Salon Imperial at The Westin Paris, a luxury hotel with 250 years of history behind it, was the perfect place for Indian couturier Rahul Mishra to showcase his line “Cosmos” at the Paris Couture Week (PCW).
After all, this was also Yves Saint Laurent’s most-loved venue for 15 years, and is known as the “couture temple” among the glitterati.
Showing along with greats like Dior and Schiaparelli, who have an understanding of the hand-made and its fine nuances, was a feather in Mishra’s cap.
Mishra comes from India, a country which is renowned for its artisanal strength. So, when he decided to pay homage to the philosophy, “what lies outside is inside you”, he was clear it had to be an amalgamation of the stars, sky and ocean.
“When you write poetry, it is easy to tell your story, but when it is a garment, it is the fabric, embroidery and processes that do the talking,” he explains.
Most of his collection looks heavily ornate from a distance, especially on the runway, but a discerning eye can spot the detailing.
It’s almost like a wooden door of an ancient haveli. When you come up, close and personal, you see the laborious carvings. That’s just what critics observed in Mishra’s jellyfish, which was so intricately embroidered, even the scales were visible. The devil lies in the details, as the adage goes.
Some of the pieces out of the 35 that he showcased, took 2,000 and above man hours to make, and each had a distinct metallic sheen, also the biggest trend this year.
“The fish we made looked like a galaxy in the deep. Rather than looking up, we looked down. I was inspired by coral reefs and every time, I’m near the ocean, I feel as if it has an unexplored dimension,” he smiles.
Mishra has represented the waves before in an earlier collection, but each time, he gives it an interesting twist. The process of creating this effect on a garment takes hours of ideating and working almost 18 hours with embroiderers.
The key here is when you are executing multiple techniques on one silhouette, it runs the risk of becoming overdecorative.
“Striking a fine balance — where it seems pleasing to the eye — is what an artist must focus on,” he confesses.
The Delhi-based designer, who hails from Kanpur, feels couture must take the audience, wearer and buyer along, and should be a continuation of the story-telling, making each piece “soulful”.
Couture, because it is the most difficult art form to get into Paris Couture Week, is a challenging process. The Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode brings together finest brands to promote couture. Each design house must combine traditional skills with contemporary technology.
The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture wasstarted in 1868 by Charles Frederick Worth as an association of French couture houses to stop their designs from being copied. To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, each applicant must make custom garments for private clients. The fittings have to be multiple and the brand must have 15 or more full-time artisans and 20 technicians. They must show 50 authentic creations — evening and daily wear — each season, in January and July.
Therefore, Mishra calls couture a sadhana, or the highest form of meditation, almost giving it spiritual undertones.
“We, as human beings, are a micro cosmos of the universe and the ultimate truth of life is to be an observer,” he says.
And it is this ideology that makes Mishra take risks and compete with the most famed couturiers in the world. That’s why he enjoys the process of crafting couture and takes failure and success as part of his “life story”.
“These two months, when we create the collection, is full of happiness and also possibilities. Most of our ideas are child-like, and each one is nurtured till we achieve perfection,” he admits.
His chanderis, organzas and silks have been adorned with taar ka kaam (metallic embroideries), as well as cutwork giving the West a break from their love for jersey and knits, which may offer comfort but will never be spectacular.
“Post-Covid, people don’t like to dress up and clothing has become relaxed. But fashion is universal and that even though sweatshirts are in and ready to wear but couture with its hand-made beauty will always be the saviour,” he says.
The designer is ready to foray into the international market like Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who opened a store in New York recently.
London and Paris are where Mishra has set his eyes on, and his JV with Reliance group will give him the capital that he needs. From home décor, accessories to jewellery and footwear, he is ready to go big and become a brand. “This is my third year doing Paris Couture Week and I am happy to see my fellow couturier Gaurav Gupta also here participating with me,” he says.
Though sustaining a PCW is hard, as many brands who started with Mishra like Ralph and Russo have gone bankrupt, and to do a show in Paris is cost intensive.
“Managing financials is as crucial as design prowess. I am not here for the glory, or ego satisfaction or the applause, but a larger social perspective — generation of employment for artisans,” he concludes.