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Why Paris Haute Couture Week matters to Indian designers

Rahul Mishra and Gaurav Gupta could be the catalyst that changes the way Indian designers are viewed in Paris

Rahul Mishra has shown his work (centre) at the Paris Haute Couture Week for three years, while Gaurav Gupta, known for sculptured ensembles (left) will be making his debut; Actor Ram Charan (right) wears Tarun Tahiliani at the Golden Globe Awards. (Photos courtesy: @gauravguptaofficial and @rahulmishra_7 on Instagram, Getty images via AFP)

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The Indian fashion fraternity is watching the prestigious Paris Haute Couture Week, which starts on 23 January, with hope. Two leading designers, Rahul Mishra and Gaurav Gupta, are set to participate. It could be that catalyst moment for the way Indian designers are viewed.

Mishra has been showcasing at the haute couture week for the past three years, while Gupta will be making his much-anticipated debut. Being invited to showcase in Paris is not a simple process—you have to be approved by a board and there are strict protocols to follow.

For a long time, it seemed like a club only for European labels with participation from west Asia (Elie Saab and Maison Rabah Kayrouz are among the Arab designers who show regularly). Now, Indian designers making inroads, and it seems that things are changing.

Both Gupta and Mishra have distinctive styles yet both champion Indian crafts. For Mishra craft is the muse, and he has always put them at the centre of his work. His surface ornamentations are experimental yet firmly rooted in Indian traditions and skilfully infused with a global aesthetic. His flair for finish has opened the world’s eye to talent in India.

Most of the decorative arts and embellishment, from beadwork and embroidery to crochet and leather braid work, accentuating the design on display at the Paris couture week are handcrafted in India. Design houses such as Christian Dior and Maison Valentino depend completely on Indian artisans to add flourish to their clothing and accessories. Yet for Indian labels to make a name for themselves and for Indian designers to gain their own following, they have to break into the tight-knit world of couture in Paris. The fashion runways of Paris are still the ones that Indian designers have to walk on to truly shine.

“I am waiting for a time when we see global celebrities wear a beautiful lehnga skirt or a sari from an Indian label on the red carpet,” says Mishra. “I’d also like to see them in the many experimental gowns that are coming out of India.” Zendaya wore a piece from his first Paris haute couture collection, which helped him gain greater international recognition. Mishra adds a cautionary note though: that only designers who have evening wear as a natural part of their label’s DNA should focus on the red carpet.

Gupta is known for playing with proportion and is a master of sculptured ensembles. He’s seen exceptional red carpet success in the past year. When Megan Thee Stallion made her debut at the Oscars last year, she chose a silver blue beaded gown by the designer.

The different aesthetics of Mishra and Gupta show the scope of design talent in India. Both designers having showcases in Paris this year is exciting, and could advance the case for Indian designers as occasionwear designers.

While Mishra and Gupta are headed to Paris, other Indian designers have also been making waves on the red carpet. Falguni Shane Peacock is often chosen by celebrity stylists , and the designer duo has worked with a number of international celebrities, including Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. The brand’s unapologetic take on maximalism has made them shine, says Shane Peacock.

While design and finish matter, logistics and exposure play a key role in a brand making to the global stage. Shane and Falguni have an office in New York, work with a showroom in Los Angeles, and have participated in international fashion weeks and fairs consistently for a decade. Peacock says this has certainly played a role in their international growth as western stylists tend to look for designers with a US or UK presence.

Tara Swennen, a well-known celebrity stylist with a client list that includes Kristen Stewart, Constance Wu and Allison Janney, says she usually works with South Asian designers based in New York. “One of my favourite designers is Bibhu Mohapatra. We have been working together for years, and I love his pieces. We have called quite a few of his designs in for the awards season this year. We also have had an incredible run with Naeem Khan. Allison Janney wore one of his gowns for her The People We Hate at the Wedding premiere in New York in November, and Constance Wu wore a shorter cocktail piece for the Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile premiere in October.”

Over the last few years, more Indian designers have started collaborating with international stores, opened their own flagship stores in cities such as New York and London and are making a concerted effort to get invited to events such as Paris Haute Couture Week. Being at international events puts Indian designers on the radar of celebrity stylists. “I do think that Indian designers bring an incredible speciality with their craft and expertise, especially in intricate beadwork. I look forward to seeing what new talents come from India, in the future,” says Swennen.

Peacock notes when he meets stylists in international cites, they are excited to see the work of Indian designers. “They want to see something different, and want to come to India.”

Fashion has been helped by South Asian voices becoming stronger in the world of entertainment. Mindy Kaling, Lily Singh and Priyanka Chopra Jonas—Shane and Falguni Peacock have dressed all three in the past year—are regulars on the red carpet and tend to support South Asian designers.

“Right now everyone has their eyes on India. International brands are signing Bollywood stars as brand ambassadors, and we have our first Golden Globe award (for RRR’s Naatu Naatu). This impacts the whole creative industry,” says Peacock.

Actor Ram Charan’s Tarun Tahilani bandhgala gained praise at the awards night, too. That’s why Peacock believes the time has never been better for India. “Middle Eastern designers Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Ashi Studio have become a de rigueur at awards season dressing. Why should Indian designers be left behind?” he says.

Of course, being on the red carpet alone does not translate into commercial success. It does, however, help with the journey.

Dress Sense is a monthly fashion column that takes a look at the clothes that we wear every day and what it means to us.

Sujata Assomull is a journalist, author and mindful fashion advocate.

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