New Delhi: Taking Indian fashion places, Rahul Mishra, is the first designer from the country to have presented at the Paris Haute Couture Week in 2019. Mishra has a digital showcase of his Haute Couture, Fall/Winter 20-21 collection titled 'Butterfly people,' with Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.
Even before slow fashion became fashionable, this champion of traditional textiles and Indian crafts focused on the '3 E's - Environment, Employment and Empowerment.' His philosophy is to create jobs via his design house to help local craftsmen in their own villages in order to develop a circular economic growth in their societies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis in the fashion industry, rendering millions of artisans and behind the scene workers jobless. In India, the migrant crisis which has reached devastating levels is a witness to this, with thousands of migrant workers being displaced during the lockdown. Mishra's collection is an ode to them and the belief that, "Maybe it is enough to live, to survive, to feed and support your family through the most unprecedented times in recent human history."
IANSlife interviewed the designer ahead of his show to get a sense of the collection and the sentiment behind it.
With the COVID-19 crisis, sustainability and eco fashion are in the spotlight like never before. Does the theme of this collection reflect this sentiment?
Mishra: Sustainability and Green Fashion has been an important topic during this decade; it has been discussed in various international forums for a long time, so it's not something new or in focus because of the pandemic. I believe the 'COVID-19 break' as I like to call it, has put a break on manufacturing, production, retail and consumption, giving us a chance to think about what we want our future to be.
COVID-19 has helped us with the realization that maybe we have too many things, things which are locked in cupboards where we don't end up using 90 percent of them. The entire movement of sustainability and helping the environment is picking up pace, there are now campaigns like 'Who Made My Clothes' amongst others which focus on this.
So COVID-19 is a catalyst for the positive changes we need to bring about. We need to realise we need a far more harmonious relationship with nature and should have a better rhythm with our environment. One should move away from over production and over consumption and I feel this crisis will have a positive impact on the future.
The biggest disservice is if we go back to a pre coronavirus normal in the post COVID-19 era.
With the global economic slowdown, how important is it for us to focus on supporting our local and traditional crafts and textile industry?
I think Gandhi Ji's talisman is important wherein he states that recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have ever seen and before you contemplate a step in any direction, think about how it will impact him; this is the mainstay of our brand. Which is why whenever I always work on the slowest process when creating anything-- hand crafted garments which take thousands of hours to make thereby employing and empowering many artisans.
The biggest collective problem the world is going to face is unemployment. A big section of society will be jobless, so Gandhi Ji's philosophy should be used as a tool to bring happiness and equality in society.
My collection is an effort in this direction as all my work is. During the pandemic despite supporting all my artisans, there was an insecurity creeping in their minds about what the future will hold. So this couture collection gives them and me hope and an idea that no matter what, the beauty of creating things which are inclusive, slow, include handmade processes and involve people, will create blessings and well wishes of the hundreds of people we work with.
So a particular garment symbolizes so many blessings and goodwill, that as a designer I'm not worried whether it will sell or not; for me the beauty is what it has brought to everyone who has made it. In today's world this is what is needed.
You have many firsts to your name, share with us the sense of pride and vindication you feel taking Indian fashion to places it's never been before.
I am very thankful to have so many firsts attached to my name, it's due to the well wishes of all the people I work with and the entire team. Whether it's the Woolmark Prize in 2008, first Indian designer to be invited to Paris Haute Couture and now it is a privilege to be the first Indian designer to be part of digital haute couture show at the highest global platform in the field of fashion; it's a historic moment for me.
I am very thankful to the Federation de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, to be accepted on the Calendar for which one of the conditions is to have a studio or atelier in Paris; I think I'm the only designer on the Calendar who doesn't have this and they have made an exception for me. I am very thankful to them, and this has been possible because of the beautiful craftsmanship which is part of my brand which is a hundred percent made in India.
My aim is to represent 'true India', which is different from the image of India of a stereotypical and traditional 1960s or 70s era, like too much embroidery and overuse colour. In 2020 I'm trying to push the thought of a new India. My collection is based on Indian craftsmanship, Indian know-how and skills.
Is it correct to assume that haute couture and the luxury segment will not be impacted by the economic slowdown and sentiments of the larger populace, being that they cater to a niche segment which remains relatively financially stable through times like this?
Through these times even I have often questioned why do we need another outfit, why do we need to create haute couture, the ultimate expression of luxury in the world?
My answer has been in front of me the entire time; the answer lies in the eyes of the artisans and the people I work with. My team's purpose. The existence of every piece of clothing which may even be pocket friendly should also have a larger purpose, else it is not sustainable.
For me haute couture becomes the finest and most needed form of fashion because it supports so many people who create it. It is made by humans and not machines, which creates employment and participation full of life and beauty.
So while I did question myself during this pandemic when people are facing the biggest crisis ever, why do we need haute couture, I think haute couture is needed more than ever before. It is needed by millions of people in craftsmanship and artisanal skills as it supports a huge number of skilled workers. It doesn't just employ them in the financial sense of taking care of the family's livelihood, but also brings him joy, satisfaction and a sense of achievement at an artistic level.
During the pandemic haute couture brings employment, engagement and empowerment for people. I do understand maybe it's not the best time for consumers to make a purchase, but on the other hand if such a large population of craftsmen need to be supported then the system needs to enable them.
One should support crafts in India which value handmade and artisanal creations, it could be the humble hand-woven sari or a hand-woven designer garment, this need is more than ever before.
Last and certainly not the least, is there a silver lining in this crisis?
This crisis has brought with it two things, one we have started thinking a lot more rationally and secondly we have all slowed down in pace. This was really needed, especially to get back into rhythm with nature, which we lost long ago. This is the biggest silver lining, to bring the rhythm of production and consumption back into harmony with nature and environment in a sustainable fashion.
When it comes to my business, I'm happy although I started working mid May when there was nothing much happening, we started our store in June and got queries and people supported us. Often when you are sitting and doing nothing there is far more fear, when you start working the positivity of work and team effort can enable you to overcome crises. This team is one's support and it's your family, your silver lining in any crises.
The designer signs off that the goodwill of the people and good business practices will make it all worthwhile. Along with launching his haute couture collection in the most prestigious of shows at Paris Haute Couture Week amidst the toughest of times, Mishra will also be launching his E-commerce platform where people from across the globe can get access to his beautifully hand crafted garments.