Review: ‘Fourth Dimension’ by Rahul Mishra

The designer’s new collection shown at Paris Fashion Week is luxury prêt —a world market segment he is adding to

Models present creations by Rahul Mishra during the Paris Fashion Week Spring Summer 2016 on 3 October 2015 in Paris. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP
Models present creations by Rahul Mishra during the Paris Fashion Week Spring Summer 2016 on 3 October 2015 in Paris. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

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.

Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP
Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

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.

As a fashion writer who is increasingly questioning abstract metaphors and intellectual explanations of fashion collection and trying instead to instinctively tune in to the experience and sound of clothes, their making, finishing, display and their appeal to different audiences, I tried to observe more and listen less to Mishra. What I saw was work that only a fashion engineer is capable of. He has been called that earlier too; he understands fashion in a technically sound way.

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.

‘How will you meet multiple orders for this kind of work? How long does one garment take? How do you fold these clothes?’ I asked Mishra looking at leatherette fringes on dresses, fabric cocoons and shapes, as volume and form played an optic game. “No you can’t fold these. They must be hung,” said Mishra smiling at my naiveté and adding that Indian women did not invest in such fashion. “We wear fashion for special occasions, but in Europe this can be a part of a regular wardrobe. And yes, I have planned my back-end, we will be able to meet orders for these as large as they may be,” he said gently reminding me that at the stores he sells abroad—Colette in Paris or Harvey Nichols in London, these garments will be priced at £1000 each. Each? Each!

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, she called him a “national treasure alongside the historic crafts he is rescuing and supporting.” (Read more here)

Last Sunday, a selection of these garments were displayed at the Delhi residence of François Richier the French Ambassador to India. This was in collaboration with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) as part of the Amazon India Fashion Week’s Spring Summer 2016 edition.

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.

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