From designing for his sister to dressing up Hollywood actors like Cate Blanchett, Salma Hayek and Sienna Miller to being a part of the CDFA Fashion Incubator programme and receiving the Young Innovator Award from the National Arts Club, Orissa-born, New York-based designer Bibhu Mohapatra has come a long way. An FIT graduate, assistant designer at Halston and design director for nine years at J. Mendel, his resume sounds pretty impressive but doesnít prepare you for his humble candour and unassuming nature. His love for sumptuous Indian fabrics, vibrant colours and traditional craftsmanship has slowly but steadily pushed him into the front ranks of NYCís emerging fashion pool. Not one to rest on his laurels, Mohapatraís sharp business acumen saw him launch his namesake label during the peak of global recession in 2009. His work was instantly noticed and appreciated by one and all. In Mumbai, to showcase some of the key pieces from his Spring 2012 collection, the very grounded and modest designer has a candid conversation with Malvika Sah about his Indian sensibilities, outlandish inspirations and his unapologetic love for everything luxe and beautiful.
What brings to you to India?
I am here for two reasons: the first part of my trip took me to Orissa where I worked with the state government on handloom textiles. I will be designing using the traditional weaving techniques of ikat and bandi work. I hope to bring out something that is modern and contemporary that will be introduced in the US in my new collection. The second part of my journey involves showcasing some of my key pieces from my previous collection at Le Mill, Mumbai.
Tell us a bit about the collection.
My Spring 2012 collection is all about strength and confidence which I feel are the main qualities of my ideal woman. My clothes make her feel empowered and comfortable in her own skin. I was inspired by Helmut Newton because his work is all about the power of women. I wanted to merge his ideas with my own to come up with this stuff that is so modern, sexy, young and fresh.
How have you included Indian sensibilities into this ensemble?
I am saving all that for my India-inspired collection that will be launched in India soon. My heritage is always with me.
What materials are you currently using?
I use natural materials like silks, cottons, kid leather, hand pleated chiffons, double-faced georgettes and metallic, all of which are re-interpreted in a modern way.
Your father is an engineer, your mom gifted you your first sewing machine. What role did your background have on your design sensibility?
It has kept me true to the technical aspects of vclothing and the understanding of colours. My dad helped me comprehend the rationale behind the how and why things work. I have always had a curious mind and often as a kid I would break open all toys to see how they worked Ė because of that I now understand the technicalities of making clothes three-dimensionally.
What inspires you?
I draw my inspiration from everywhere. I am occasionally stimulated by the fabric and sometimes by an odd idea which I sketch umpteen times before finalising it. To me itís all very organic. I donít have a specific formula about how I feel and design. Yes, I do love to drape and feel thatís the most essential key to designing Ė you can do flat sketches but if you donít have the knowledge of draping, the idea wonít work.
What is fashion to you?
It is my oxygen. I believe that we all unknowingly contribute to fashion in our own little ways, but when we start paying attention to it we refine it further. I feel every individual has that inherent fashion bone inside him or her but how they nurture and recognise it eventually becomes their personal style.
New York fashion world can be ruthless. How difficult was it to stand out on your own there?
It is very competitive but also a driving force because you have to keep re-inventing yourself. I personally donít get too caught up with what is happening around me as I am confident of my craft Ė what I have to say through it is more important to me.
How tough was it to start your own label during recession?
It wasnít planned, but it was a wise move because I was very cautious, realistic and careful about making my business decisions. And at that time not many people were coming out with new ventures, so I got a lot of attention.
Whatís Indian high-fashion, to you?
As a business venture, there is a long way to go. For it to go global and viral, it needs to have some sort of unity and organisation in India so that it can be marketed in the West. In fact, it would be a shame if the world outside doesnít see the incredible work that is happening in India.
Any Indian designers whose work has impressed you so far?
I love Rajesh Pratap Singh, Nachiket Barve and Sabyasachi. There is some interesting work coming out of India every season.
Have you styled any Bollywood celebrities?
We designed for Twinkle Khanna, but are being very strategic about doing work in Bollywood. I donít want my clothes to be everywhere. I believe in having one or two brand ambassadors who will be loyal to the brand. There are many beautiful women in Bollywood who inspire me and hopefully will eventually become my brand ambassadors. Fashion in Bollywood is very interesting and I especially love its traditional aspects. Recently I loved watching Aiasha but my old-time favourite though is the old Umrao Jaan, as it was done so meticulously.
Describe the woman whom you design for.
Someone who is educated, well-travelled, has a passion which is a part of her life. She uses beautiful clothes because she respects the craft and it empowers her.
Who rules in the designer in you Ė the economist or the artist?
I think itís all of them Ė the designer, economist and artist Ė all come together as one when I am designing. They are all a part of my whole personality.
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