Why Manish Arora is one of the most successful Indian designers abroad, and how he does it.
Suzy Menkes called your last collection in Paris “a firm identity in a Paris season where that has been conspicuously lacking so far”. The Daily Beast says you are “India’s leading light in fashion”. All this when even Hedi Slimane and John Galliano bored us at Paris Fashion Week. Is your head spinning?
This definitely gives me a boost. I’ve been showing in Paris for the past seven years, it’s been 14 shows. To hear this after seven years really does motivate you. Especially for someone who comes from India and shows regularly. I’ve made mistakes but I’ve found my original voice.
From your first show in Paris to now, did you estimate how things would work out?
No, I never thought I’d have my own store in Paris. Or my own home. Or even a French label. All I wanted to do was my best. The good part about me is that I’ve never been scared. When I did London Fashion Week in 2005, there were no stylists or PR agencies for designers in India. But I like to jump into things without thinking.
Tell us about your Game of Thrones collection.
My clothes are very personal — they reflect what I’m feeling at the moment. The last show was a mix of Game of Thrones, the Burning Man music festival and The Flinstones. We research a lot, it takes us two months to even make the first sketch. I have my version of these influences and it’s a very pop line. It’s not kitsch. Only in India people think my work is kitsch, but I stopped doing street-style years ago.
Is your warrior woman inspired by the feminist wave sweeping India? Do you ever think of yourself as a designer for strong and assertive women?
With this in mind, I didn’t have any dupattas at my last show in India. Why should women cover up when men don’t? I’ve always had a subconscious feminist influence in my head. And yes, my clothes are for strong and opinionated women. For women who don’t give a damn. I’m not for the weak-hearted.
Your Paris store completes a year. What made you open a young fashion label in the toughest city in the world?
Has it been a year already? Gosh, things happen so fast. This was just the next step. It’s a big space, a shop and a showroom, quite large for a young fashion brand. I am the first and only Indian member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (the international officiating body for couture) and we had to have a French studio. It is expensive but like I said, we’re never scared.
You’ve also had some of the biggest collaborations ever — with Reebok, Mac, Biba and Amrapali. What do you look for when lending your name to another company?
There’s also Swatch, Monoprix in Paris (where we designed water bottles to shopping carts to kids’ clothes) and Nespresso. A lot of it has to do with companies that understand my world. Biba has a stake in Indian by Manish Arora and they are very price conscious. My Fish Fry label is for tie-ups for a lower price range.
Those collaborations were meant for building my brand, like Monoprix is the Marks & Spencer of France. But now we’re doing fewer tie-ups as we don’t need the money. We’re settled, we’re selling from 75 stores worldwide. We have five Indian by Manish Arora stores in India and we sell from all the major online stores. Manish Arora Paris is not sold in India. I also have a store in Bangkok’s Emporium mall.
What did your short stint at Paco Rabanne teach you?
A lot. Firstly, how to live in Paris. Also that fashion is a form of art and yet, a serious business. In India, fashion is still neither. I still remember my first day at their office, with Balmain across the street and Dior on my left.
There is much noise — in India and in Europe — about fashion being bullied by the bottomline.
It certainly is. I don’t like the idea of fashion being owned by perfumers. But there are a few brands trying to fight that and succeed in sticking to their identity —like Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghèsquiere. The best examples are Comme Des Garcons and Dries Van Noten, who don’t come from France but have built their brands entirely own their own. But I don’t mind selling to a conglomerate as long as I can keep my identity. The Manish Arora Paris label is increasing by 20 per cent every year.
There are a handful of Indian designers whose businesses are making over Rs 100-crore in turnover. These are leading names of Indian bridal wear, a market you’ve only teased. What is your opinion of this magical number?
I don’t understand this Rs 100-crore business. Fashion is about building a brand and an identity. I look at the newspapers in India and everyone’s clothes look alike. But my friends’ kids can recognise my clothes.
What does your signature — of costume-oriented clothes —mean to you?
If I wasn’t making clothes, I’d be a filmmaker or an artist. The real world isn’t sometimes so beautiful. But if anybody wants to see our shows or wear our clothes, it will make them smile.