In a career spanning 18 years, Gaurav Gupta has been a rule-breaker. At a time when designers were offering traditional versions of lehnga choli, he offered sculpted dresses. Today, Gupta, who has studied at Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology and London’s Central Saint Martins, has five stores—two in Delhi, one each in Mumbai, Kolkata and Hyderabad—and retails out of multi-designer store Neiman Marcus in the US and online luxury retailer Moda Operandi.
His fashion remains avant-garde, borrowing abstract patterns from nature and using traditional embroidery techniques like zardozi, nakshi and dabka. Even the Hiranyagarbha, which he showcased as part of the Paris Haute Couture Week on 6 July—his second showcase in the French city; the first one was earlier this year—was full of garments that had architectural ruffles and sculptural pieces. He’s bringing part of the collection to India and adding new pieces for his India Couture Week showcase on 27 July in Delhi. There will be 30-plus pieces, including concept saris, lehngas, dresses, trouser-suits and jackets.
In an interview, Gupta tells Lounge about learnings from the Paris Haute Couture Week, the business of fashion, and being a “sophisticated hippie”. Edited excerpts:
I have wanted this for the past 25 years. I remember assisting designer Hussein Chalayan backstage during Paris Fashion Week… or watching Issey Miyake during Paris Fashion Week while studying at Central Saint Martins. I understand the cultural and historical significance of presenting in Paris. Sometimes, I feel a bit out of place here (in India). When I started out, a lot of people were doing lehnga and sari. Not many really spoke the language that I was speaking experimentally. Nobody was challenging the status quo. Manish Arora, yes, but he was among the exceptions. I am trying to do that for myself.
India has given me a lot. It gave me a base where I could grow, as a brand and as a person. I started with two people in a flat in south Delhi, which later got sealed. Now, I have 500 people working with me. I am also doing saris and lehngas now but in a different language. I am trying to build a commercial brand that’s also conceptual. The landscape of Indian fashion is a bit limiting; it’s not very “global cosmopolitan” yet.
People are losing their authenticity just (to follow) some trend. When I am working with people there (in Paris), the intention is towards art, towards a cultural conversation. It’s not like, “Let’s show these clothes and let’s sell them.” It’s a different pace of a conversation.
You sell clothes but before that you sell a dream, an image. Thierry Mugler sold clothes but he made money from his perfume. I am not here to just sell clothes, I am building a brand.
It’s a brand that stands for fantasy, for surrealism, for art, for beauty. It has a non-conformance vibe. When I was selling at Ensemble 18 years ago, people would say, “What are these torn, knotted dresses?” The market was not ready then but it made people curious about me. I am glad I stuck to what I believed in—an avant-garde style fashion.
I look up to Alexander McQueen and Salvador Dali. The sculpting, the ruffles, the sculptural gowns... these are my way of showing the surrealism and art of India. Why do people have to think of colours, Rajasthan, Taj Mahal, when they think of India? Why is India always boxed in these clichés?
Yes, I think it's like almost like a force of design and fashion has happened in a country, which has a very young fashion industry. I have been very lucky to have got this opportunity to showcase at a time when the whole world has its eyes fixed on India.
It has had a domino effect. The clients are increasing; we have now people from as far as Brazil. Paris has been a large, amazing opportunity to just get into the system, learn about building networks of clients, personal shoppers, and how to set up the right sales avenues. We are now working on a ready-to-wear line to make the brand more accessible. I can’t tell you more than that but it’s launching later this year. More people want to associate with us now, especially after seeing celebs like Cardi B, Teyonah Parris, Lizzo or Ranveer Singh in our clothes. They all have strong personalities, they are rule-breakers. My brand is also a rule-breaker.
I am a sophisticated hippie. I am gay, I live with straight friend. I do conceptual fashion. I have had naked dresses on the ramp and my mother has called me to say, “woh nah dresses theek nahi thi (those dresses were not right).” My uncles used to ask why I chose a profession that girls do. But my parents and brother have always been supportive. That’s how I have got as far as I have, including Paris.
Fashion is not a race; it's like an art. We are in a different zone, they are in a different one. It's like you cannot compare Tokyo and Paris, even though one would consider Tokyo as very fashion forward. Each country has its own cultural scale.
It also has to do with social, political, economic environments in these countries. France has been a free country for forever, while India was colonised. It takes time for a country to settle down, have that kind of money, that kind of spending power for luxury, to develop that kind of disciplines such as fashion industry. We didn’t even have IP laws for fashion for way too long; I have been fighting cases over my clothes being copied. Now there’s a department who’s looking into such matters. Couture means different things for different people.
May be. What is art? It's a reflection of the culture of the world and, at the same time, a driver of it. Fashion is also a constant conversation with society. So when a society changes, you do too, but you don’t forget what you stand for and believe in.