Rahul Mishra’s message in a bubble

Outfits from the Paris Couture Week Fall collection   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Rahul Mishra has found inspiration in the jungle scenes of Henri Rousseau and in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the past. But on Wednesday, at Paris Couture Week Fall 2021, he turned to impressionist painter Claude Monet and a 2019 holiday in Santorini. Mishra and his young family had explored the popular Greek island, with its volcanic views and fire-orange sunsets, on foot. Almost two years later, he is still grateful for his daughter’s sense of wonder. ‘‘Why is the water so orange?’’ Aarna, then four, had asked him, during a luminescent sunset in Oia. Why is the sky so blue? “It made me more attentive and curious,” admits the Delhi-based designer to The Hindu Weekend, recalling the city with “its curved edges and buildings seemingly shaped by the wind, with the blue of the sky on domes and doors”.

In February, Mishra, 41, pulled up the photos from that trip, tracing the bougainvillea swelling up with the breeze, and the crest of a wave. He now understood a quote by Monet on the challenge of painting air on canvas. “I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house, and the boat are to be found,” Monet had told journalist Herman Bang in 1895. Mishra considered how elements like water, fire and earth defined the air in Santorini, then began painting and hand-embroidering the houses from his travel album, juxtaposing them as one would Lego blocks.

Rahul Mishra

Rahul Mishra   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

He imagined an architect standing on a roof in this ‘fabric city’, tracking the sun sinking into the sea, the domes, alleys and stairs. It was his interpretation of the island, “not a poster you would find in a souvenir shop”. His team worked on mille feuille dresses and flirtatious organza gowns, with a truckload of tulle, layered, pinched and shaped into scallops, and the collection got its name: The Shape of Air, after Monet. Since travelling to Paris seemed difficult and “irresponsible” in the middle of the pandemic, Mishra got started on the digital film. After all, while Dior, Giorgio Armani Privé, Chanel, Balenciaga, Zuhair Murad and Vaishali S were staging live-streamed runway events, about 24 brands were going with the digital format.

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Shaking things up

A designer of delightful contrasts, to whom ASAP means As Slow As Possible, and who takes pride in the thousands of man hours and the “mad processes’’ that go into each garment, Mishra wanted a departure from his recent fashion films. After January’s mushroom-themed collection — shot at a marble dump yard in Rajasthan, almost overwhelming in its stark whiteness — he opted for a black box.

Santorini’s cityscape translated on fabric

Santorini’s cityscape translated on fabric  

“Every ‘cut’ ended with our small group cheering each other. It felt like a ritual that gave us power, strength, resilience and hope,” he says about the film that got made on June 30 at Laxmi Studio, Noida. The last few months have been especially difficult for Delhi residents, with the city reeling under a brutal second wave of the pandemic. “This is the time to be a little aggressive, shake things up and move against inertia. I wanted to involve more people, and collaborate with those who needed to get back to work,” says Mishra, who welcomed Nikhil D of talent agency Feat.Artists and Mumbai-based artist Ruchi Bakshi Sharma, known for her kinetic sculptures, on board. He has included them as well as his tailors and embroiderers in the end credits of his six-minute film.

At Paris Couture Week on July 7, The Shape of Air opened with a model striding towards the camera in a 3D hand-embroidered Hunchback cape set (₹1,08,500, to be shipped in 45 days). It represented the bubble of air around the cityscape of Santorini, and if you looked closely you’d see embroidered buildings, bougainvillea and water bodies inside it. To complete the outfit, sheer trail pants were layered over sequinned wide-legged trousers (Mishra says his tailors jokingly referred to them as mosquito nets!).

Zendaya in a Rahul Mishra outfit

Zendaya in a Rahul Mishra outfit   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

His experiments with tulle added fluidity to the dresses, tier-sleeve jackets and bustier gowns (₹2,49,500). A French knot expert since his International Woolmark Prize in 2014, this NID alumnus had his team of 200 (in Delhi-NCR, with the rest reportedly adding up to a 1,000) experiment with every type of embroidery possible. And while buildings aren’t new on his garments — he recently added New York cityscapes on jackets and dresses, way before Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton tribute to Paris and Chicago — here they are lighter and translucent. Tessellated clouds (a nod to graphic artist MC Escher) are joined by the fluffy white organza version, many sheltering blooms.

Only haute couture

Interestingly, the last few years have seen Mishra switch over completely to haute couture, a move that he says makes for better business and sustainability. “We are fully couture now, be it gowns, lehengas, midis, jackets, anything else, and they are consistently working. I don’t want to worry about S, M, L sizes and wait for 60% to sell, then wonder about the rest. I would rather work on beautifully created pieces with clients who want it for themselves, and co-create with them,” he insists.

What he learnt this season
  • “Pattern-making, the construction of exaggerated sleeves and bubble outfits. Giving lightness to embroidery, architecture that is almost transparent,how to research city planning. And filmmaking: lighting, reflection and refraction.”

A travel-inspired collection is always welcome these days, even if Santorini reached its saturation point with tourism much before the pandemic. What will be interesting to see is how stylists across the world interpret this collection, especially the fussier, voluminous pieces. Going by the memorable floor-length leaf jacket actor Zendaya wore last year after Mishra’s first show at Paris Couture Week, we may be in for some pleasant surprises.

Twitter: @rosellastephen | Instagram: rosella.stephen

Rahul Mishra’s message in a bubble

Collabs and building houses

Mishra has been studying architecture for two years now, and will get started on his ‘passive home’ (a sustainable building standard) project next week. He will be joined by his wife, Divya Bhatt Mishra, fellow NID graduate, who has taken over much of Mishra’s production duties. They plan to collaborate with Tata Steel, so expect a lot of steel and recycled wood in the design. He has also been researching the contributions of Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Tadao Ando and Kerala’s sustainable architect, Vinu Daniel.

On the work front, you could say Mishra introduced the WFH concept seven years ago, when he championed reverse migration among many of his artisans (to improve their quality of life). He is famously known for his work-life balance. It’s been 12 years in the industry for this earnest designer from Malhausi, a village near Kanpur, yet he prefers a quiet night with his family and the 4K projector in his basement over the party circuit. When asked if he plans to take the corporate route (Aditya Birla Fashion’s strategic partnership with Tarun Tahiliani and Sabyasachi made headlines a few months ago) he is quite blunt, “I have been approached a lot during the last two years. I like being what I am and in relation to these corporates, I am very small. But I know small is beautiful, powerful, nimble. For example, I overshot my budget for this show, about 10 times, and didn’t have to take any approvals.” That said, RTW is on the cards as a collaborative effort with a high street brand and his tie-up with conscious beauty brand, Asa Beauty, for the digital film may also result in a make-up line.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 5:39:14 PM |

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