PHOTO BY CLEMENT DAUVENT
Born and raised in New Delhi, designer Manish Arora is the first man or woman of Indian descent to ever show during Paris Fashion Week. Although frequently theatrical and opulent in appearance, Arora's garments are entirely hand-made following ancient artisanal techniques, in his hometown ateliers. On top of his show today, Arora is getting ready to import his taste for shimmer and sci-fi to Paco Rabanne: next Tuesday, the designer will present his much-anticipated first collection for the dormant Spanish house.
Interview met him last night and talked clichés and craftsmanship.
ALICE PFEIFFER: Why do you think Paco Rabanne chose you as their new creative director?
MANISH ARORA: The level and love of craft is something my label and Rabanne have in common. I'm doing a 2012 take on what the house is all about: lavish, over-the-top—yes, so is my own line—but thought for a woman who will actually wear it.
PFEIFFER: You've always emphasized fine craftsmanship, which today is something increasingly popular in fashion. Why is that?
ARORA: I don't think the craft aspect should have ever been forgotten. It's time to go back to that, because fashion is always connected to manual work, previously at least. That's what couture is all about. Today, this is giving an opportunity to people with those skills, but who don't really have those jobs anymore—it's something I always make sure I do.
PFEIFFER: From firefighters to disappearing acts, your shows are always so theatrical. Where do you draw the line between runway and performance?
ARORA: Whatever you have in your show should be special, but not over the top to the point that it takes the focus away from the collection. After all, the clothes are the most important. But I don't see why I shouldn't do something that makes people smile: they are three weeks into fashion weeks, they are running all over the place, so there's no harm to coming to a show and being entertained. Of course, it has to work with the concept of the collection, it can be tricky but I know where to stop.
PFEIFFER: Would you call you call fashion a form of art, despite it being primarily functional?
ARORA: Yes, clothes are functional but that doesn't mean they're not a form of art. They're just another way to express creativity. It could be film, it could garment.
PFEIFFER: And how is it more than just clever advertising?
ARORA: I think this is helping fashion to go back to what it should be: closer to art, not totally commercial but have some artistic value at its core. Plus the festival is held at Centre Pompidou, so that means something, right?
PFEIFFER: You're the best known, if not the only Indian designer in contemporary fashion—do people tend to expect silly clichés from you, kind of like French being synonymous to stripes and garlic necklaces?
ARORA: Absolutely. When I use color, people say, "Oh he's Indian, that's why he's using color!" Perhaps this is true, Indians aren't scared of color, and perhaps that's what makes me different. But also, I personally love color, regardless of where I come from.
PFEIFFER: Are you viewed as a role model back at home?
ARORA: Yes, they're very proud of me back at home, because I'm the only Indian in fashion, who lives there and works here. And it's not like I studied abroad, I went to school and university in New Delhi. So many people in India think of me on the level of big artists, which is wonderful—and also an enormous responsibility.