Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

I want my clothes to speak to the world that they are from India: Rahul Mishra

Fashion designer Rahul Mishra speaks about the ongoing fashion exhibition at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre, dressing up Zendaya and Gigi Hadid, and how sustainability is about more than just fabric and materials

Darielle Britto
Published: Apr 7, 2023 05:46:56 PM IST
Updated: Apr 7, 2023 06:13:27 PM IST

I want my clothes to speak to the world that they are from India: Rahul MishraRahul Mishra, Fashion designer Image: Madhu Kapparath
The grand opening of India's first-of-its-kind, multi-disciplinary cultural space project—the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC)—in Mumbai last week was a momentous occasion showcasing the country's global impact on textile art and design.  
Fashion designer Rahul Mishra—the first Indian to present at Paris Haute Couture Week—is having a major fashion moment after being one of the noteworthy designers to showcase his work at the two-day gala. His intricate and immaculate embroidery designs have taken centre stage not only as part of an exhibit thoughtfully curated by curator Hamish Bowles, but he also created a splash on the red carpet dressing Hollywood star Zendaya, stylist Law Roach and American supermodel Gigi Hadid.
In conversation with Forbes India, Mishra talks about his moment in the spotlight at NMACC, his design process for Paris Haute Couture Week, his passion for sustainability and his success and accolades.

Edited excerpts:  

Q. The opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre was a star-studded event. What did that night mean to you?   
What the Ambanis have done, what Mrs Ambani has done, is actually created a kind of exhibit, which somehow traces the history of Indian fashion or Indian textiles almost 300-400 years back, and they traced it to how it was influencing the world. So, rather than just Indian fashion, it's almost like India for the world in a way for me, the way India has been. Because otherwise, when you look at a fashion forward country, when you look at really the best craftsmanship and all that, we all know that India is all about that, but still, there's a lot of debate where Made in India is somehow lagging in terms of respect like Made in France and Made in Italy. But now over here, the India that you show is the best [of Indian design], and then you invited the world to be there, their showcasing something for India.  
At the same time, it has done great favour for India as a brand. India as a brand or Made in India as an idea. It has done wonderful things for that, according to me. I was very honoured to be there because I didn't know whether I would be in the exhibit or not. I'm very thankful, very honoured. The way Hamish Bowles and Patrick Kinmonth, and everybody put together the exhibit, it was purely a labour of love.  
Q. Your timeless creations on Hollywood actress Zendaya and American supermodel Gigi Hadid made headlines. What was your intention when choosing the designs for each one for the event?  
For Zendaya, I wanted it to look like a sari actually. It was not an Indian piece. The theme was India inspired and our sari is the most iconic outfit in the whole world. Nothing like a sari exists. So, for me it was taking the special sari and creating something like that.  
Gigi (Hadid) was very, very clear about what she wanted. She was familiar with the brand so she selected this look. Gigi wanted a sky blue colour with pink embroidery, so we customised it. We made her all new trousers completely going with this. I remember when she walked in, she was like ‘Oh my god, this is beyond couture. This is something that is so fabulous and yet so lightweight, easy to wear’. She said she could wear it with a T-shirt and denim. She was giving so many options. I kind of liked it and her approach.  

I want my clothes to speak to the world that they are from India: Rahul MishraHollywood actress Zendaya  Image: Courtesy Rahul Mishra
Q. What did you want the audience to take away from your displayed work at the exhibition?  
I wanted to show the power of the craftsmanship that I work with. I literally want my clothes to speak to the world that they are from India. They are Made in India. This has been the most important thing for me and I've never compromised on that. I always constantly think about the clothes, in a way you can't have Burberry that doesn't look British or Dolce and Gabbana if it doesn't have Italian roots. If my works starts looking like something else apart from India, it won't be the great thing. I want to create clothes that have got the significant craftmanship from the country, which involves people who work on these collections. So, in that way, this is something I want people to take away, that Indian aesthetics are actually global aesthetics.

Also read: From suits to denim to glitter: 10 incoming fashion trends for 2023

Q. Your designs are synonymous with luxury haute couture. How do you also manage to incorporate sustainability in them and create eco-friendly fashion ecosystems?
I really feel the way people define sustainability, it’s often with a myopic vision when they only look at materials as a part of sustainability. I think the bigger part of sustainability has to do with processes. So, if I just tell you I follow a really slow process then even if I use plastic, recycled plastic as sequins or any fabric, but I take so long to make it, it allows Earth enough time to replenish its resources. And then I think it's so beautiful people keep it for ages. It never goes in the waste. So, this is where I really feel, especially in couture, which is handmade, is one of the most sustainable ideas because you do not create unnecessary clothes. You create pieces when people need them. Slow fashion is always sustainable, always, because even if I use five metres of silk, I take a lot of time to use it. It gives planet Earth enough time to replenish the kind of textiles I’m using.  
Often, people say organic cotton is the most sustainable thing. But if you make a billion or million T-shirts out of organic cotton it is the worst thing that can happen. It is no longer sustainable. So sustainability has to do with the amount of production, with slowness of processes. As you follow the rhythm of nature everything can be sustainable. There is also cultural sustainability where you look at culture. There is also the employability of a garment, which creates lots of employment and makes the outfit even more beautiful. 

I want my clothes to speak to the world that they are from India: Rahul MishraAmerican supermodel Gigi Hadid  Image: Courtesy Rahul Mishra
Q. You were the first Indian designer to win the International Woolmark Prize in 2014 and to showcase at the Paris Haute Couture Week. What is your next big goal?
A lot of things are there, which I can’t share right now. There are a lot of things going on. What I can share is that I am currently building a sustainable house. I am right now in a place up in the hills, building this house so I am learning a lot about sustainability in every possible way. 

Also read: Boom time for menswear as Paris Fashion Week returns
Q. What is your design process for Paris Haute Couture Week?  
I always say philosophy is the most important thing here. We have a four-tier philosophy. First is purpose. What is the purpose behind making the outfit? So purpose often can be about the aesthetics, about new aesthetics. So that’s the purpose and that is where we look at processes. Processes is how, purpose is why. And then what we create often creates participation and clothes are just a by-product of what we create out of that.  
Q. You have made huge strides in your career. How do you handle the success and what drives you to keep moving forward?  
I should give a lot of credit to my wife Divya, who is the co-founder of Rahul Mishra. This is not just a personal success. It's a community work/ team success. When there is community work, the last thing you want is to let it go to your head.  
I have the best embroiders of India, the best of talent. It's a community work, it's not just my work. So, it is not difficult to handle community success. There is a beautiful quote by Beethoven about how a true artist is never proud because he sees how miserably he is far away from his own goal, where he sees himself better only in the distant future. This is how I feel my state of mind is.
Q. What is your next project and the inspiration behind it?
We have quite a few inspirations right now. So, I’m going to zero in on one of them. Obviously, it's going to be the haute couture show in Paris beginning of July. I’m still so far away. If I tell you now I may change my mind.  
(Forbes India is a part of Network18, owned by Reliance Industries)