India's most rebellious designers on their favourite ELLE moments
by Kavita Mohandas Rao
Whether it's the kitschiness of a Manish Arora design, or the futuristic silhouettes of Amit Aggarwal, or the 'disruptive' energy of a Gaurav Gupta cocktail dress, we've come to expect nothing less but anarchy, nay artistry, from the three most rebellious designers on the Indian fashion landscape. As ELLE completes 20 years, we wanted to celebrate their special brand of unusual and our association over the years. "ELLE's editorial content contributes to the ever-changing fluid idea of fashion," says Manish Arora, while Amit Aggarwal adds, "ELLE's spirit of daring narrative helps readers look beyond the conventional areas of fashion." On why ELLE is the perfect match for his design rebellion, Gaurav Gupta says, "ELLE stands for truth and boldness. It stands for talent and offers a real representation of who we are."
Flip through the gallery for a glimpse at just what makes these artists tick.
Designers' photographs by Nishamth R.
If hedonism took sartorial form, it would sport Manish Arora’s label. “My designs are a celebration of life in all its glory,” he explains. “Whether it’s the excitement of Burning Man or the thrill of an adventure on the other side of the world, every experience stirs up a whirl of emotions that I attempt to translate into design.” Arora’s life must be rich indeed, because every piece of his offers a carnival’s worth of psychedelic vibrancy.
While Indian design is no stranger to kitsch and colour, Arora marks its outer boundary and defines its superlative degree. The designer’s manic cross-referencing of influences and techniques gives India’s design scape a shot of madness. Luckily, for Arora, it is firmly anchored in method and serious design chops. In his words, “I have a penchant for detailing and an innate love for eccentricity. Think vibrancy, quirk and impeccable artistry.”
For a visual run-through of Arora’s aesthetic, check out an ELLE editorial called The Trip, from the December 2014 issue. Arora calls it his “favourite editorial of all time”. “I turned stylist and was shot in my Paris home by Dirk Bader, with model Bhumika Arora. It was the perfect canvas to showcase my psychedelic, dramatic, unbridled and absolutely OTT design sensibility.”
Could he pick one collection that stretches that sensibility to its limit? “I think my most innovative and audacious line is yet to come,”
Amit Aggrawal has an affinity with the intangible. For his favourite moments with ELLE, for instance, the designer doesn’t choose an editorial or award, but instead: “a meeting with Malini [Banerji] in a factory in Okhla, Delhi, that started our relationship, Nonita’s [Kalra] hug after the loss of my dog, and an evening of drinks in frozen Paris with Aishwarya [Subramanyam].”
Perhaps Aggarwal’s gift lies in the fact that he never takes beauty for granted. In fact, the transience of beauty, its ability to change shape and substance, is a recurring theme in the designer’s collections. “Amorphous forms have been my area of interest for the longest time,” he says. “I like the anonymity of a shape and the wonder it creates for our eyes. The shape-shifting forms in my work depict the very nature of the women they are made for, someone who doesn’t stick to an identity and enjoys the unforeseen.”
Aggarwal’s work has been called futuristic, thanks to his exquisite technique that combines movement and structure. They’re just made for cover shots, as Sonam Kapoor proved in the October 2013 issue; or take into account the black couture dress on the August 2009 cover with Katrina. “It’s a great feeling to see a garment designed at our studio as the face of a magazine that you love,” Aggarwal says. Another one for the archives was the January 2016 cover with Jacqueline Fernandez standing primly in an AM.IT outfit made of recycled plastic. The covers couldn’t be more different, and yet, they bear Aggarwal’s signature—they all give in to curiosity with childlike awe and mature mastery. For someone who deals in the ephemeral, Aggarwal could give us all a lesson or two in timelessness.
Ask Gaurav Gupta which of his creations are the flag-bearers of his brand, and he answers in a heartbeat, “The disruptive cocktail dresses.” Come to think of it, ‘disruptive’ could very well apply to anything that the designer has ever darted a needle through. Take the sari, for instance. “95 per cent of the Indian market is skewed towards ethnic wear,” he says, “but I couldn’t do the same thing that we have being doing for 5,000 years.” So, he borrowed the silhouette of the sari, and draped it into something we had never seen before—Grecian toga-saris, stitched sari gowns, sari-lehengas.
We sensed his restlessness and resolve when he returned from Turkey 10 years ago to set up his own label. In our first feature, styled by Edward Lalrempuia, Gupta stares defiantly into the camera, with what he calls “a young and angry energy.” It was the run-up to Wills Lifestyle Fashion Week, and we had announced his arrival on the scene. “The article is very close to me and was a landmark piece. It gave me a lot of confidence,” he reminisces.
Over the past decade, Gupta has become the go-to couturier for anyone who wants to make a statement. His sculptural pieces are packed with detail and daring, pieces of art unhindered by the dictates of time and place. That would explain why ELLE’s couture editorials always catch his eye. “I love ELLE’s couture shoots, especially those styled by Mohan [Neelakantan] and Malini [Banerji]. They are so iconic.”
With one of the most-coveted labels in the country and designs that seemingly advertise themselves, we wonder what’s next for the designer. “World domination. [Laughs] Just kidding.” Maybe not.