Hailing from a small village near Kanpur, designer Rahul Mishra has come a long way in only a few years, having showcased his designs several times at prestigious fashion events like the Paris Fashion Week and the Milan Fashion Week among others. He speaks to Guardian 20 about his career in fashion design and his recent collection, which has been created in collaboration with the jewellery brand Zoya and was unveiled at the Paris Fashion Week in September, this year.
Q. You are originally from a small village near Kanpur. Did you have problems adjusting to the environment at NID, the design school you attended in Ahmadabad?
A. I don’t think I had any trouble adjusting to the design school environment. The first 10 years of my life spent in the village shaped my perception towards my surroundings. I experienced a sense of self-sufficiency in my solitude and was able to find inspiration in the smallest of things. That, in fact, became a basis of my creative development at the design school.
Q. You first completed your graduation in physics and then went on to study design. Do you feel you missed out on the opportunity to learn design earlier in your life because of this?
A. We are all made of the experiences we have had. I don’t think I missed out on anything. I had the fortunate opportunity to grow up in an Indian village amidst nature and with my family, and I am more than grateful for that. Later in life, I went on to study in Milan and I have showcased in Paris now. I have had the chance to travel to the best places on the planet and all of it has come my way throughout my journey quite organically. My early life has only contributed to my creative perception and has in turn taken me forward. One must find their own path and enjoy their journey as life has its own ways of falling in line.
Q. Do you think your humble background sensitised you towards the numerous artisans and workmen in the fashion industry?
A. Yes, I believe I could connect with them on a human level and understand their needs more personally. We work like a family in the studio. It is a beautiful space where people have gratitude, respect and affection for each other and most importantly, appreciation for each other’s skill.
Q. When and how did you realise that fashion design was your true calling?
A. At a very early stage, I got interested in drawing. I used to draw from the calendar, and also some comic characters like Chacha Chaudhary. Drawing was my favourite hobby. Getting into fashion design happened at an ideal age. I just wanted to be in a creative field, whatever it was. I did not actually decide that I had to be a fashion designer. Small decisions that I took at the right time brought me where I am.
Q. If you could think about all the milestones you have achieved so far, which one changed your life?
A. Quite a few things actually: switching my field to design (NID), my first break at the India Fashion Week, International Woolmark Prize, getting invited to showcase at the Paris Fashion Week, and now being established as a global design voice.
I believe that everything is interrelated. If I had not won the Woolmark Prize or if I had not gone to NID, none of this would have happened. Each milestone contributed similarly to my journey in its own individual capacity. But having got invited to showcase in Paris would be my biggest break.
Q. What led to the label Rahul Mishra? What is your brand’s philosophy?
A. During my time at NID, I came across the late Professor M.P. Ranjan. He introduced me to a side of Mahatma Gandhi, who was not only a freedom fighter but a practical leader. He educated me about Gandhi, who fought for inclusivity and holistic upliftment of society… Ranjan awoke this awareness in me about the Zvalue of handloom and why Gandhi talked about khadi, with whose promotion weavers, spinners and tailors got employment. We must co-create a system of helping everybody through whatever we are creating.
So far, I have worked with 15-16 handloom clusters in India, trying to understand how mainstream fashion is foraying into handloom and how it will create better livelihoods with the demand for handloom in fashion. This has somehow helped me in terms of my own imagination, the idea of looking at social economy and sustainability. This is what makes our brand’s philosophy: instead of focusing on consumption as a primary objective, we seek to create participation when we design any collection. This participation takes place from various sections of society. Hence, selling is not the primary goal. What is really important is to create more participation and employment.
Q. How would you define your fashion sensibility? And what inspires you as a designer?
A. Fashion is a form of expression for me and with my purpose, I am trying to do something that I feel is needed for my world. It is a constant aim to not only create something trendy but bring in something that satisfies the human and the artist in me. There are some images from my recent trips which are haunting me right now. It is the memory that keeps coming back. I think, for me, design inspiration is all about expressing these through my work. I believe I am privileged to have that kind of time to myself.
When I am designing a collection, I refrain from meeting too many people, or spending time on my phone. As you get inspired, it’s not on the first day that you know what you are going to create. You prep yourself to make many mistakes, to go in an unknown direction.
It took me six months to create my recent collection—what started in the month of March finished in September. I share my ideas with people and collect their feedback throughout the process. Design isn’t created in one go, but is built over time and over various attempts at perfecting your technique as a new collection can’t be created with an old process. A new process always has to be found.
Q. You have showcased your designs at several global fashion events, including the Paris Fashion Week and the Milan Fashion Week. How important are these events to you?
A. I have been showcasing regularly at Paris Fashion Week for the past 12 seasons. I think for the last 122 seasons it has been a wonderful journey. Paris, I believe, is one of the top Fashion Weeks in the world in terms of creativity and vision. It’s the most prestigious platform in the world, a truly global fashion week.
Q. This time at the Paris Fashion Week, you unveiled your ZoyaxRahulMishra collection. Tell us about this collaboration.
A. I showcased my Spring Summer 2020 collection at the Paris Fashion Week in collaboration with the luxury jewellery brand Zoya. This collection was the second installment of a theme we started working on six months ago. It is an interpretation of the cities we live in; how the barren land is transformed into structures like buildings and those collectively into a concrete jungle. And how we live inside these concrete boxes and how we personalise and create our own minuscule universe inside the one which is ever expanding. The collection looks at both the micro and macro details of these ideas… And the jewellery by Zoya completes the look.
Q. What are your future projects?
A. As I am finishing this collection, my next collection is already in process. We are working on couple of cities as an inspiration. There is also an island that is a part of this inspiration and I’m quite excited to see what we’re able to create further.