As someone who has always believed in and followed a sustainable approach to fashion, designer Rahul Mishra is quick to point out that while the concept of sustainability may mean different things to different individuals, no resource or raw material is harmful for the planet if used within a certain limit.
Talking about his design philosophy and how he creates “fashion independent of trends and season”, the ace designer added that the pandemic was a wake-up call for the industry that must now re-evaulate its business models to start anew. In a similar vein, he also spoke about his approach to fashion, his creations, the effects of fast fashion, his association with Bollywood, and why he doesn’t “design for a muse or celebrities”.
Read on to know more.
You follow sustainable practices, something that has become popular amid the pandemic. Do you think the last two years have made the industry realise its importance?
The very foundation of our brand, over a decade ago, was built upon the Gandhian philosophies of circular design, ethical and cultural sustainability and slow consumption. The kind of luxury we aim to cultivate is mindful and simplistic, while holding values of art and Indian craftsmanship.
In the past years of the pandemic, I do believe that there has been a significant incline in the awareness around these concepts and both, brands and consumers have become conscious of the kind of clothes they’re investing into. While the fashion industry interacts with local craft at various levels, it also helps develop and evolve the local techniques by educating the craftsmen during their processes. This results in the empowerment of a large section of local artisans that account for both the luxury and local markets of the country. Today, the scenario is changing as the consumer is looking for products with more ‘value’ which could be artisanal, emotional or utility based. This is because, during the lockdown, people have learned the importance of resources and are learning to use them wisely.
In my opinion, fashion that is based out of values of authenticity, and pure craft is going to be more relevant. As we all grow more aware of the role that sustainable fashion can have in helping create a better future, the demand for naturally produced textiles, intricate artisanal hand-work and mindful luxury would see a rise.
There still is a lot of confusion about ‘sustainable fashion’ and its many facets. Can you help explain?
Sustainability being a vast topic, may hold different meanings for different people. We believe that no resource or raw material is harmful for the planet if it’s used in a limit. For instance, ‘plastic’ being used as a core material for a luxury jacket, only one copy of which is to be made, with an intention of remaining in someone’s wardrobe for decades, would be far better than making thousands of disposable t-shirts out of organic cotton. What’s harmful to the planet is this exploitation of any resource and the lack of value that a piece of clothing may hold.
We create fashion independent of trends and seasons, clothes that find the same relevance in someone’s wardrobe even years after they were purchased. This slowness allows us to bring a spotlight on the diverse craft heritage of India and employ local craft communities that find themselves threatened by industrialisation, mass production and psychological impacts made by fast fashion across international markets. We also try to minimise our waste production by up cycling scrap fabrics, extracting and refurbishing older embroideries. In our slow processes, people, craft and culture find empowerment while it allows us to create a negative footprint on the planet.
We have had our clients come to us with a piece of clothing purchased years ago, for alteration just because they still connect with it, on a personal level and accounts of grandmothers narrating how her ‘granddaughter has been asking me to preserve her Rahul Mishra saree carefully, so she can wear it she she grows up’. We understand that it would be a disservice to the idea of ‘sustainability’ if we choose to define it a certain way, hence we choose to see it as an ongoing concept— there will always be a new area to consider as our intention remains constant. This makes us a sustainable brand.
Tell us about the pieces you showcased at Tanqueray x Rahul Mishra – from inspiration to the designs and materials used.
The theme of the evening was ‘Garden in A Glass’ hence we showcased pieces of couture that comprehend nature from an intimate creative lens and translate its elements through craft into fashion, art and poetry. A series of eight looks each from the collections ‘The Dawn’, Couture Spring 2021 and ‘The Shape of Air’, Couture Fall 2021 showcased previously at the Paris Haute Couture Week were exhibited to bejewel the evening with the dazzle of Indian handcraft and our artistic expression.
The pandemic has affected the fashion industry in a massive way. What do you feel needs to be done by the industry collectively to start afresh?
I would like to think the choices most of us were making before the pandemic weren’t ideal and this is an opportunity for us to reflect and reevaluate our decisions and business models. We need to cater to the consumer with fashion that holds more value in terms of craftsmanship, design, cultural connect, aesthetics and human touch. And we all must find our own unique ways of enabling the same.
Physical shows are gradually returning, but there is now also an audience for digital shows. Your views on the latter?
Earlier, I used to be a purist about my love for physical shows; I used to feel that physical shows with their multi-sensory experience and immersive set-ups are the ideal way of presenting the collection. But I must say, it was an unique experience to showcase digitally. Almost the same amount of work and stress went behind it and well, there was a level of nervousness that came up, right before the live stream.
The online showcases have allowed us to compensate for the backstage conversations and reimagine the way we tell our story. I feel this kind of storytelling is effective and shall continue to be relevant even when the brands aren’t dependent on it and the technical tools offer a replacement to the in-store experience as well, in a situation when that’s inaccessible. Hence, exploring a new medium for the first time was a thrilling experience and there’s always a lot to learn on the way.
I believe while physical shows must return and shall remain intimate and personal, ‘digital’ is a great supporting tool.
Fast fashion and its harmful effect on the environment is a cause for concern. What do you think can be done to minimise the same?
We have always been aware of ‘fast fashion’ being exploitative and unsustainable. While at some point in time, it brought a kind of excitement to the consumer, it had been blown way out of proportion without any consideration of the environment and people that contribute to making our clothes. Not to forget how it affects the psychology of the consumer, by manipulating them into wanting to buy pieces of clothing that they don’t need, in excessive amounts.
The ongoing pandemic has highlighted the importance of natural resources and personal relationships to the consumer, and we observe an increased demand for clothing that is versatile, trans-seasonal and classic — especially in the luxury industry. The focus is shifting to longevity, artisanal value, craftsmanship and emotional relevance of the product and this may be a step in the right direction.
There isn’t much that can be done to ‘undo’ the damage that has been caused but moving forward, we can correct our ways and allow the planet to heal itself.
An artiste is known to be influenced by the changes around him. Did the last two years affect your design philosophy in any way?
For me, design is like a dialogue. Sometimes between me and my vivid memories of certain experiences or sometimes it’s a feeling shared between my team and I—like a collective dream that we watch and breathe over a course of time while realising the collection. During the various stages of this pandemic, our atelier has functioned in different capacities as we’ve been working on orders from across the world and one thing I have greatly missed, is that unrestricted human interaction.
While I have old parents at home and a five-year-old daughter, I had been visiting the atelier regularly, even during the worst strains of the pandemic, of course, with necessary precaution. I share a candid relationship with my kaarigars and spend most of my time in the embroidery and tailoring units. During the sampling stage of a new collection, I often ask the team about what they feel about the garment, or the surface being developed and their smile, or a confused smirk would give away their opinion before they articulate it appropriately for me in words.
Today, I am more grateful to be working with a team that stands by me through thick and thin while I strive to do the same. It certainly keeps us on our toes and motivates us to keep getting better.
You are a Bollywood favourite with many stars opting to wear your creations. But if you had to pick one, who do you think carries off your designs the best?
I am glad to be able to dress so many talented, confident women and I believe that they all carry my clothes with their individual personalities. It’s these women that add to the definition of the Rahul Mishra Woman and give life to our pieces.
The one celebrity you really wish to design for and why?
I don’t design for a muse or ‘celebrities’. Our clothes are made for real people who have talent and stories to tell. They may be actors and pop stars or entrepreneurs and pilots.