Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone weren’t the only ones to mark Camp India at this year’s MET Gala. Australian actor, dancer, and singer-songwriter Keiynan Lonsdale wore a butterfly dress designed by Manish Arora, and his famous circus dress (that was worn by Katy Perry) found a place in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit.
One of the most celebrated designers, Manish Arora shares what it takes to be relevant and a designer of now in this day and age.
Your relationship with fashion has been going on since over two decades. Things have changed drastically since then – but you are still very relevant and the designer of now – so what have you done to evolve with the times?
For me, what works to be relevant is that I choose to forget the early years of my career and feel I have just begun. That keeps me fresher in my mind. But I am also of a time where there were phones with a round dial and video conferencing was unheard of, and I am the same person that has reached from there to now where video calls are normal and free at that. How I have kept relevant is that I have been observing what all has been happening around me. Now, I never do a show without a sweatshirt or a bomber – 50% of the collection is that. Who thought 10 years ago that track pants would be the style statement or you could wear an evening dress with sneakers and end up looking more trendy and formal!
So the point here is, you have to be open to changes; you have to feel that you are young and that you have just begun. Also what helps for me is that in my behavior and mind I am still a child and that helps make my clothes younger.
“I do think of Instagram sometimes when I think of the collection I do. It does not influence my work because my work is so distinctive, but it is at the back of my mind. Luckily my clothes are bright and work on Instagram but even then I think, how will it look.”
As you mentioned, we all stem from a generation that did not have phones or access to the internet. What are your views on social media and accessibility?
Social media is here forever - what platform however, is never permanent. For example, it’s been 4 months since I posted anything on Facebook but I am active on Instagram and before you know, something else will take over Instagram. Social media helps me, and yes I use it for my brand, the only celebrity we post is Ranveer because he’s a friend but other than that our account is about us and not about famous people wearing our clothes. I have seen other accounts becoming popular because they use celebrities to push their brand, but I don’t think that is authentic. For me other than of course promoting my own brand through social media, I have met some very interesting artists who I have ended up collaborating with. So for me finding new talent is one of the most important things about Instagram.
So can you say technology has taken over your world?
I am obsessed. So I do think of Instagram sometimes when I think of the collection I do. It does not influence my work because my work is so distinctive, but it is at the back of my mind. Luckily my clothes are bright and work on Instagram but even then I think, how will it look. I love it cause it’s so direct and you can get feedback instantly – good or bad. I love instant connection, instant reviews. Now during fashion weeks I have stopped reading reviews.
“In India unfortunately, fashion is synonymous with wedding. What happens is, when you design for a wedding you always end up doing what the customer wants and for me that’s not fashion.”
You straddle two worlds – how do you differentiate – and how do you keep up?
I have four collections but I club resort with summer and pre-fall with winter. Within those collections, I segregate for different markets. You will find silhouettes like bombers, trackpants etc. which are very Chinese, more sporty for the China market as I have five standalone stores there – it’s our biggest market.
In India unfortunately, fashion is synonymous with wedding. What happens is, when you design for a wedding you always end up doing what the customer wants and for me that’s not fashion. If you look internationally, Paris for example, say Comme de Garcons or Rick Owens, they all have their individual style and they continue to do that, and what ends up happening is that they build their own tribe and that’s how you get a following and that’s how you become a brand. However that’s not possible to do with wedding clothes. If you look in the newspaper with ten wedding outfits pictured with no names, you will not be able to differentiate one from the other. So there is no personal style and there’s no fashion really - it is making clothes and that is not fashion.
What are the trends you see that will redefine retail in the future?
Social media is redefining both fashion and retail. One has to understand the style in a small image rather than go to a shop and try. Also I think a specific style and design that is one of a kind will stand out and work more in the future.
What are your plans ahead?
We collaborated with the football team Paris Germaine last year, which we are going to promote in a big way, and make it mass market. And then, of course, there’s Burning Man in August.
Text Shruti Kapur Malhotra