Two things highlighted the fact that Manish Arora has come out of India to the international world. The first was that the designer greeted his audience proudly wearing the red ribbon of the French Légion d'Honneur, of which he has just been made a chevalier. The second international success story was that he had persuaded German photographer Ellen von Unwerth and quintessentially Parisian designer Chantal Thomass to model for his show. It was held in a French café near Manish's Paris home, in the area where last year’s terror attacks took place.
While his recent collections might have looked like a Bollywood parody of Indian clothing trying to look western, this show went to the Wild West — and triumphed. The mix of bright colours and patterns was still out of India, with all that county's sizzling shades, but the clothes were comprehensible and the patterns controlled. As the models stepped out in their cowboy boots, there was a sense of fun with a stylish streak. Think of a purple-dyed Pomeranian as a fashionable accessory.
The body shape was definitely Dolly Parton western, bringing a waist line to outfits with a differently patterned top and skirt, cinched with a leather and metal belt. If the cut was looser, digital printing - a strength of this designer — would control the space.
Some elements even came out of Africa, as wax-print fabrics and what the designer called “tribal embroidery”. Yet he had thought through the themes, for example coherently using denim, that Far West and western-world staple, as a belted waist coat or for Ellen von Unwerth's prairie skirt.
It is so tough for a designer to move from one continent's culture to another, and I commend Manish for making it. Pretty Woman as the soundtrack for the finale summed up this show of controlled exuberance that the designer labelled “prairie goes pop”.
Rahul Mishra: Techno Handwork - with Love
I believe that the offhand comment of historic fashion icon Diana Vreeland that “pink is the navy blue of India” has done a major disservice to the sub-continent's effort to have a valid fashion identity.
Think India! Think pink! And orange or any vivid colour that you do see in India, especially in certain regions. But there is so much more on offer. And I gave an inner cheer when I saw Rahul Mishra sending out a collection in Paris played out primarily in navy and white; a slim dress caught in at the waist; or a top with a full skirt.
But the intensity of the clothes was not in the quiet colours, which finally moved into the cream beige and white found in India mostly on men. It was in the extraordinarily detailed handwork, digitally created — the reason that Rahul won the International Woolmark Prize in 2014.
“Telling tales of Indian textiles, narrating the intricacies of centuries old craft and the deep ocean of wealth in handcraft — the journey brings on board diverse, influenced and timeless traditions,” read the show notes.
“We have all the techniques, like tie-dye and bandhani - traditional craftsmanship of India. I was wondering, why would someone do this in today's world of technology,” said the designer. But when Rahul showed me the work close up backstage, I realised that there was another aspect to this handwork — the brain work of technology, such as judging the exact per cent of shrinkage caused by the hand embroidery.
“We have to calculate that in advance and when seaming it - I make sure there’s no join visible, so it matches to perfection,” Raoul said. “Actually, a lot of technology is required with the hand workmanship.”
This fine collection showed that techno and human hands are creating a new fashion world for India.