Woolmark Prize-winning designer Rahul Mishra deconstructs his design philosophy
One that shaped his journey from a sleepy village in Kanpur to the runways of Paris
Rahul Mishra is waiting for his order of fries and cold coffee to arrive when we meet at his Kala Ghoda store in Mumbai; dressed in black, the Delhi-based designer has just finished judging the Circular Design Challenge at Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2019, and is refuelling quickly before he makes his way back to the front row. His heart, however, is still at home. Mishra’s daughter, Aarna, is his whole world now, and the new father has adjusted his workday to just five or six hours to spend more time with her. “It’s very rightly said that kids need their parents differently at different times in their lives. When she is a teenager, she will not need us as much, then I will probably get 18 hours to work,” he laughs.
Designer Rahul Mishra‘s decade-long contribution to fashion lies in his singular focus on craftsmanship and interplay of textures
Designer Rahul Mishra often plays with techniques such as shadow stitch, bullion knots and French knots
All clothing and accessories, Rahul Mishra. On Chemi (right): Leather heels, Vanilla Moon Decor: Carpet, The Carpet Cellar
Unable to stop himself, Mishra pulls up paintings made by Aarna on his phone, scrolling through them with a smile. On whether his three-year-old daughter has a natural knack for design and art, he says “I think every child does; our education kills curiosity and creativity, and our expectations from our children also kill the creativity they are born with.”
In fact, Aarna’s affinity for watercolours has inspired the maverick designer to start painting too. “Growing up, I didn’t have paints to play with, I would draw things with white chalk. So I could always sketch, but I never really learnt how to paint,” he says. Mishra grew up in Malhausi, a small village 92km outside Kanpur, and his childhood couldn’t be more different from his daughter’s. “There was no electricity, no television. I spent most of my time observing things, drawing them and redrawing them.” However, design was never a real possibility or a practical career choice, in his mind. In fact, it was on the very cusp of a lifetime of science, after he got a degree in physics from Kanpur University, that Mishra finally decided to run away from home to pursue his dream. He found himself in Delhi, where he stayed with his sister and began applying to design schools. He wanted to learn film-making, but that required a background in humanities. His science background meant he could learn about apparel and that led him straight to fashion design at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad.
“Admission into NID changed everything,” he says. Taken aback by the talent there, Mishra started working doubly hard to keep up. The slog eventually translated into his very first collection: a line of reversible garments inspired by Kerala. He worked directly with handloom clusters, staying with the artisan families for 20 days, learning from them; his collection won him the first prize at the gen-next showcase at Lakmé Fashion Week in 2006. Before he knew it, Mishra was on his way to Milan to study at Istituto Marangoni on a scholarship. “An idea can change your life,” Mishra muses, more than a decade after he created that first award-winning collection. In fact, his much-acclaimed International Woolmark Prize win (2013-14) was also a tipping of the hat to his beginnings; the collection he presented before the jury bore a marked resemblance to the one he created as a student at NID.
Mishra became the first Indian to ever win this coveted design honour, beating out some of fashion’s biggest stars. He says, “People began introducing me differently: ‘Meet Rahul Mishra, he has won the Woolmark Prize and Joseph Altuzarra lost to him!’ It was a feeling I’ll never forget.” As emotional as Mishra was, he recalls that his wife, Divya, was just as stoic. “But she had tears in her eyes after my first ever show at Paris Fashion Week in 2015,” he says. Since then, Rahul Mishra has been a regular fixture at Paris Fashion Week.
Constantly evolving, along with its founder, brand Rahul Mishra hinges on product and process. He elaborates, “Process—whether slow fashion or cutting-edge—is determined by my product. Since I’m designing in India, I have a responsibility in terms of sustainability, of generating employment. This mandates a certain slowness.” The unhurried style of embroidery and handloom is a perfect fit with Mishra’s philosophy, one that has remained unchanged over a decade later. On the things that are different, he says that now he’s enjoying taking his time, rendering the design process even slower. Also, over time, he has become braver. “When I see Aarna react to things, when I see her create things without being worried about how they look, I learn from her. I am ready to take risks. I don’t want to do things that people expect out of me.” From a more mechanical design process, Mishra has moved on to one that is a lot more free-flowing, more artistic.
To put it another way, he’s come into his own. From being an outsider to a pioneer, now Mishra not only affords himself the freedom to be inspired—everything from Rumi’s poetry to a solitary lotus floating along unlocks his spectacular mind—but also the courage to surrender to whimsy. All the while staying true to his foundational ideals of sustainability and the magic of handloom.
India Couture Week 2018
Spring /Summer 2019
PHOTOGRAPHS : UMA DAMLE, Imaxtree.com/ 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Gulshan Sachdeva (India Couture Week)
STYLING : PUJARINI GHOSH
HAIR AND MAKE-UP: BLOSSOM KOCHHAR COLLEGE OF CREATIVE ARTS AND DESIGN
MODELS: TANYAH SABHARWAL, KARINA KAPIHA, RADYLLA FERNANDES/MULTITALENT INDIA AND EVENTS PVT LTD, TENZIN CHEMI, NIHARIKA GURJAR/NINJAS MODEL MANAGEMENT, PALAK THAKUR/ANOKHI TALENTS, ELIZABETH MECH/KAY SAVIO YHOME SCOUTING, YASHVI MEHRA/NEW FACE DEVELOPMENT SCHOOL OF INDIA, MANDEEP SINGH/PURPLE THOUGHTS, TROYEE BARUA
ASSISTED BY: ANEESHA BAWEJA AND SIDHARTH MEHTA (STYLING)
LOCATION COURTESY: FASHION DESIGN COUNCIL OF INDIA, NEW DELHI