The Artisan as a Butterfly in the Garden of Hope

The Artisan as a Butterfly in the Garden of Hope

Rahul Mishra Couture Fall 2020-21: It is always spring at Rahul Mishra. Artisanal hand skills bloom on life metaphors. That’s why show and tell is more vital than tell and show  

Dreams and wings make an enticing couple. In literature as well as psychology. Dreams reveal the texture of our past, present and future. Wings imagine the self in unfettered, optimistic flight.

Indian designer and couturier Rahul Mishra whose first couture presentation this January at Paris Couture Week at the invitation of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) won him rave reviews, has by now done a first person confessional of the landscape of his dreams. It is a utopian space inhabited by birds and trees, tropical flora, leaves and stalks, lotuses and light, earth and sky. Ideas of homing and escape circle each other, all in good faith.

For those who follow Mishra speaking at conferences and seminars or delight in Instagram videos sent out from his atelier with artisans creating fabulous 3D embroideries and appliqués in Zen-like harmony also know that he argues for sustenance and survival. He quotes from Buddha to Gandhi, Rousseau to Hans Christian Anderson. Ethical responsibility, existential complexity and philosophic intellectualisation of nature form the interpretative commentary of his own work.


Rahul Mishra’s new couture collection, Butterfly People, abounds in embroidered foliage patterns.

For consistency within his universe of ideas, precision with the kind of couture and prêt he creates and staying on course, Mishra deserves a ten on ten for his Fall Couture 2020-2021 presentation ‘Butterfly People’. It went live on July 7, Day Two of the digital edition of Paris Couture Week at 9pm IST.

The 13 looks shown over 10 minutes of a film shot somewhere in a Delhi forest and a room (location credit to Studio Aqube) created in collaboration with Hormis Antony Tharakan had expected Rahul Mishra fare. Long slip dresses, easy flowing maxis, capes, diaphanous skirts abundant with painstakingly hand-embroidered 3D butterflies and flowers, cranes in flight, juxtaposed against two- dimensional flowers and trees, recreated in couture an ecologically balanced and beautiful planet. There were a couple of maximalist facemasks and headpieces with 3D butterflies and cranes in rainbow colours.

This time, said Mishra in the film, the story was inspired by pandemic-locked Delhi where the colour of the sky was bluer than he ever remembered and butterflies came visiting unrestricted by urban chaos and human interruptions. The palette waltzed from pale salmon pink, mellow peach to butter yellow and soft blue with multi-coloured embroideries and applique on these base colours. The fabrics were as always diaphanous and luxurious, mesh, tulle and other diaphanous textures. Soft, unhurried music and the foreverness of the forest as the backdrop held the collection in a reassuring hug, without clutching too tight.


The collection also includes a selection of 3D facemasks.

That Mishra builds and evolves from his previously narrated stories and designs underlines his continuity. It is a relief, not a repetition. That his prêt and couture both dense with embroidery or hand work of an artisanal kind come in kissing distance of each other in the similarity of their spirit and body is even more compelling. Some 3D flowers and patterns looked disproportionately large on a couple of dresses and the profusion of foliage on some others conflict with the Rahul Mishra brand’s arguments on minimalism. Yet overall the concept had the transparent glue of consistency.

If we must discuss wearability and affordability, Rahul Mishra Fall Couture promises both. The most valuable point Mishra made was about “growing a garden on a piece of fabric” (metaphorically he emphasised), so that the craftsmen could take wings there, dream of a beautiful life.

But as part of Paris Couture Week’s first ever digital fashion season with couture presentations arriving through revolutionary filmmaking techniques, digitally immersive experiences denoting major shifts in internet culture and very new, very recent transitions in the use of technology, Mishra’s presentation seemed trapped in yesterday rather than today or tomorrow. Technologically, it did not take flight.


Butterfly People is a metaphorical attempt to grow a garden on fabric.

Dior Haute Couture, for instance, by Marie Grazia Chiuri conceptualised also around unfettered nature with a surrealistic theme had a technological exaltation to it paired with the riveting idea of miniature-sized couture creations. Chanel on the other hand was delightfully on steroids, cheeky and maximalist. It rocketed by in one and half minutes. Whereas Aelis Couture by Sofia Crociani (the brand is built around ideas of ethical sustainability) showed a performance art film titled Angelness. It had dancers running around carrying couture in a large hall, while models wore some of them. Four of Aelis’s looks were from the previous season. Japanese designer Yuima Nakazato broke from all moulds of couture to show his ‘Face to Face Project’, an innovative concept started in May where the designer asked his clients to bring back shirts bought from him, tell him their stories, so that he could completely redesign these shirts based on personalised narratives.

Earlier this week, reported a story called ‘The Post Covid-19 Digital Brand Landscape’. It mentioned a three-part Creatology survey by a London-based creative agency to understand “the future of creativity and media in an era of radical technology and channel change”.

Mishra might want to consider planting the seed of “digital creatology” in his garden of hope.

Also the first minute or more of the ‘Butterfly People’ presentation had the designer’s voice over layered over shots taken at his atelier, of artisans at work. These fade out and fade in with the designer talking to the camera, emphasising his “cause”, his commitment towards livelihoods and the well-being of his craftsmen. That may have worked better through show and tell.

Tell and show makes it a discourse.

This is design.

Banner: Stills from Rahul Mishra Couture Fall/Winter 2020-21 collection ‘Butterfly People’. All images courtesy Rahul Mishra.