Work in progress


Work in progress

In India, as couture tries to disentangle itself from the incestuous relationship with bridal wear, yet hold on to the commercial market in new, untried ways, designers attempting the balancing act do not have it easy.

Old benchmarks of couture persist even as its relevance is being debated across the world. Is it wearable? Is it provocative, artistic and creative? Is it rooted in the ecosystem it hails from—in our case, does it have clear links with rural artisans and traditional art and craft?

Given this matrix, Rahul Mishra’s first couture collection, Tree Of Life, for Fall 2015, shown last week at the Amazon India Couture Week in New Delhi, did not make an impact. It looked like a “couture-ized” version of his last two prêt collections, shown in Paris. Continuing a narrative can be a strength but rehashing elements that have been applauded loudly in the recent past can confuse spectators. Even the shoes were the same.

Mishra, one of the younger Indian designers who champions indigenous textiles, went on to be highly feted after he won the prestigious International Woolmark Prize last year. A well-deserved win too, for he inventively used Merino wool for zardozi embroidery on diaphanous Chanderi fabric in muted colours, busting assumptions about Indian fashion while making Merino wool uniquely trans-seasonal.

He now shows regularly in Paris as orders from some of the world’s most coveted stores pile up. His latest collection, however, did not provoke any new curiosity about Indian textiles, nor did it rustle up the aura without which couture is merely luxury prêt.

Mishra recreated his former chintz-inspired embroideries and some other silhouettes, besides a new capsule fused from Banarasi textiles, but without the links that make a collection a riveting story. Never mind if you have heard the story before, an innovative retelling makes all the difference.

Also, Mishra’s use of alternative sheer and opaque panels on lehngas or long skirts could be seen as a different interpretation of an international trend that’s been very popular this year. But since he has tried this in the past, it was just repetition coming from him. One could say the same for the short gold cape (beautifully created, no doubt) the designer sent out over a lovely gold lehnga. Too many Indian designers are making capes these days for couture, pairing them with saris and ghagras. Good reason to rethink them completely, especially for someone like Mishra, who knows design and fashion engineering so well. Jackets with stiff textile saris? They may be interesting evening wear but they looked nothing like couture.

Mishra’s woven Banarasi handlooms with gold and silver motifs, some with appliqué on them, the quality of the materials used, or the pairing of sheer palazzos with asymmetrical long tunics, was quite good. He stuck to his convictions—avoid loud “couture colours”—and to his commitment to textiles. He remains steadfast about supporting the return of artisans he enabled, from Mumbai to their villages in West Bengal.

But to create ravishing couture, Mishra needs deeper thought, a longer gestation period for such a collection, and boldness in ideas. The aura can only be complemented, not substituted, by admirable provenance and passion.