A week before Rahul Mishra left for Paris Fashion Week to show ‘Fourth Dimension’, his new Spring Summer 2016 collection, he invited me to his studio to look at the clothes. Mishra runs a non-chaotic and organized workshop in Noida. A collection in-the-making is both a treat and a fashion lesson. I looked at half-done jackets and dresses, streams of cloth running in and out of machines, complicated patterns being turned out of fabric, some being painstakingly hand-stitched. There were more than a dozen sketches on Mishra’s wall. He took up a pen to mark the movement of a garment from its starting point of conception to its finishing point of manufacture—showing me how a sleeve with 3D patterns handmade from local textiles would progress like an ever-expanding Escher painting. He had used wool jersey, silk, heat-set high-grade poly jersey, Chanderi and delicate leatherette for long and short dresses and some palazzos. His palette was bright but not vivid. Yellow, black, white, ice blue were the dominant hues.
Mishra also showed me many a completed garment. He had named the collection “Fourth Dimension” to echo that in an age dominated by technology, the “touch of human hands” was the fourth dimension to 3D patterns.
When I asked him how much his training at Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design (NID) had contributed to what he was doing today, he said he wouldn’t have managed this kind of detailed pattern making had he not been to NID. There was fabric plumbing, wiring, rewiring, taming textiles into 3-D patterns that been frozen together as if in invisible ice. They looked taut and terrific, very couture. And this was only prêt. Or what we are learning to call luxury prêt —a market segment that Mishra is adding to from India.
When “Fourth Dimension” walked at Paris Fashion Week on 3 October, reviewers were floored by its modern language. Well-known fashion commentator Suzy Menkes of Vogue yet again praised Mishra for escaping the clichés of Indian fashion—vibrant colours and traditional interpretations. In a review on vogue.co.uk, she called him a “national treasure alongside the historic crafts he is rescuing and supporting.” (Read more here)
After this display, I knew why I didn’t agree with the headline of Menkes’ review which called it an Ode to the Artisan. It is befitting perhaps to use the word artisan in association with an Indian designer but this is truly an ode to the artisan’s mentor. Mishra is that mentor who is pushing design in directions that makes it possible to witness a coupledom of craft with contemporary fashion—where the two become one, they lapse into each other.
Whether this is your kind of fashion sensibility or not, whether you will someday want to pay £1000 for such clothes or not, the optimism these clothes convey about the indigenous craftsman’s capability to enter another “dimension” of work when guided is unmissable. This is a 3D map of what India’s designers aided by their crafts colleagues can do.
This series is a comment on popular culture statements made through actions or words. Shefalee Vasudev is the author of Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion.