Slice of the Big Apple

Slice of the Big Apple

I am very proud of my heritage. To me,being present here isn’t just about selling here,but coming back with great pride and joy.

Bibhu Mohapatra took first steps towards fashion by designing clothes for his sister. After completing his Master’s degree in economics,he took a more definitive step towards it when he enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology,New York City. While working on his design degree,he honed his skills as an assistant designer for the American fashion label Halston. The 38-year-old,who launched his namesake label in 2009,now boasts of an enviable clientèle,including big names in Hollywood. The New York-based Indian designer talks to NAMRATA ZAKARIA about bringing his clothes home for the first time.

As a homegrown talent,how does it feel to be an internationally-acclaimed Indian?

I am very proud of my heritage. To me,being present here isn’t just about selling here,but coming back with great pride and joy. I moved to the US 15 years ago,and I’ve had to pay my dues. Indian designers are doing such incredible quality work,I feel I had to be ready to sell alongside them.

Your new collection,Spring 2012,draws from photographer Helmut Newton. Tell us how.


The laser-cutting and degradé appliqué come from his Polaroids; my photographer used to work with him and said there used to be

Polaroids everywhere. There’s a little bit of S&M — chains and bondage straps — that come from Newton,and some trouser suits. But my line at Le Mill,Mumbai,has a little bit of my previous collections too,it’s like a teaser.

You’re only a three-year-old label but you’re already designing for Angelina Jolie,Cate Blanchett and Sienna Miller. How easy is that?

To be honest,I’ve known most of these actresses since my days at Halston and as design director of J Mendel. Some of them like my work. Some,I feel,can be our brand ambassadors,without sounding too exclusive. But yes,we are more strategic about it now.

You come home to Orissa twice a year,but very little of your state’s woven crafts are seen in your clothes.

My heritage seeps through my work in colours and textures,but yes it is very subtle and not literal. I’ve also just met with Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik,who is a friend,and I’ve visited the weavers’ villages. With the help of the government,I am working on a project where I will design 35 looks — from saris to day wear,to my forte,evening wear — as my main collection to be shown in New York.

I always look forward to coming home and to my family. My dad’s an engineer who would pull apart a car and show us how to reassemble it. One of my brothers works with him,the other is a graphic designer with CNN in Atlanta. My sister is a computer specialist,who now does the most important job in the world: she’s raising her child.

Do you follow the Indian fashion scene? Who among the Indian names or boutiques do you find interesting and why?

Not as much as I’d like to. But I like the works of Nachiket Barve,Rajesh Pratap Singh and Sabyasachi. But so many younger designers are doing such incredible work.