Born and brought up in Malad, a suburb in North Mumbai, Arora relocated to New Delhi to study design at the National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT) in 1994. He continues to call New Delhi his home along with Paris, while his mother resides in Mumbai. “My father is no more but my mother lives here, my whole family is coming tonight. Full family bonanza is happening at the show,” said the designer in his unmistakable baritone voice.
The man-of-the-moment was invited to present his much-admired Cosmic Love Fall 2017 collection, which debuted at Paris fashion week in March, as part of the Winter/Festive 2017 edition of Lakmé fashion week, held between August 16 and 20. Almost alluding to the egalitarian values of fashion, the nonconformist designer chose the atrium of a city mall as his show venue, with an army of 40 models floating up and down the escalators wearing wardrobes inspired by Arora’s visual journey from India to outer space.
And it was a special kind of voyage. The Fall 2017 collection celebrates 10 years since he debuted in Paris, and was showcased in Mumbai, a city he reluctantly calls home. Is the country finally ready for Manish Arora? “I don’t know if people are ready for me, but I am ready for them, whether they like it or not,” he laughed. Ahead of his show at Mumbai fashion week, Arora opened up to Fashion Unfiltered about carving his own path, designing for “people,” and why it’s time to resume selling his ready-to-wear label in India.
Shweta Shiware: From your first show in Paris to now, did you imagine that things would work out?
Manish Arora: It was actually London first before Paris, for two years. Things have been changing since then, but for the better mostly.
So many good things are happening to me thanks to Paris. I think India appreciates me because of Paris. It’s that thing that we Indians have that once we are endorsed by the West, we find instant approval here.
SS: Do you ever think of yourself as a designer for strong and assertive women?
MA: It’s not even a woman; it’s a person. The time is over for me in fashion when it was about designing for men or women. My person, my customer, is obviously confident, not shy, [doesn’t] play it safe with outfits, and loves to stand out in public. That’s the kind of person I make clothes for.
SS: Did you ever feel misunderstood by the international media?
MA: Of course. Not misunderstood, but misjudged, probably. I believe when you’ve such a strong style like I do, or Rick Owens, or Commes des Garçons in the past, there’s bound to be criticism. In fact, I’d be worried if everybody loved my designs. That would mean your designs have become common. Boring, even.
When Suzy Menkes criticized my Paco Rabanne collection in 2011, I took it as a lesson. And she gave me an amazing review for my Fall 2017 Cosmic Love collection.
SS: What did your short stint at Paco Rabanne teach you?
MA: It taught me a lot. Firstly, it taught me how to live in Paris, which was a huge personal shift. That’s how I got addicted to Paris. Since then, I haven’t left. Besides that, it taught me how fashion is a serious business. It can be an image you create for your show, but at the backend, it’s serious business. Living in France, not just working at Paco Rabanne, taught me there is a thin line between ridiculous and refined, and you have to know where to stop. Every centimeter or millimeter matters, when it comes to the length of the dress.