Bibhu Mohapatra

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Nancy Cunard, the hyper-chic shipping heiress-turned-political activist, was the inspiration for Bibhu Mohapatra’s Spring 2015 collection. He channeled her jubilant spirit, and her strides for equality at a time when such strides were hardly popular. “I’m not interested in girls who are simply charming or pretty,” Mohapatra said. “Whether it’s a career, or raising a family, or charity work, I love dressing interesting women that do something!”

Cunard has always been considered a precursor to the late YSL muse Loulou de la Falaise, all stacked bangles, head scarves, androgeny-chic trousers, and bohemian and ethnic influences. Mohapatra, however, looked beyond the noisy ebony Macassar and ivory bracelets—”that’d be too obvious”—and instead channeled Cunard’s essence with ostrich feathers, and menswear-inspired jackets shrugged over evening gowns and party dresses. An element of craft is cleverly deployed throughout the collection to evoke Nancy’s far-flung travels and fiery passion for exotic cultures, as seen in a bold grid print and a handwoven mix of shredded leather and silk.

Muted florals mingle with graphic lines to create depth and optical illusion. The silhouettes are restrained yet romantic, the color palette rich. Opulent textiles range from from soft (silk satin, chiffon) to rough (jacquard, iridescent sequins, leather), creating a dialogue that might suggest the tension and duality (opening refugee camps and feeding thousands, defending the Scotsboro Boys, love affairs with literary  luminaries) of Cunard’s world.

For more from New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015, click here.