The sudden lockdown in March this year, a reaction to the worldwide pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus, caused a complete closure of manufacturing – and with that, jobs. The painful images of migrants trudging their way home, often my foot, is seared in memory. The pandemic has caused upheavals, heartache, and a complete shift in perspective. No industry remained unaffected. So when Paris Couture Week – slated to occur in the first week of July to the rambunctious cohort of attendees sitting cheek by jowl to witness what is probably the world’s most glorious fashion spectacle – was cancelled and replaced by a digital entity (Paris Digital Couture Week, on July 9), it was a moment of true reflection, of where the world may be headed. Designers sent in short digital films of their work to the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, to showcase what would have been this year’s Fall-Winter 2020-2021 couture collections, in this new format, despite the pressures at home to put a collection together. For designer Rahul Mishra, who made history in January this year as the first Indian to showcase at Paris Couture Week, it was particularly emotional challenge, one that brought his kaarigars (artisans – hand embroiderers and tailors) to the fore.Marigold flowers embroidered on a couture piece by Rahul Mishra
“Why do we need to have yet another beautiful outfit when people are stressed about the pandemic?” asks Rahul Mishra in his eight-minute video for his Couture 2020 collection, Butterfly People, which was shot by filmmaker Hormis Anthony Tharkan. He adds that never before has he seen a larger number of unemployed youth as he sees today. “Millions of migrant workers were displaced and struggled to simply feed and support their families,” says Rahul in his press note. “A significant part of our New Delhi team are our kaarigars. We have been fortunate to be able to stand by them through this storm and are committed to continue doing so.” He’s also used this time to launch his e-commerce retail platform (rahulmishra.in), as more and more designers pivot from brick and mortar sales to online sales.Rahul Mishra
“Using couture as an idea to employ artisans became far more meaningful to give work to craftspeople, to be able to utilize artisan skills, to be able to employ them.” Rahul says that his craftspersons, who work to weave their magic in each of his collections – are like butterflies, and that it’s a metaphorical garden of fabric that needs to grow so that these butterfly people get enough nectar, and hence work. One sentence stands out in particular: “A garment needs purpose,” he says. “Couture is more meaningful if it supports craftsmen and allows them to have a beautiful life.”Rahul Mishra Couture FW 20-21 Illustration
Upon finishing his last couture show in Paris, he was sitting to ideate with his team, when the lockdown happened, and he saw the sky turn a clear, vivid hue of blue. Butterflies fluttered into his Delhi garden, as Nature slowly revived itself. The city – which has been his muse in past collections (Metropolis 1 and 2 – with dresses in architectural silhouettes) is now revitalized by the force of Nature. Flowers bloom magically – one of his favourite motifs, the genda phool (marigold flower), makes its appearance in Butterfly People as well – and lotus ponds buzz with dragonflies, even as migratory birds return. But one can find comfort in the fact that the more painstakingly detailed the embroidered flower and animal motifs are, the more work hours the kaarigar has spent on a piece, and the better his or her livelihood.A sheer dress and embroidery at Rahul Mishra Couture FW 20-21
And the pieces with their textured, 3D embroidery – most of it flowers – remain lightweight. (“Ninety percent of my collections must have flowers,” Rahul had said to us last year.) For him, each piece is akin to a living, growing entity, that must invariably have life. Layered skirts with capes, sheer A-line long dresses, gowns with stacked floral epaulettes, and even masks with blooms and long-necked birds (made with the Covid-19 crisis in mind), are the mainstay of this collection. “If you talk about hand embroidery – for me, anything that employs more people is better for me,” Rahul had said to us last year. “Anything that replaces human intervention is not good. Hand embroidery is needed, because it creates more employment.” When asked about sustainability, the designer who’s been lauded for his approach to ‘slow fashion’, is quick to say, “It’s about how much more wearability you can draw out of it – something that is not related to fashion, will not fade out. You should be able to reuse, restyle, rework those pieces. The time it takes for crafting a piece, and the time it takes for the wearer to remain in love with it – that is what is important. One should have better judgement when discarding things.”A look from Rahul Mishra's couture collection 3D flora and fauna on Rahul Mishra's couture pieces
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A luxury and fashion journalist with 25 years of experience in publishing and magazine journalism, I have edited some of India’s top fashion and luxury magazines. I got my BA in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley, and went on to receive my Master’s in English and French from the University of Strasbourg, France. I have also studied German and Film. I live in Gurugram, India, and look forward to once again exploring our world with a new-found freedom.
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