Monday, 30th October 2017

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The original king of kitsch of Indian fashion, Manish Arora talks inclusivity and genderless love

'Pink and gold are my religion, so I use those colours the most'

  • Published 29.02.20, 7:27 PM
  • Updated 29.02.20, 7:27 PM
  • 3 mins read
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Sandip Das, Fotocorp and Getty Images

Designer Manish Arora isn’t known for subtlety. His style is exaggerated, bold, over the top. He is sitting backstage, where models are scurrying around and getting ready for his big show on the opening day of the Lakme Fashion Week Summer/ Resort 2020 in Mumbai last month. The energy is palpable. Set to go on show is Arora’s ‘We Are Family’ collection featuring drag queens. There are fluorescent prints, massive headgear and bright, bold make-up all around. And in the midst of getting all that just right, the designer sits down for a chat with The Telegraph. Excerpts.

Actor Kangana Ranaut in a pink-and-gold Manish Arora ensemble
Actor Kangana Ranaut in a pink-and-gold Manish Arora ensemble Sandip Das, Fotocorp and Getty Images

Welcome back to India! The excitement of a Manish Arora show is palpable. How would you compare the excitement of showing in India versus anywhere else in the world?

I’m always excited about showcasing my collection in India. I was born in Mumbai and now I live in Delhi, so India is home. This time, I am excited to have a presentation at LFW that celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community, a community I’m proud and passionate about. From the models to the clothes, they represent the strength, force and glamour of the community.

I’m glad they (LFW) asked me to do something for their 20th anniversary. Lakme has helped me a lot, it’s because of Lakme my career has gone in many different directions for the better in the past.

This is a curation of the best of your past collections. What did you keep in mind while curating it?

The idea here was not just the clothes, it was beyond that. It was more about the message behind it. Keeping that in mind is how we planned the clothes.

It’s based on the subject of gender equality. It’s more about the freedom of expression, it’s over the top. My work is never simple, but today we are going more over the top (laughs). I think it’s a great subject of getting people who want to express themselves and show what they want to be.

A borderless, gender-fluid, inclusive assemblage, the showcase will embrace the creative energies of LGBTQIA+ artistes and performers. The message is that ‘We are family and I’ve got all my sisters with me’ (smiles).

What prompted you to showcase the collection with the help of drag queens?

It’s not something you get to do usually in India and why shouldn’t I be the first one to do it? Since I’ve done many firsts in this country, I might as well be the first one to do a show like this. That’s why I grabbed the opportunity.

Bold, fearless, diverse, genderless and extravagant
Bold, fearless, diverse, genderless and extravagant Sandip Das, Fotocorp and Getty Images

The LGBTQAI+ community’s cause has been a cause close to your heart…

For me, the larger cause and message has always been about celebrating life and love with no boundaries. That inspires and fuels my passion and creativity.

Maximalism is a tag that’s often been attributed to you...

That’s me. That’s a part of my personality. I only do things I believe in, so yes, my work is an extension of who I am.

How would you best describe your aesthetics?

Bold, fearless, diverse, genderless and extravagant.

And how has that evolved over the years?

In the early ’90s, it was hard for people to understand diversity and genderless love. Hence, my motifs and colour became my representation of it and that still holds true to this day. Pink and gold are my religion, so I use those colours the most.

What inspires you to design clothes?

Inspiration is something that builds over years and an amalgamation of it is what my We Are Family collection is. Celebration of love and life is my ultimate inspiration.

How do you react when you’re called ‘the John Galliano of India’?

I think it’s a huge compliment. 

Inspiration is something that builds over years and an amalgamation of it is what my We Are Family collection is
Inspiration is something that builds over years and an amalgamation of it is what my We Are Family collection is Sandip Das, Fotocorp and Getty Images

What was your biggest learning from the time you used to work with Paco Rabanne?

You learn to take fashion seriously. That’s what you learn from there. I mean, whatever I do may come across as fun and frivolous but it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of discipline that goes behind it.

You shuttle between Delhi and Paris. Tell us about your life in Paris…

Life is beautiful there (laughs). I like to live there, I don’t know why. It always keeps you on your toes. It always helps you to learn more, it’s like every day is a new day at school. You’re learning more things and it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been there.

 Indian fashion weeks are talking about equality and queer rights and making a statement, we’ve come a long way.
Indian fashion weeks are talking about equality and queer rights and making a statement, we’ve come a long way. Sandip Das, Fotocorp and Getty Images

Since you have been showing at Paris Fashion Week consistently for the past few years, what do you thing are the aspects Indian fashion weeks can improve on compared to international fashion weeks?

Actually, I’m glad that Indian fashion weeks are talking about equality and queer rights and making a statement, we’ve come a long way.

What message do you have for the budding designers out there?

Fashion is a job, you could be a doctor, lawyer or a designer. It’s the same thing. Discipline is very important; fashion is not as glamorous as it looks like. There’s a lot of back-end work, which is way more important than it looks like in front.

Would you do anything differently now when you look back?

Nothing at all!

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