Adieu Paco Rabanne

On May 4,the day his surprise split from European couture house Paco Rabanne was announced through a formal press release,Manish Arora was on a Paris-Delhi flight.

Written by Shefalee Vasudev | New Delhi | Published:May 14, 2012 6:13 pm

On May 4,the day his surprise split from European couture house Paco Rabanne was announced through a formal press release,Manish Arora was on a Paris-Delhi flight.

On May 4,the day his surprise split from European couture house Paco Rabanne was announced through a formal press release,Manish Arora was on a Paris-Delhi flight. Speaking to Eye in less than an hour of his arrival,he was in his characteristic mood — impatient,hyper-energetic,smiling widely,candid in speech and manner,yet mildly distracted. He hardly looked like a man brooding over a broken business relationship. His chic store at Delhi’s Lodhi Colony market was dressed up in his new,spring summer 2012 collection but wore a languid air. His arrival changed that instantly. “You should display the Fish Fry line in the front,take this back,put this here…” he gave rapid instructions to his store staff. In minutes,the display strategy was altered and Arora sat down on a deep pink velvet sofa to ponder his future.

He knew that the end of his stint with Paco Rabanne — that had been enormously hyped by the Indian media last year — would underline the evening’s conversation. It had only been two seasons and this split appeared abrupt and unexpected. “It was agreed at the outset that we would relook at the association in a year’s time,” he says,trying to sound matter-of-fact,instead of dodgy and defensive. “Paco Rabanne had asked Manish Arora to take over the Creative Direction of the House in order to make the fashion comeback of Paco Rabanne into a stylistic and media event of great magnitude. Thanks to his work,Manish Arora was able to establish the foundations of a renewal and a repositioning of the Paco Rabanne brand,” reads the press release from the brand.

Celebrities like Lady Gaga,Rihanna,Nicki Minaj,or Katy Perry who prefer whimsy outfits,have all embraced Manish Arora’s designs. That said,Arora is keen to move on. He has seldom hidden his buzzy,nervous energy that prods him to experiment,change,try,defy. “I get bored very easily with my own work. I don’t even look back,” he says. He is in India to announce the rebranding of Fish Fry,his affordable,diffusion line and to introduce Manish Arora Paris,his new label (the other being Indian by Manish Arora) and talk about forthcoming projects. But Paco Rabanne keeps cropping up as a recurrent motif. Next morning after the announcement,Arora would wake up to read that he had been “dropped” by Paco Rabanne and why his stint had gone awry. “Only the Indian media reacts this way. I just don’t have the energy to keep clarifying,” he said.

Much as India has rejoiced in the reflected glory of “the first Indian designer to build an international fashion brand”,it hasn’t been easy to deconstruct Arora’s genius and accept his whimsy. Fashion intellectualism has been used as a defence to explain his work: psychedelic,arty,edgy,non-conformist,futuristic. Words as fanciful as his clothes: dramatic sci-fi costumes with draped chains,crystallised shapes with structural finesse,a vivid circus collection with built-in bras,mini-crinoline dresses with twirling carousels,prints with Indian classical dance mudras or multi-coloured balloons,fluorescent 3D birds on shoulder pads,headgear fit for an alien planet,shoes that could take you over the moon. “Mad and manic,” as noted fashion critic Suzy Menkes once wrote.

He made local audiences sit up with his schlocky fashion. In Paris,he broke through the decorative clutter associated with Indian wear to announce India’s artistic evolvement — through fashion — on the global stage. Arora admits he is a prisoner of fantasy. His clothes are like art pieces from a fantastical drawing room in his mind. But crazy colours and vividness are not a ruse to prettify garments to make them “acceptable” in the way Indian fashion is.

He is the only designer from India who doesn’t create fashion to make women look traditionally “more beautiful or more feminine”. In other words,Arora doesn’t make a LBD. He makes a black dress with wings. The sexiness in his clothes that comes from nonchalance and a sense of humour defines the Manish Arora brand.

His spring summer 2012 collection is set against the backdrop of the Happy People Print by noted American photographer Robert Altman,celebrating the unity of different colours in the world. The photograph was taken at the Holy Jam Festival in Colorado in 1970.

Despite Arora’s inspirational dreamland being global,his tools have been consistently Indian: a hundred-odd handcrafted butterflies painstakingly sewn on a gown,iridescent patchwork,handmade crystal chains,traditional cross-stitch embroidery,buttons and laces juxtaposed by various techniques.

Artsy and feisty,the 39-year-old Arora,also one of the first students of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT),Delhi,has been termed more an artist than a fashion designer. On his left arm is tattooed an inescapable word in his destiny — tailor. “After starting off as a ladies tailor,I decided it was not about creating what others want you to,but telling them how to discover their own style,” he says,adding that his first few “tailor-like” collections frustrated him.

It could explain why very few women (he doesn’t make menswear) can carry off an entire Manish Arora ensemble. The Indian market,however,is not Arora’s priority at the moment. Next season,he will show again in Paris (one show at Paris Fashion Week costs a crore of rupees,if not more). “Purely because the market has a bigger reach and there are many more buyers,” he says,adding that if dates don’t clash,he will show here too. If his presence abroad is significant for global fashion,his absence in fashion weeks back home is showing. None of his dwarfish imitators have his artistry or talent for mounting fashion spectacles.

Paco Rabanne may have been Arora’s biggest international assignment so far,making the quick divorce so newsy,but his collaborations have been many. Swatch,Good Earth,Reebok,MAC cosmetics,Disney,Absolut Vodka,Swarovski to name some. “This is just the beginning. Who knows,I may be working with other brands soon,” he says,unable to disguise the glint in his eyes. The fashion world will be on high alert.

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