Manish Arora talks the business of fashion at India design forum 2012:
“I had to grab attention before, I had to put myself into everyones minds internationally, it’s not easy. My being the only Indian fashion designer to consecutively show 14 shows In Paris, yet I’m from a country of 1.3 billion. For me it’s very important to take India and show it to the world, the world doesn’t need another Western designer, what they need is a modern Indian designer”
“You cannot think you can appear on page 3 and then you become a designer. Fashion is a business”. Manish Arora, India Design Forum, March 2012
When I arrived at Le Meridien Hotel in Delhi for the phenomenal Indian Design Forum, I met Manish Arora taking a few moments outside in the sunshine before his talk. He was wearing a smart black cotton bandgala buttoned over a metallic knit jumper in a vibrant mustard colour. He commented that he has toned down the colours he wears but ramped up the metallics- it looked great.
He had just finished two shows within the space of five days in Paris. One for his own label and one for Paco Rabanne where he has been Creative Director since early 2011.
For his own label Manish Arora Paris, the show was held on the banks of the Seine. A team of graffiti artists sprayed letters on a white wall as the models walked along a catwalk in front. As the guys with spray cans worked furiously, the final line up of models was made- each one stood in front of a letter which spelled out “Life is Beautiful”. This was synchronised both in time and colour, so what each model wore synchronised with the colours and graphics of the letter they stood in front of.
For AW/12 Arora’s signature use of acid brights in vivid contrasts was given a delicious twist by his collaboration with Brooklyn based street artist Judith Supine. Supine’s grammar of ethereal urban mythological creatures often have a feminist and environmental message and were transposed to Arora’s design using embroidery or prints, lush with the richness of couture detailing.
Some embroidered pieces had a background of black velvet bricks on a black satin background creating a richly monochromatic canvas on which embroidered gobs of colour emulated the drips and smears of paint that give graffiti its visual punch. It reinforced a different direction from Arora’s previous work, much more wearable and integrating diverse influences.
The silhouettes echoed those of his own label SS/12 collection where structured lady like cuts seemed to draw inspiration from the prim elegance of classic 1950s Dior. Cocoon shaped pencil skirts and demure boleros in black were the foil for bursts of energetic colour and texture. Because the collection was split into two distinct looks, the graffiti prints and the prints and embroideries inspired by Judith Supine’s mysterious street art, the silhouettes gave the collection as a whole an underlying unity.
At the IDF talk, which was just a few days after the show, Arora commented that his work as Creative Director for Paco Rabanne is a balance between showmanship and commerciality. This is also true of his own line. He’s grabbed attention on the international stage as the “Indian” designer; defined by exotic perceptions surrounding his country of origin- leveraging that very successfully. If you want Indian kitsch that’s what I’ll give you many of his collections seemed to shout. That has served him well, but now he has reached a level of success where paradoxically he can be far more interesting artistically by being far more commercial. The AW/12 catwalk collection showed clothes for women with an eye for the unusual rather than simply show clothes for Lady Gaga or Katy Perry.
Over at Paco Rabanne his second show as Creative Director didn’t have the wow factor of his first show, it wasnt meant to. The outré sculptural pieces which announced his arrival for the first collection, had evolved into clothes deliberately muted. As much as the first collection had been impractical this one was going for wearability and saleability. See the interview below for what he has to say on this. The design heritage of hard materials was referenced through boxy cuts but in soft leather and metallic fabrics rather than chain mail. It will be indeed be interesting to see what transpires in his third collection for the brand.
Before a packed audience at the India Design Forum in Delhi, Arora was in conversation with Priya Paul, presenting highlights of his career. Having done so much in terms of collaborations with brands ranging from Reebok to Nescafe there was plenty to discuss, as well as some of the process of being Creative Director for a famed French design house.
Highlights from the talk
PP: So what does it take to be Creative Director of Paco Rabanne?
MA: Being Creative Director means also being convincing to the team at my office! Being creative is one thing, but being Creative Director is another. That’s the difference. Creativity is there, but it’s about how you apply your creativity, and still convince everybody that you’re the right person at this point to be there
PP: Is that a difficult transition to be answerable?
It is, because I run two brands. I run two shows in Paris over five days, no other designer does that. But at the same time, it’s so enriching every day because you learn so much, and it puts you in your place.
…and in my own brand I have such freedom that sometimes it’s not right, but there I have five bosses on top of me, and I have to convince each one, in my own way, and still accomplish what I want for the show.
How do you keep these things separate, Manish Arora Brand, Fish Fry and Paco Rabanne, How do you manage to switch between these and make this happen?
It’s very simple, I live really two lives, it’s complicated, but it’s about planning well. They [the brands] are separate things and the only common person is me.
How do you transition between the two?
I finish my own show in the evening and the next morning I am in the office at Paco Rabanne.
So the reputation you have as a wild child, is not really true?
No discipline is very important. Being on time for a meeting is what makes you who you are, it’s about being disciplined.
The place, and the way the AW/ 12 show was done, seemed very casual, but you will see towards the end, the graffiti is ready ON TIME, it takes a lot of planning to do this.
Do you think you’ve toned down your palette?
I haven’t toned down my palette but I’ve adapted it. Its one thing to have fun, but it’s about selling too. Its doing what I believe in and getting buyers as well. Its tough but I’m on my way!
Your designs are beautiful but not everyone could wear a circus dress so there’s the need to adapt for a wider audience?
I had to grab attention before, I had to put myself into everyones minds internationally, it’s not easy. My being the only Indian fashion designer to consecutively show 14 shows In Paris, yet I’m from a country of 1.3 billion. For me it’s very important to take India and show it to the world, the world doesn’t need another Western designer, what they need is a modern Indian designer.
So how do you achieve that?
I use Indian craftsmanship to my advantage, but my imagery it’s very modern, for me it’s about modernising India, not Westernising India.
I’m trying to make Paco Rabanne, for the first show it was all about making news, and we did it very well now second show was where I’ve made news, now lets sell! The collection was about selling!
The third show will express the right balance between both, that will be my aim for the next collection, between the experimental and the commercial. I cannot make something all in metal, I have to make clothes for the modern woman who needs clothes that can go from the office to after work.
Turning metal into fabric is the biggest challenge, either to change or to use the just the right amount, just that amount that it’s still believable. It’s very difficult to make it relevant for now, it’s a big challenge.
What do you think would be the lessons for Indian designers?
You have to believe in your own design identity, and then you have to stick to it! And keep on at it until people believe in you. Fashion sometimes is not a job, and it’s more about being a star, and for me it’s not that, fashion is a job like being a lawyer. You cannot think you can appear on page 3 and then you become a designer. Fashion is a business.