“I don’t know how girls smoke in these,” says the fashion designer Manish Arora, staring at a large gold nail plastered on to his ring finger, whilst toying with a packet of cigarettes laid out on a table decked in champagne, strawberries, and chocolate.
India’s leading light in fashion, and the man who perhaps counts as the world’s most colorful designer, is putting the finishing touches to his autumn/winter 2015 runway show in his flagship store in Central Paris.
An orange teddy bear sits in the window. But that is just the beginning. The interiors are decorated so brightly that it makes designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s shocking pink look tame by comparison.
The nail, which looks rather Drag Queen, is in keeping with his “larger than life” philosophy that explains some of the loud and colorful creations. “I think it is my personality,” says Arora. “Today is a good day,” he adds, looking at his fabulous new nail, amused at the colorful production unfolding around him. “I always think larger than life.”
The most successful Indian designer, internationally, Arora is the biggest Indian designer to show at Paris Fashion Week. Covered by the A to Z of fashion magazines, he has previously served as the creative director of Paco Rabanne.
He launched his own label in 1997 after studying fashion at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, where he won the best student award. He has collaborated with everyone from Reebok to Indian jewelers Amrapali.
It is the day before his Parisian show and Arora is dressing a few models and testing others on their walk. One gazes into his eyes, striding across the room like a sultry demon.
There are girls, feathers, and sequins everywhere you turn. And the scene unfolding looks even more amusing, given that Arora himself is wearing an outfit that almost deserves its own place on a catwalk show for disco.
A slender figure, he shines in a glittering bottle-green sweater, paired with some of his funky metallic sneakers that have been developed this season into knee-high boots, with gold cord used as laces, and skulls peaking out from the inner fold, which is in keeping with a Medieval theme that is the basis for this collection.
“It is Medieval goes pop,” he explains. “Or Medieval meets Burning Man.”
The shop, whose walls are painted in bright pink, is situated a stone’s throw from the Rue Saint-Honoré, an upscale shopping street lined with staid brands. But here inside, it is a whirlwind of color and derring-do.
“Put the feathers on the nose,” Arora instructs a stylist, who promptly sets a feather decoration to rest on a model’s dainty bridge, like a pair of Apache specs.
Gold ribs hang like a fancy dress costume on the outside of the torso of the model’s black dress, with beads hanging like chains and fireflies with pretty wings attached for decoration.
“They are a typical symbol of the era,” he says, talking about jackals and iris flowers and decorative armor found on other pieces.
A bag designed like a skull hangs from the model’s wrist from a chain. It has red hearts for eyes. A wild, floor-length cape swishes around another girl, standing like an African warrior, its feathery print running into the ground. Mohawk feathers that are spiked like a punk hairdo have been turned into a headdress.
“Those are inspired by Burning Man,” he says of the desert festival he loves to attend, along with the Goa raves each year.
On a sideboard stand gold and silver wigs and spiky black ear decorations that look the collar of a bulldog recustomized as catwalk accessories.
“That is more Burning Man,” he said.
The love of details and color typical to India, meanwhile, is found in the embroidery stitched in sometimes garish, clashing colors.
Think a jacket covered in a fuzz of green fur around the arms, which is attached to a printed hooded jacket decorated in wild patterns that look like they were indeed dreamt up at a rave.
“It gets wilder,” said a critic front row at the show the next day, as the outfits became more outlandish as each model walked.
The models looked like medieval warriors that had got drunk at a party and put on some other reveler’s clothes instead, then snatched a coat of armor or a velvet cape on the way out.
Skulls popped up again as emblems on bags and the irises could be found embroidered into some of his pop-ish looking pieces, which combine a club-kid aesthetic with fabulous Indian handicrafts, made by young men who sit in long rows in his Delhi atelier patiently sewing and stitching sequins into garments that blow-dry in the wind on the roof.
“My philosophy for fashion is happiness. It is not something dark,” says Arora.
That sentiment can be also found reflected in his Paris apartment, where the walls are sprayed in fluorescent colors, and graffiti decorates the entrance hall.
Panels made of stained glass in every color of the rainbow section off his bathroom, where there is a shocking pink tub placed on pretty tiles.
These funky stained-glass windows can also be found in his Paris shop, sectioning off the rows of outfits that mix the carnivalesque with the cute and funky in a way that makes it couture and prêt-à-porter, and fabulous and fun, all bundled into one.
“If you look at the pieces they are actually quite commercial,” he said.
Arora’s colorful explosion of creativity and amusing storytelling woven into dress form has in fact made him the most successful Indian designer overseas.
His Parisian show notes read, delightfully, like something dreamt up by the Brothers Grimm after a hash cake: “Once upon a time in a far away land full of color and shine, a pop warrior travelled through a magical land populated with mystical creatures. Jewelled owls and ravens watched from the branches of the trees while iridescent dragonflies danced in the green grass. Our heroine fought many battles in shining armor and intricately embellished sweatshirts and braved electric thunderstorms in embroidered jumpsuits and richly printed separates to reach the medieval court of the King and Queen.”
The notes concluded thus. “Under the reign of the Queen (of this tribe), the people (of this tribe) lived in a jubilant haze of pink and gold and everyone lived happily ever after.”