Rahul Mishra and luxury South Asian wedding dresses


It took Rahul Mishra six years to sell his first bridal lehenga, a three-piece dress, blouse and scarf from the Indian subcontinent. That was in 2017. Now, there are five months left to buy.

In April, the 43-year-old fashion designer based in Delhi, India made headlines for dressing Zendaya in a sparkling blue sari at the opening of the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Center in Mumbai. (He has also previously dressed Gigi Hadid, Viola Davis and Priyanka Chopra.) In 2020, he became the first Indian designer to show at Paris Haute Couture Week and has returned every year since. He will return on July 3.

But there is also a growing retail side of the business, Mr. Mishra said, where a big chunk comes from weddings: designs for the bride as well as kurtas, sarees and saris for family members. Weddings are “red carpet” events for non-celebrities, he said – especially in Indian culture, where weddings last several days, requiring many outfits for a large guest list.

Mr. Mishra started creating a bridal fashion line in 2011. It was in 2012. However, its unconventional focus on ivories, blues, pinks and bridal blacks – rather than the traditional red – ultimately failed to sell well. Soon the line went dead.

However, he may be ahead of his time. These days, many South Asian brides don’t choose red on their wedding day, says Aisha Rauji, founder of Kinah, an Indian bridal store.

Launched in 2017, Mr. Mishra’s bridal wear has become more successful. Although the designer remained ambivalent about red (“cliche”), he sought inspiration from calico textiles, an unwoven fabric made from cotton fibers, rather than traditional Indian designs.

“Everything was unbleached and unpolished, so it always had an off-white feel,” says Mr. Mishra. Rahul Mishra says brides looking for lehengas should enjoy the originality of the intricate embroidery and evocative craft designs.

Sales of wedding dresses, which have soared since the Covid-19 pandemic, will help sustain employment for 1,200 embroiderers working with communities in rural India, he said. “What you do in couture is very beautiful and not for sale,” Mr. Mishra said. “It may not create as much work, but the weddings are very powerful.”

Mr. Mishra grew up in humble circumstances with no electricity in Malhausi, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, India. Although he always knew that he wanted to be an artist, he accidentally stumbled upon design. He applied to become a cinematographer at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, but his application was rejected. So he enrolled in the school’s costume design program instead. (His father, who wanted him to be an engineer, did not speak to him for a year).

As it turns out, Mr. Mishra was good at design. The coordinator of the school’s education department submitted Mr. Mishra’s designs to the 2006 Lakmé Fashion Week talent acquisition program GenNext and was selected. After that, It has won a series of other awards, including the 2014 International Woolmark Award. “I’m very lucky,” Mr. Mishra said.

His background, however, is more technical than fashion-oriented. For him, he says, design is a goal-oriented problem solver. And one of its main objectives is to employ people in rural India so that their families can earn a living.

“I was very confused when I thought about fashion,” Mr. Mishra said. “I want to change the world; I want to design something for people who are not good.’ But I never thought that fashion can be so powerful when you slow down the process of creating things.

An ethically driven accelerated production process has been found to be critical to the ethos of “thoughtful luxury”. “The slow is so powerful that it creates more engagement for the people who work to create that beautiful garment,” Mr. Mishra said.

Almost all are made entirely by hand — each one takes between 1,000 and 8,000 hours to make, he said.

The theme of his show at Paris Haute Couture Week was “We, the People,” and he centered his pieces on embroiderers — there were even images of artisans stitched into the garments.

During a video interview, Mr. Mishra slipped some sketches. On one, there is a portrait of a tailor working closely with Munir Ahmed: needle and thread in hand.

“We were laughing; we’re tailoring Munir Bhai, and he looks like a DJ, he’s a cool guy,” he recalled, adding that the studio in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi, was a lot of fun when he and the team worked on this set.

While Mr. Mishra still sees himself as a student in the fashion game, his No. 1 goal as a creative director is to inspire the 250 people who work with him.

“Our studio is like a temple or a mosque – we are all contributing to each other’s happiness,” says Mr. Mishra. “And we make good designs, so we get more orders and hire more and more people.”

He took off his glasses and wiped his tears. “I’m sorry, I’m so emotional about it,” he said.


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