From Priyanka Chopra , Kareena Kapoor Khan to Jennifer Lopez and Lupita Nyong’o — the list of celebrities who have made some dazzling fashion statements in Bibhu Mohapatra creations is long. But ask the Odisha-born designer, who moved to America in 1996, about who he thinks carries off his outfits the best, and he responds: “Michelle Obama”.
The former First Lady of the United States has been seen in exquisite creations by the designer on quite a few occasions — whether it was the poppy print dress and coat on her arrival to India with then President and husband Barack Obama; the ivory mousseline and embroidered guipure dress at the Phoenix Awards dinner; or for her appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In an exclusive email interaction with indianexpress.com, the New York-based designer talks about his latest creation, pandemic and the fashion industry, collaborating with celebrities, his design aesthetics and the one person he really wished he could design for. Excerpts:
It is always a great feeling to be acknowledged for your work, but it is especially rewarding when you create a bond with some of the people you look up to, by collaborating with them. For me it is a blessing and an honor to have the opportunity to work with these individuals, but I am extremely fortunate to call some of them as friends.
How would you describe your design aesthetics?
It is always a study of the juxtaposition of the opposites.
You designed a collection amid the pandemic. How was the experience, and what is it all about?
I feel lucky and privileged that I was able to stay in touch with my team and we were able to design and launch the spring 21 collection, after a eight month period of lockdown. My Spring 21 collection was inspired by life and works of Amrita Sher-Gil, the trailblazer first female contemporary artist of Indian decent. I wanted to see change and make change an inspiring process. I wanted to collaborate with artists of different genres to articulate my craft. So often, it is the work of artists confronting the darkness and obstacles in our world that can ultimately (and occasionally abstractly) help us make sense of our place within it.
This moment in history — if we are listening and looking deeply with our whole selves — has the power to permanently shift our perceptions relationships with race, privilege, equity, empathy, and hope. Through art, and, in this case, through dance and movement, we can observe how physically — and compassionately confronting barriers and blocks can profoundly push us to reassess, improvise, and find a way forward…in our work, our art, and in ourselves.
To change, we must move, be it awkward, unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and (hopefully) enlightening. Because standing still is no longer an option.
The pandemic, however, has changed the way fashion is perceived — did it in any way translate/seep into your collection?
As we went through this pandemic, I am just even more appreciative of privilege I have of working with my team and with artisans around the world. My collection is empowered with a lot of hope and optimism for the future.
Sustainable fashion has become a buzzword in the last two years. What is your take on the same?
Sensible creations and mindful consumption have become my motto in the post-pandemic world. We can never go back to the way things were, if we did, it will be a shame.
Whether it’s the high fashion or the finest jewellery, countless hours are dedicated by artisans who carry the legacy of these crafts while creating each piece to perfection. This process can only be sustainable if it in turn acknowledges, enriches and empowers the person by giving due recognition to their craft. That to me is the true definition of luxury, with a focus to preserve and sustain the generations defying ancient crafts. And I was glad to be part of The Luxe Life with Tata CLiQ Luxury, a platform that not only resonates with these sentiments but brings conversations like this to mainstream audiences
You have been a part of the industry for long now — what has been your biggest learning in all these years?
I have learnt that one always has to think of the community and social equity. Real progress cannot happen unless we are progressive enough to include everyone’s story in the narrative, everyone that contributes to my process.
If there is one person you really wish to design for, who would that be?
If you had to pick one person who you feel carries your designs the best.. who would you name?
The pandemic also forced the fashion industry to go virtual. As a designer, what is your view of digital fashion shows vis-à-vis physical ones?
I think that technology was already making a strong progress in the world of fashion, but the pandemic has forced most of the professionals to accept technology as a great alternative. However, technology has a long way to go to become a substitute for the real feel and touch of textures. Also with restrictions on hosting social events, I greatly enjoy finding more creative ways to show my collections and tell my story, be it through strong imagery or a powerful short film.
One fashion trend you never understood.
The velour suits that were all the rage about a decade ago.
How much influence do you draw from your Indian roots when conceptualising and creating a collection?
My heritage is my creative foundation. Since I have moved to the West, I have built my aesthetic structure on that solid foundation of my heritage. I design for a global audience, but the influences of my Odia heritage is always present as a guiding line. Be it the colour story, textiles, conceptual details or the embroidery craftsmanship, my Indian heritage always provides me with an edge.