is boundless, you can’t define it – and in Paris, without innovation you can’t survive. It demands it”, he says.

He says it’s his determination to not settle down with just one idea, breaking free from the safety net, that keeps him motivated as an artist. 

In his bid to avoid repeating himself, he learns new tricks, processes and techniques so intricate, it requires several re-openings in the sewing machine to get the right fit and fall.  Art drives commerce, as he challenges shapes and forms, cutting patterns and combining exaggeration with ease. 

At Paris Haute Couture Week, wearable art meets fashion. Even Valentino ditched his predictable reds and introduced hot pink – ‘Rani pink’ in India – the most popular wedding hue for brides. His 3D motifs, made at least in three different ways, show he likes to incorporate even the minutest detail to make it seem “real”. 

“I was raised in a middle-class family. My school fees were Rs 7 per month and there was no roof on the building. So, we studied in the open air and then I made it to National Institue of Design (NID). When I won the Woolmark Prize in 2014, I never knew I would reach this far”, he says. He received the Woolmark honour from none other than fashion giant Franca Sozzani, the revered editor of Italian Vogue.

Some pieces of this award-winning collection are preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum, UK. “When I make something beautiful and memorable, my craftsmen are happy with me; without them, all this would be impossible”, he says. 

For Paris, each ensemble took 8-10 weeks to tailor. No one knows when he showcases in Paris. There are multiple failures before he gets it right. “Divya, my wife and the person who manages the business while I focus on creatives, is my silent strength. Both of us studied in Milan, so Italy is dear to me. But France is my karmabhoomi”, he says. 

With almost 20 seasons of ready-to-wear and couture, Rahul Mishra is a global brand, though steadfastly Indian in his aesthetic. He wanted to show more designs at the India Couture Week 2022 but only five pieces of the Paris Couture Week could arrive on time. Most pieces have been sourced for magazine covers or red-carpet events for celebrities.

Sleek Glamour: A signature black and golden dress from Mishra's collection, with tints of blue and ivory
Sleek Glamour: A signature black and golden dress from Mishra’s collection, with tints of blue and ivory

“As an artist, even if you see Picasso, there is an evolution. Sometimes it’s 360 degrees. I don’t want to make red carpet looks, I want to push craftsmanship. Paris is where my soul is free, where I can play and add mystery and fantasy into each piece”, he adds.

From cutwork to hand embroidery, Mishra follows a circular process. He remembers when Giorgio Armani once came to Istituto Marangoni, Milan for a lecture and said: “A designer must be like a magician. Every season, he must have new tricks up his sleeve.” 

That’s why Mishra broke away from what he did best some years ago, ruffles in tulle, pastel embroidery, muted palettes and was once also referred to as a ‘textile lover’. “If you have to stay in this business, you have to be the best. If you fail, you will be forgotten,” he admits. Success, he adds, makes you complacent as it is intoxicating! 

  

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Asmita Aggarwal
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