While the Indian fashion fraternity has affirmed the slump in the economy with sliding numbers and a slowdown in sales, designer Rahul Mishra has seen an almost 50 per cent increase in his business from last year.
“One can’t escape the news, even though we have been very busy, getting stuff ready for Paris. Many nights, we were working till 11 pm. I told my karigars, this factory is yours. If you think it’s unsafe to be outside, please stay back,” says Mishra, 40, adding, “We have always maintained that no one talks about religion and politics at the workplace. We have people from all communities and we believe that religion is something personal and that we should respect it. But the moment you buy into the narrative of them vs us, you become part of the self-fulfilling prophecy (the minute you buy into the divisive narrative, you start acting on those lines, and then that agenda is fulfilled, we really then become them and us). If you allow it to impact you, it fulfils the agenda of the hate mongers,” says the designer, at his bustling three-floor workshop on a cloudy Saturday.
Mishra recently showcased at the Paris Haute Couture Week (PHCW) in January as a guest member, but his rise to fame has been well documented since his debut at the Gen Next platform at Lakme Fashion Week in 2006. His craft-intrinsic designs are rooted in Indian sensibility and Mishra has always been a strong advocate of sustainability and conscious fashion. His design philosophy is a “four P” approach. “First is the purpose, why are we creating a particular outfit? Then the purpose derives the process — how we go about achieving it. If I’m digital-printing, I’m only involving myself, if it’s machine embroidery, then there are some people, but it’s only with hand-embroidery that I get a lot of people on board. A real designer involves people, in any way possible. Design doesn’t happen in isolation, it only stems when people participate. When all of these are in place, that’s how we get the product,” says Mishra, who currently employs around 1,500 people.
A Rahul Mishra outfit, for example, an organza lehnga, will take about 1,000 human hours to embroider and fashion the five metres of cloth. The key, stresses Mishra, is to slow down production, an idea rooted in the Gandhian philosophy he learned at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. “To understand the philosophy, taught so well by our professor, the late Rajan Lekhi, I spent time at Gandhiji’s ashram in Kochrab in Gujarat,” he says. Sustainability for him is a simple mathematical equation. “It’s a ration of resources. Earth gives us an x amount of limited resources for a year. We have been overshooting it since 1957. That was the last year when we stayed within the allocated budget, thereafter, owing to rapid industrialisation and mechanised demands, bordering on greed, we have been overshooting. His upbringing in the small town of Malhausi in UP, too, taught him to slow down. “When we consume resources at a mechanised pace, the natural pace of regeneration lags behind. There is a reason why I only present two collections a year. Even the most sustainable of cotton will not be sustainable if you produce 100,000m of it. If you have to wear fast fashion, please wear it for as long as possible,” says Mishra, who won the International Woolmark Prize in 2014.
If fashion has to be slow, it also has to observe. A large part of his inspiration comes from his travels. His collection Home, which he presented at the PHCW, came about after his sojourn in Maldives. One saw floral minutiae embroidery on dark gossamer fabrics, that moved to a lighter palette.“I travel, and when I return, I share all the stories, pictures and experiences with my staff. We all experience it together. That’s how a new line is born. You travel and as they can’t come with you, you take it to them. We never speak of fashion, really — we speak of art, animation, and yes, travel, ” he says.
Mishra has showcased at Paris many times, but it still remains a benchmark for high fashion. “Paris is not the West, it’s the global fashion capital. Everyone, be it an American brand, or a Japanese designer or a Belgian one, come there. If a Susy Menkes is coming to see my show in Paris, she’s coming after having seen (Alexander) McQueen, Balenciaga and other such brands. I have to make my designs look unique. There are global buyers, media and the best global talent. It’s not a question of approval. Look at the place’s legacy, and the business Paris Fashion Week generates. It’s in billions. It’s not the lure of a foreign fashion week, Paris is much, much bigger,” he says.
But there’s such a thing as fashion fatigue and Mishra would be glad to see India host a few less fashion weeks. His journey had begun when the fashion fraternity had parted ways in 2006, and Mumbai and Delhi began their respective fashion weeks. If it meant opportunity then, in the age of Instagram TV and Facebook Live, it feels like an overkill. “We need less fashion weeks. Social media is great for consumption, but for creation, it’s a curse. So many images come to you, it’s impossible to retain their impact. Also, it will be very difficult to be original. Designers need to disconnect,” he says. As he goes back to his factory, Mishra says he runs on hope, even in these economically unviable times. “Agar duniya mein koi ek garment bhi bikega na, I feel ki woh apna bikna chahiye (Even if a single piece of garment is to sell in the world, I want it to be mine), it should be so beautiful,” he says.
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