French connection


French connection

Manish Arora, the wild child of Indian design, is also the country’s most famous fashion export. On the 10th anniversary of his Paris Fashion Week debut, he tells Varun Rana what his time in the style capital has taught him

By Varun Rana  October 18th, 2017

It is undeniable that before Manish Arora hit Paris 10 years ago, there was nothing about Indian fashion that an international audience could really relate to. Before 2007, we had no global design identity compared to the signature aesthetics of designers from London, Paris, Milan, New York and Tokyo. But when Arora debuted in the world’s fashion capital a mere decade after launching his label, he made everybody sit up and take notice. Within the year, he had Kate Moss on the cover of Interview magazine wearing his elaborate studded mask, and Raquel Zimmermann fronted V Magazine in an embellished, appliquéd Manish Arora dress.

Since then the spry 45-year-old designer has not only garnered more magazine covers than he cares to count, but has become a regular and eagerly awaited name at Paris Fashion Week (PFW). He has also forged unique global collaborations with brands like Reebok, M.A.C, Disney, Swatch, and most recently, Swarovski. “My work lends itself to many kinds of expressions, not just clothes,” he says. In fact, he was the subject of a 2010 case study by the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore. “Beware, trespassers will be collaborated,” reads the last line of the document.

There is an enduring universality to his work that has translated into international success that no other Indian designer has achieved, yet. His carousel dress from Spring 2009, worn by Katy Perry, has become iconic, as has his butterfly dress from Fall 2009. In 2007, just before he started showing in Paris, he was part of the Victoria &Albert Museum’s Fashion in Motion show held in London. And in March this year, he celebrated his 10th anniversary at PFW with a show at the Grand Palais.

“I haven’t had the time to even think about it,” says Arora when I ask him to look back on this glittering decade. But you know it’s a lie. Today, his retail network spans over 80 outlets worldwide, not including his flagship stores in Delhi and Paris, and the one dedicated to his Indian by Manish Arora line—produced in collaboration with traditional-wear behemoth Biba—in Mumbai. He was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II in London earlier this year, and was knighted as a Chevalier de la Legion D’Honneur by the French government last year. He even plans to open three stores in China by the end of this year. This doesn’t happen to a person who’s not constantly thinking about his work—and I tell him as much.

“Yes, that’s true,” he admits. “Not many people know this, because I have this image, you see, of partying and staying up late—but I wake up between 6.30 to 7am, and I am at work before anyone else…by 8.30 or 9. I like to get my work done—and I don’t like working till late.” This, he says, was one of the best lessons he learnt in Paris. Apart from that, he says that showing in the French capital taught him how to plan a collection to suit his various markets in China, Japan and the Middle-East. “When I started showing internationally, was when I became disciplined,” he says.

Today, that discipline plays a leading part in the designer’s life. “Before I went to London [he showed in the British capital from 2005 to 2007] and Paris, I thought being a designer was all about becoming a successful rockstar, partying, and going to work late. Not anymore.” He credits his stint as creative director of the legendary label Paco Rabanne, which lasted from 2011 to 2012, as a turning point. It was there that he discovered the workings of a great fashion house, and brought that learning to bear on his own workplace. “I learnt that being a designer is a job, just like being a lawyer or a doctor. You have responsibilities and deadlines, and people depend on you.”

On the PFW calendar, Arora’s show is usually sandwiched between established names like Balenciaga, Chloé, Balmain, Carven, Rick Owens and Isabel Marant, each distinctive by their design aesthetic. That Arora stands out even from this august crowd is a testament not only to his ingenuity, but also the committed way in which he celebrates the craftsmanship of his home country. “In India, we have the world’s best textiles and embellishments. Nobody can do these better than us. And it’s my mission to use these techniques in a modern way—to make them more accessible to a global fashion consumer,” he says.

To that end, he is now working actively to #BringBackKashmiriSilk, a project he unveiled on his Instagram on Independence Day. “The younger generation, my friends’ fashion-conscious cool kids who will become the style setters of the future, don’t know what a kani shawl is. It’s too obscure and traditional for them,” he says. “I want to play with the motifs and colours and make it easy for them to wear our textiles and embellishments.”

Arora has also announced the launch of his first perfume in partnership with UK-based Designer Parfums. Named Ready to Love by Manish Arora, it’s set to hit stores next year. “I have more energy than ever before, and there’s lots to do,” he says. If he keeps going at this rate, just imagine what the next 10 years will bring. 

Photographs: Farrokh Chothia Styling: Gautam Kalra 

Hair and makeup: Luna Lakhar Dutt ( Kalyani Chawla, Mithu Sen, Ameet Sikka and Namrata Joshipura) makeup: Kajee Rai ( Noyonika Chatterjee, Sapna Kumar, Aparna Chandra, Sonam Kalra), Kiran (Koel Purie, Nandita Basu, Priya Paul and Payal Pratap); hair: Karna Rai, Amee Thomas and Dablu Kumar; assisted by: Kaveri Sharma and Garima Gupta (styling); location courtesy: The Leela Palace, New Delhi

Sonam Kalra - Singer

“Manish has the ability to see life in technicolour. Given his joie de vivre, it is fitting that he’s as celebrated and loved in Paris as he is in India, and the world over”

Noyonika Chatterjee - Model

“For Manish’s first show, he begged me to walk for him, in exchange for his collection, since he didn’t have enough funds. He came to pick me up from the airport in a humble Maruti 800. It was unbelievable”  

Kalyani Chawla - Entrepreneur

“With his creativity, he put India on the map. But more than anything, he is just as he was 20 years ago”

Sapna Kumar - Model

“At my mehendi, he was sleeping hungover on the beach in a bright yellow kurta, oblivious to the fact that some kids were doodling with mehendi on his feet”

Mithu Sen - Artist

“I first met Manish when we were both nominated for Provogue Society’s Young Achiever Awards, in our respective fields. Though neither of us won, we laughed and toasted our defeat together”

Nandita Basu - Designer

“I will never forget the day I saw his final collection in college. I hope he retains his madness. I am so honoured to be a part of this crazy genius world of his”

 

Ameet Sikka - Stylist

“Manish has saved and uplifted many a dull shoot of mine. He is a stylist’s dream”.  

Koel Purie - Actor

''I have been wearing Manish’s clothes since before he even had his label. Now, I can’t wait to wear his Paris collection in Paris”.

Namrata Joshipura - Designer

“He celebrates life every single day. He is disciplined and focused. I wish him more success, more crazy times and more Burning Mans” 

Payal Pratap - Designer

“When I was getting married, Manish arranged for a Lambretta scooter at my vidaai function and dressed it up eccentricaly. Everyone was taken by surprise and there was so much laughter as 
we drove away”

Priya Paul - Hotelier

“For the last 10 years, Manish and I have been bringing in the New Year together, and creating some of the most cherished memories”