Rahul Mishra, the spiritual designer who uses traditional Indian handcrafts and is followed by the global fashion community, shares how his life has changed after the prestigious International Woolmark Prize 2014
By Rosella Stephen
Rahul Mishra is in the business of compassionate fashion. His views on ‘slow and sustainable fashion’ are finding an audience across the world and influencers like Suzy Menkes (International Vogue editor) have handpicked him as a designer who proudly showcases his heritage, but with a global connect. ‘‘Fashion can always come up with good karma. And Rahul Mishra’s collection touched me,” is how she began her column on the Paris Fashion Week SS 2015, where Mishra made his debut in September. After his show, titled A Ferryman’s Tale and featuring traditional arts from Japan and Indian craftsmanship, the designer met up with Menkes, where he shared, “My idea is slow fashion – I want to slow down the process of making clothes to make them far more beautiful.” His ‘organza meets 3D patterns’ story was inspiring, with blooms showing up on semi-sheer skirts, much of it in Merino wool. They were handmade in rural India and the world was loving it.
Counting the days
For Mishra, the past 10 months have been a crazy whirl of activity, after he became the first Asian to win the International Woolmark Prize in Milan. Between endless meetings with buyers, he has found plum retail spots like Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Harvey Nichols in London, 10 Corso Como in Milan and Colette in Paris. ‘‘It has been one of the biggest career shifts, to launch in the biggest stores around the world. For one man to do all this seems impossible,” Mishra allows. Recalling the positive media support over the last few months, he admits that it can pile on the pressure. ‘‘‘You must remember this name, ’’’a leading international newspaper said. Big agencies in Paris were willing to work with us. All the fashion weeks invited us, but we wanted to go slow. So we chose Paris. And I met Suzy Menkes. It was very overwhelming,” he recalls, adding that they get calls from international students from leading institutes every day. Incidentally, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent tied for the first Woolmark prize in 1954. Mishra has got where he is in just 10 years, while an iconic Indian designer like Manish Arora made it from London Fashion Week to Palais de Tokyo the long and hard way. Expectations must be high, we wonder. ‘‘I can only control what I am doing now. The past is done with and I don’t know what the future holds. If you can live in the present, there won’t be any pressure whatsoever,” is his easy comeback.
Mishra, 34, who will be bringing his Woolmark line to Evoluzione next week, says, ‘‘I want to be the same person I was last year, easily accessible and humble. I believe that success is because of a certain strength and if you lose it, there is no point whatsoever.” It has been only work, no play for Mishra and his lovely wife, Divya, since his big win, and people who know him are not surprised. After all, this is a man who begins his day with a long prayer, who thrives on hard work and is used to winning. He won best student designer at NID in 2005 and a scholarship to study at Istituto Marangoni in Milan a few years later. Tina Malhotra, the charming owner of the multi-brand boutique Evoluzione, recalls her first meeting with Mishra, when he made his Lakme Fashion Week debut in 2006. ‘‘There was no one in his stall. But his reversible clothes were beautifully engineered, with every line in sync. The next year, there were many people around him, and soon he became Rahul Mishra, the man who understands textures and begins from the fabric itself, when constructing garments.” Reiterating the views of many leading fashion designers in the country, she is proud that he has made it ‘‘on his own, with no help or social connections.”
For his Woolmark and Paris Fashion Week lines, Mishra created highly functional dresses, skirts and jackets with lightweight Merino. His restrained palette of white, yellow and grey were a refreshing departure from the bright pinks and reds one is accustomed to seeing from an Indian designer. Clearly, the Woolmark judges, Frida Giannini of Gucci, celebrity fashion writers Colin McDowell and Alexa Chung, were impressed. ‘‘Though Indian skin can carry off most colours, I am better able to express myself with black and white or white on white. I save my colours for Indian wear,” shares Mishra. As for motifs, the Buddhist-inspired lotus seen on his designs have deeper meaning. ‘‘I like the lotus for it is pristine, gentle and indicates humility. And I like imperfection too. Everything that is perfect, be it the square, circle or rectangle, is non-living. Imperfection is a metaphor for life. The lotus is perfect, yet slightly imperfect. I like that duality,” he shares.
The balancing act
Malhotra observes that Mishra is easy to work with and open to criticism and praise. ‘‘He has a great future and I hope success does not go to his head. Also, fashion evolves and he has to be in sync both nationally and internationally where it is a cut-throat world. He has shifted base from Mumbai to Delhi where the fashion infrastructure is better. Every day is a learning experience and he knows this.’’ Part of Mishra’s learning curve was a quick visit to Australia, to the source of Merino wool. ‘‘The farm visit was inspiring and humbling… and has convinced me even more why wool is the perfect sustainable fibre for the future, not just for winter but warmer months as well,” said Mishra, who has been confidently promoting his new transeasonal fibre – Merino wool woven in Chanderi – for hot cities as well. ‘‘It is an amazing fibre, far more comfortable in heat and dries faster, is breathable, and you don’t need to wash it as much,” shares the man with the Gandhian design philosophy, who has third editions of his collections only to sustain weaving communities.
Power of change
With a strong belief in fashion as a catalyst for social change, Mishra is encouraging craftsmen and embroiderers living in Mumbai’s slums to return to their villages and work for him. He also has a mentorship of sorts with fashion portal, Myntra. ‘‘We have a one year incubation for participants. Our education system kills creativity. There are too many rules. They should be fearless and lose their inhibition. I enjoy conducting creative workshops. It pays to be a lot more articulate in every career,” he says, also working on a capsule collection called Dressberry for Myntra, who supported his Paris Fashion Week debut. ‘‘We get innovative because of boundaries. I believe in selling stories and philosophies. I may not read much, but I read quotes from Steve Jobs and Rumi. And the movie I watch over and over again is Dead Poet’s Society, where Robin Williams plays English teacher John Keating. I love his quote: ‘We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.”’
Willing to create videos so more people can share the technique he used to create his new wool fibre, Mishra admits that luxury, to him, is very straightforward. ‘‘To me, is about doing things at a slow pace, with creativity and sustainability. A piece of cloth can get more beautiful when it creates a job. Ultimate luxury works in storytelling and participation, not just consumption.”
At Evoluzione from December 10. priced from Rs.20,000. Details: 28333627
Mishra finds inspiration in animation, from Kung Fu Panda to Ratatouille. And picture books on art, craft and architecture. His winning line for Woolmark was influenced by Dutch graphic artist M C Escher. He enjoys the work of filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan and wants to be optimistic. However, he is Gandhian at heart and hopes to set up Public Design Centres some day, to help the rural population. ‘‘You need a movement like Gandhiji’s,‘‘ he says,‘‘ to understand that design is a totality, not just a product.‘‘
The better half
Friends of the designer admit to his wife’s positive influence on him. ‘‘Divya is my critic and muse and is already disliking my previous collection, which helps my creativity. She is very informed about international trends. I am mechanical and scientific in my approach, Divya brings in beauty. Where I work on technique, she brings in femininity. She has taught me to be very spiritual and calm. She was my junior at NID, when I was passing out, and it was easy for me to show off a bit.‘‘