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My Heritage is my Edge: Bibhu Mohapatra

Known to dress an array of influential women around the globe, New York-based Indian designer, BibhuMohapatra, reveals how keeping the Indian narrative firmly alive through his contemporary design-palette, has been the key to his emergence as a global fashion force over the last 10 years. 

Anything that New York-based Bibhu Mohapatra does gets the fashion world talking. This has been a constant, ever since the Bibhu Mohapatra brand launched in New York, back in the year 2009. Over the years, everyone from Michelle Obama to Gwyneth Paltrow to Jennifer Lopez to Priyanka Chopra and Lupita Nyong’o have shown immense love for the designer’s sophisticated lines comprising sharp evening wear and luxe resort collections. 

While Bibhu has been taking the fashion world by storm right from the start, he quickly became part of Indian drawing room conversations, when former First Lady Michelle Obama of the United States of America, touched down in India in 2015, wearing a colourful poppy-print dress and matching coat, designed by him, ‘a moment’, that the designer by his own admission, cannot ever forget. 

This year marks 10 years in fashion for the Rourkela boy’s (he enrolled in Utah State University to study Economics before pursuing fashion) eponymous label, a journey he describes as being an ‘immensely exciting’ and ‘incredible’ one, when we meet him at the Preciosa event in Mumbai, but also one that has kept him firmly tied to his Indian roots. “My Indian heritage is in my veins, as a designer, it is woven into my work almost subconsciously. I lean more and more on them to keep my work fresh and inspiring. My collections have to be reflective of authentic stories about my craft. It has been my constant focus to use local techniques and then challenge artisans with creating new shapes, and mixing them with modern elements, interesting colour combinations and blending fabrics like silk with cotton to design something that is modern and relatable to today’s audience. ”

As an ode to his home state, the designer was also part of the ‘Make in Odisa’ conclave last year, where he showcased his Fall 2018 Collection alongside locally-produced textiles. “There’s a myth surrounding tradition textiles that they are precious and hard to use. This is the perception I want to change. Through my design narrative, I am therefore constantly trying to showcase just how versatile they are, so they can transcend geography and appeal to any consumer from around the world. We all come with a certain amount of time, and we have to leave our mark through our endeavours. I have done a miniscule amount of work, and I still have miles to go, that includes a second round of Textile Revival Programme soon,” the designer elaborates. 

In a domain where global success does not come easy, Bibhu’s is a fairytale story of an Indian boy creating a fashion stir in the West. While the designer now lives in upstate New York and is fully-aware of the kind of influence he holds in the design world, he has also over the years held on to lessons he holds dear, one of which is being cautious of getting complacent. “Complacency can set in with success, but you have to watch out, because that’s when creativity dies. That’s a state I’d never want to be in. I would rather die before that happens.” At the same time, virtues such as ‘gratitude’ and ‘simplicity’ are also some things, the designer swears by, crediting his late parents for bringing him up the way they did, despite being very ‘simple’ people. 

Despite his unprecedented success in the West, Bibhu has given Indian the miss in terms of retail, a concern he plans to address now. “My Indian clientele often complain on how they have to travel half the world to pick a piece from the Bibhu Mohapatra label. So, I am now planning to deal with logistical issues, and design an exclusive collection for Indian women, that will include sharper price points and direct-to-consumer sales,” the designer reveals. Now, that certainly is putting a smile on our faces! 

 

Collaboration-wise
For Preciosa, the producers of Bohemian crystals and jewellery stones, Bibhu has created a special piece, The Taj, a gold-plated headband inlaid with various alpha stones. “I have been collaborating with Preciosa for over six years now, using their crystals as embellishments in my clothes.For this project, I wanted to create a piece that magnifies and highlights the importance and power of women.”

 

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