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The Indian master of haute couture dreams of the “impossible” for Paris

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Noida (India) (AFP) – As he ties together the final threads for his latest collection for Paris Fashion Week, celebrated Indian fashion designer Rahul Mishra draws inspiration from France – and fellow professor from another era.

“I want to achieve the impossible, I want to paint the air,” he told AFP, quoting Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

Both men are known for their artistic love of depicting nature – Monet on canvas, and Mishra for his luxurious haute couture gowns, honored for their embroidered floral hues and petal patterns.

Mishra’s designs are a staple of the world’s leading fashion magazines where they have been designed by movie stars such as Cate Blanchett and Michelle Yeoh.

Dozens of designers, tailors and artisans worked in his new atelier near India’s capital, New Delhi, putting the finishing touches on a “Cosmos” collection that will debut on the Paris runway on Monday.

Some sit on mats in front of an embroidery frame and stitch floral designs onto thin sheer fabric, a painstaking project that speaks to the power of Mishra’s creative vision.

Mishra’s designs are inspired by 19th century French and Impressionist painter Claude Monet © Argent Sharma/AFP

“I dream a lot, I often get lost in a new world, in some kind of fantasy,” said the 43-year-old, dressed in casual clothes, as he moved between work tables to introduce his colleagues to work.

“I go back and share it with my team, talk to them, talk to them… And then that dream becomes a shared dream, and everyone starts to believe in that idea.”

Mishra’s silhouettes have become sexy and regal since winning the International Woolmark Prize – one of the fashion world’s biggest awards – in 2014.

The French Fashion Federation included his work in the Parisian ready-to-wear show in the same year, and in 2020 he became the first Indian to participate in the Haute Couture program.

natural interests

Nature was Mishra’s constant inspiration, starting at the age of ten when he felt compelled to paint the blooming flowers and landscapes of his rural hometown.

Mishra’s most enduring design inspiration was nature © Argent Sharma/AFP

Without a mentor and a doctor father to push him into a more stable career, Mishra almost gave up his haute couture dreams before dropping out of college in science.

He attended the National Institute of Design, India’s leading creative arts academy, before studying in Milan, the Italian fashion capital.

His recent artistic triumphs show how little he has strayed from his roots.

A highlight of last year’s Tree of Life collection was a sleeveless floral dress adorned with an abundance of 120 colors in the couturier’s interpretation of spring.

“These have to be the most colorful pieces I have ever made,” he said, adding that each maxi dress represented 5,000 hours of work.

Without a mentor and father who is a doctor to push him towards a more stable career, Mishra almost gave up on his fashion dreams.
Without a mentor and father who is a doctor to push him towards a more stable career, Mishra almost gave up on his fashion dreams. © Argent Sharma/AFP

Items in the collection sold for as much as €12,500 ($13,500) once it went on sale.

“There are hardly 200 artists across India who are capable of handling this kind of multicolored work,” he added. Copying an original piece is much more difficult than creating it.

Celebrate mistakes

Mishra is now focused on building a global presence, and in March he will launch a new ready-to-wear collection in Europe.

Mishra's ambition is to build an alternative to fast-fashion giants like Uniqlo and Zara, using India's endless pool of textile talent.
Mishra’s ambition is to build an alternative to fast-fashion giants like Uniqlo and Zara, using India’s endless pool of textile talent. © Argent Sharma/AFP

Its first European store will open in London later this year through a joint venture with Indian conglomerate Reliance, a major distributor of luxury brands that has exclusive relationships with Balenciaga and Armani.

But his ambitions ultimately hinge on building a “serious enough” alternative to fast-fashion giants like Uniqlo and Zara, using India’s seemingly limitless pool of textile talent.

“Now is the time,” he said.

“My biggest goal is that one day we will be able to create jobs for more than a million people around the world.”

Like many artists, each of Mishra’s latest endeavors reflects the anxiety and skepticism that comes with the usual anxiety over minute details—an emotional struggle that is also a source of creative inspiration.

A client looks at dresses at Indian fashion designer Rahul Mishra's boutique in New Delhi
A client looks at dresses at Indian fashion designer Rahul Mishra’s boutique in New Delhi © Sajjad Hussain/AFP

“We celebrate when we fail, and we celebrate when we fail,” he said. “The beauty of trying something new, the excitement and intent to do something new is always celebrated.”

“I think more than the final fashion show… what excites me most is the process.”

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