His old world...

Swati Rai

The year 2019 marks the 10th year anniversary of the house of Rahul Mishra, a laurel that the self-effacing designer carries lightly on his shoulders. The laurel has come along with several awards — the biggest of them being the International Woolmark Prize, the most recent being Ministry of Textile’s Threads of Excellence award that recognises him as global face of Indian fashion. The award comes close on the heels of his latest ‘Charbagh’ collection that was showcased at the Red Fort.

In the last 10 years, he has come a long way from his humble background. He grew up living with his grandparents in village Malhausi, 53 miles off Kanpur. From studying in a government school, he went on to gain a graduate degree in physics. It was sheer chance that he joined the National Institute of Design.

However, it was a scholarship from Istituto Morangoni for his debut collection, where he worked with handlooms from Kerala, that strengthened his belief in the need for artisanal empowerment.

Talking about his latest collection, Mishra says, “Char Bagh, which means four gardens in Persian, refers to the quadrilateral garden layout based on the four gardens of paradise.” While retaining the authenticity of traditional chikankari, the designer has played with techniques such as shadow stitch, bullion knots and French knots (known as bakhia, murri and phanda respectively). Taking inspiration from Mughal patterns, he explores the jaali technique in chikankari, adding to the grandeur of the range. Mukaish, badla, pearls and zari have also been added to enhance the texture. Translating age-old techniques into modern aesthetics, while retaining the old world charm, remains the designer’s abiding passion.

However, how then does the marriage between sustainability and commercial concerns last? The designer makes a valid point of unjustly negating the significance of the buyer of a handloom product in contributing to its sustenance. “I am like the orchestra conductor — the instruments are being played by the artisans and ground level worker. My task is to bring it to a crescendo. I take solace in the fact that we produce 100 per cent handcrafted handloom sartorial pieces.”

Mishra made his mark on the international circuit as the 2014 winner of the Woolmark Prize. Do the accolades and hectic timelines blur the creative vision? “All over the world, designers who can sustain this are the ones consumed by their passion for the craft. A genuine interest only ensures longevity.”

When an average handmade garment takes a thousand hours at his design house, what is Mishra’s opinion on the digital quickness of stealing a design? “I am right now in a tussle with a big brand. We have limited control over plagiarism. However, when big retail chains or companies start doing this in an organised way, how long can we keep quiet for?”

The esoteric question of ‘what’s original’ is also answered by the designer in his characteristic intuitive style: “We have an image bank of our memories that we recreate on the mood board. If you see it that way, nothing is original. The interpretation, personalisation and innovation are your contribution to a vision.”

For Mishra, this creative process and its realisation work across time zones. With a hectic schedule as his, what does he have to sacrifice? And he says he misses out on the parent time with his daughter. He works 24x7.

Chiselling his dream to have at least a million craftsmen in his company, Mishra is all set to show at the Paris Fashion Week in March, followed by multiple shows envisaged to mount the best of Indian couture across world stages. The designer thus carries forward his idea of ‘let craft lead the way’ and his commitment to craft reinterpretation in the contemporary lexicon.