Manish Arora- 1 in a million

Little attention has been paid to the reasons behind Manish Arora’s appointment as creative director of Paco Rabanne, a story that reveals, perhaps, the growing importance of India as a luxury market in its own right.

Manish Arora for Paco Rabanne SS/12

Indian by Manish Arora SS/12

 Almost a year ago Indian designer Manish Arora was appointed as creative director of Paco Rabanne. Where hitherto India has been internationally perceived as a sourcing hub for Western design, the appointment by a European luxury brand of an Indian designer attracted much attention, since this was considered a significant first. Little attention however, has been paid to the reasons behind this appointment, a story that reveals, perhaps, the growing importance of India as a luxury market in its own right.

 To recap, Paco Rabanne is the famous French design house, started by its eponymous Spanish designer in 1966. It produces a fragrance for men called 1 million, plus a version for women-Lady Million. The bottles these fragrances  come in, are simple statements of decadence, no added diamonds, crystals, elaborate stoppers or other such conspicuous markers. Instead, the packaging pays homage to the diverse and often difficult materials Rabanne became famous for using in his haute couture.

 Rabanne made dresses made of metal pieces joined together, uncompromising and visionary. His debut collection was called “12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials” and has become a reference point for a golden era of modernist haute couture which saw designers such as Rabanne and Pierre Cardin create futuristic uniforms from unusual materials for a fantasy sci fi future. The Paco Rabanne fragrance packaging represents a small slice of this materials-oriented design heritage with packaging that looks like a gold bar, the simple tactile smoothness of the hard, smooth surface, weighty shape making a statement all of its own.

 Along with solid packaging come solid financial results: Paco Rabanne is owned by Spanish luxury group Puig, which also includes brands such as Carolina Herrera and Nina Ricci in its brand portfolio. In 2011, Puig reported that its net revenues for 2010 were in excess of 1.2 Billion Euros. Operating profit had increased by 89%.

 Puig is especially well known for its ranges of fragrances and these are driving the enormous profitability of Puig. In 2010, Puig increased its market share to 7%, making it number seven within the global perfumery market. The phenomenal success of Paco Rabanne fragrances is significant to this growth pattern, especially its men’s fragrance 1 Million, which has remained in luxury fragrance bestseller lists since 2008. Lady Million is also a constant on best seller lists.

 And then into this mix comes Manish Arora, an Indian designer who has most successfully bridged the divide between the rarified nature of the catwalk and the hard commerce of branding.

 Arora has produced collaborations with brands such as Reebok, Swatch, Swarovski and Nespresso; these have given him wide exposure and provided the sponsorship necessary for the highly costly business of brand development and showing regularly at international events such as Paris Fashion week. He is especially known for his vivid reinterpretations of Indian craft skills such as embroidery and beading.

 In the business of fashion, creative genius needs to be matched with sound business sense, and Arora has the combination down to a tee. Despite his commercial successes, Arora has retained his reputation as a designer whose catwalk designs make forays into the more avant garde, experimental and challenging spectrum of haute couture. However, having made his name through hyperbolic representations of India in his couture, including a circus themed catwalk show in Paris, where monkeys swung off models with fun fair carousels forming skirts (Britney Spears later wore one of these creations for her “Circus”-themed tour), Arora has shown greater depth and a certain reserve in his most recent collections. In his own label Manish Arora Paris AW/11 collection (the first under his own name after having been appointed creative director of Paco Rabanne), his chromatic pop art sensibility was complimented by more sophisticated use of metallic leather, demonstrating the coming of age of a designer comfortable with the mastery of his craft.

Indian by Manish Arora AW/10

Indian by Manish Arora AW/11

It’s not surprising then, that Manish Arora, an Indian designer, should have been appointed by a famous French fashion house to design a prêt line. Firstly he is well known to Paris catwalks, having shown in Paris regularly since his debut there in 2007. Secondly, Manish Arora’s use of surface ornamentation in excessive and avant garde ways which create challenging silhouettes and textures has enormous continuity with the design heritage of Paco Rabanne whose design signature rests upon the use of unusual materials, which produced iconic products such as the L 69 chain-linked bag made from stainless steel pieces linked together, which retails for around R 80, 000.

L 69 Metallic chain link in "oil slick" finish

But lets cut to the chase. A luxury fashion brand without haute couture is in danger of losing its cachet (Paco Rabanne retired from the brand in 1999 in order to pursue other creative interests). Hence Puig has appointed Arora under the banner that this signifies the “rebirth” of the Paco Rabanne brand as a fashion label. Arora strikes the right balance between the artistic heights of haute couture and the ability to translate his esoteric creative vision into covetable ready to wear and accessories. Puig were unable to comment at this point in time, but speculation can be made as to the benefits to Puig of hiring a designer who is not only well-received on Paris catwalks, but who is also something of a national treasure on the Indian sub-continent. Here it can be noted that of Puig’s hefty net revenues, 75% come from International markets.

 If Arora is now a regular fixture at Paris fashion week, with his Indian line, its not unlikely that in time Manish Arora’s prêt line for Paco Rabanne might appear at Lakme or Wills fashion weeks, providing massive exposure for the Paco Rabanne brand in India. The potential for crossovers between French ateliers and Indian craft traditions is also an interesting one.

 One thing may be sure, these are turbulent economic times in Europe. Asian markets increasingly dominate the annual sales figures of luxury conglomerates. So, like a guruji leading his eager firangi disciples to Nirvana, Manish Arora is a one in a million designer who will no doubt help to sell more of a 1 million fragance line.

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