A CONVERSATION WITH MANISH ARORA

An interview with Filep Motwary

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Manish Arora, portrait Filep Motwary ©

 

Only a few days after his first Paris flagship-store opening, we sat down with Manish Arora and talked about the new boutique, his visionary world, his beautiful collection for the Summer of 2015, Paco Rabanne, Fashion and Instagram…

The colorful and joyous love story between Manish Arora and Paris began in 2007 with momentous runway shows that, beyond business, aim at restoring optimism and lightness to the down-and-out fashion public. Beyond the runways and the Fédération française de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode where he is a member, Paris has also become his second home, 10000 kilometers away from languid New Delhi and its incredible craftsmanship, an integral part of the brand. It was therefore natural for Manish Arora to open his first flagship in Paris, after the presentation of his Spring-Summer 2015 collection. In just a few seasons, the Indian designer has wooed a demanding public looking to distinguish itself. After the success of his Galeries Lafayette corner and of the Galerie Joyce pop-up shop in 2013, Manish  has decided to take this new step and welcome his clients into his own world.

Located at 5 rue Rouget-de-L’Isle, between the Tuileries garden and rue Saint-Honoré, in an area reputed for its exclusive addresses and a stone’s throw away from most Parisian palaces, the Manish Arora boutique is conceived as a natural extension to his Parisian home, with its colored glass panels, the pink and gold that sign all this collections, all distilled in-store on furniture, fittings and displays. The store was imagined by the Milan-Paris based studio Riccardo Haiat, whose business focuses in the conception of boutiques, restaurants and apartments. The architect wanted to combine the strong and colored universe of Manish Arora with a pure and elegant touch that well integrates the Parisian context of the rue de Rivoli.

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FilepMotwary: Manish, thank you for accepting this interview. Your first Paris flagship store is now a fact, on 5 rue Rouget-de-L’Isle. How did you decide taking this step? Was it a natural thing to do?

ManishArora: I think it was time for us to move on! It has been already seven and a half years I’ve been showing in Paris and the next obvious step would have been to open a store. Although it was not really the plan yet we took this opportunity. You haven’t seen the place right?

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F.M: Unfortunately not yet because it was fashion week and it was all about running from show to show which made any additional activities difficult.

M.Arora: So I was saying, we found this opportunity. You know it’s not just a shop it is also a showroom. All these years we have been renting showroom space every season. It is also an office, so we see it as setting up our own “mini” House in Paris. Lets put it like that. It makes commercial sense too, having a place where you can sell and take orders for the next season.

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All detail images from SS15 fashion show, Yiannis Vlamos © courtesy of TOTEM

 

FM: The location was found by chance?

M.Arora: It was the first place we saw and we took it. Before that, we were not really thinking of a shop. Yet to common friends we have like Maria Luisa or Philippe who is her associate, they were the ones who showed me the spot and the minute I saw it, it became an instant decision. And you know, I am not the kind of designer who dreams of a shop in Fbg St. Honore, simply because I don’t think I fit there. I am a very specific brand…

FM: I don’t think it is such an interesting street to open a shop anymore anyway.

MA: Yes, also for the reason I cannot afford it. The place we have found is just around the corner from St. Honore, on a street of its own and you know I wanted more of a destination place rather than to be on a main street.

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FM: I see. Well it’s also a way for people to discover new things in Paris. Personally in the past 14 years that I am visiting the city, everything was about St. Honore. Now I kind of visit less and less each time cause I’m not interested. I think in this sceptical; many people do the same thing. Of course there is Colette which cannot be ignored.

M.Arora: That’s the only place I go to.

FM: Yes! What a sanctuary it is!

M.Arora: It is nice to have a place to be discovered and become one’s destination.

FM: Do you think Paris is changing?

M.Arora: Well, I am not so old in Paris. I think people are now finding their own spot rather being in the spotlight.

FM: When your work was first introduced in Paris was with flair for the theatrical much more than what it is today. What has changed you think? Lets start with the way collections are presented now.

M.Arora: I did start with a lot of drama and theatrics as you said, either with the location I chose to present or with my clothes. Yet that was the way I wanted to start. Coming from India, if I started my career making commercial clothes, I would definitely be lost in a pile of a thousand other designers. Of course it is my style, being loud and not shy about things. It is still like that. Over the years I realized there is a lot on demand for my clothes, people want to buy. I am getting exited that people buy my clothes.

FM: I think that the timing allowed it as well. You launched a complete universe of your own in Paris and what was really impressive was the way you brought your origins to Europe and inserted them in. That must have been the most difficult part of the procedure…

M.Arora: Yes, because I have witnessed others from India who tried and do things in Paris yet the looked like many other designers already existing in Europe so nothing happened for them at the end. Personally I love my country, where I come from and you can see it in almost everything I do.

FM: How difficult it was for you to be established in Paris, to begin with. It is not usual for an ethnic designer whose collections are far from safe, especially now, not only to be accepted but also to be on top of the list!

M.Arora: Now I must say we are also very commercially successful. Just came back from a meeting with Galleries Lafayette and we are their No1 brand in the group of best selling contemporary brands. It is the second season we are number one and now they are giving us a part of their shop in December.

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Manish Arora, portrait Filep Motwary ©

FM: How possible it is for creativity to be connected with commercialism with good results?

M.Arora: I think the times now allow us to be individuals and be recognized and stand out. Fashion now as you can see, on the streets or style.com… if you look at the pictures of Tommy Ton people are now very adventurous in the way they dress. Take Anna Dello Russo for instance, she is right on top of it…
So people now bring individual taste in fashion rather than getting lost in fashion like they used to.

FM: Would you say it is also a good time for individual talent to blossom?

M.Arora: I think so. If you have a string identity and do what you do without compromise.

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FM: Yet this is a contradiction with the financial crisis and so on, everybody now plays safe but still there this need for survival and introduction to new things. How do you think we can combine the two?

M.Arora: This is the time when you need to be yourself. For example, our sales for the past 3-4 seasons increased by 20% with last season being the most successful, for the current one we are still waiting for the exact numbers. This season we expanded by 17 more shops, which is great. So I think if you really want to be successful right now you must express it. Keep in mind what is the largest consuming market, which is China. Ask yourself what they want. Even big brands create collections especially for the Chinese market and my biggest market is also China. Even at the Galleries Lafayette today when I went, the customer is Chinese.

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FM:When do you think fashion changed the most, between the 1990s and the 2000s, to develop a direction for womenswear and what the modern woman needs?

M.Arora: I think that every change is gradual; things don’t change over a moment. Yet Facebook, Instagram and general social media brought a change to the way we see things. Speed! Ten years ago this would have been impossible. You can now sell immediately what you showed the same day.

FM: Does it help us enjoy the goods at the end?

M.Arora: Well, I don’t know about that ‘cause I still doing believe in doing two collections and then pre-collection, resort collection. I am still trying to stay away from it, but it looks I will need to give in pretty soon since that’s is where things are going. Four more collections a year is already a lot for me.

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Backstage at Manish Arora, through the eyes of photographer Julien Vallon

FM: If you make more it means you need to upgrade your team and hire more hands as well.

M.Arora: Yes, I am already making five collections a year, two for the Paris edition and three for my Indian brand.

FM: How important is India for you now?
M.Arora: It is such a big market that you cannot ignore. But for India my designs are different.

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FM: I have always wondered how easy or difficult it is for you to create such amazing mixtures of colors, patterns, and embellishment.

M.Arora: Colors are part of my DNA. Other Indian designers avoid them. I don’t know where I get this from but I use color without thinking and somehow seems to be OK.

FM: Is there any tension between the idea and the execution, in terms of the time that separates them?

M.Arora: To have an idea is the easiest. It is the execution that makes things different. Especially with the work my clothes have on, the embellishment, the handwork. As you know most of them are made in India. We have to work a bit more in advance than other companies. I am already working for my next show. First of all I work in India, so we are somehow disconnected from the global fashion world.
It is not very difficult for me to go very far creatively. For the last three seasons I am working with a new stylist and I think we form a very nice team. She understands me and doesn’t stop me from doing things and at the same time protects me from falling. You can see why the last three shows were so successful in all aspects, commercially, press wise, reviews wise…
For example, LOVE magazine gave 16 pages on my work something that not a single advertiser has in that issue. Bringing in the new stylist and keeping me involved it was the way to achieve all that.

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FM: But that’s a good thing, no?

M.Arora: Yes, exactly. I feel it is the only way to stay new and original. Yet, I have to go back and show in Paris and its something that cannot be ignored no matter what. I have a show in the first days of the fashion week at that time and so on. So we always work in advance. We already have the storyboard for the next collection and fabrics. We don’t have many resources in India. Of course we have the advantages of handwork, embellishment…

FM: What is missing?

M.Arora: Beautiful fabrics, we don’t have much choice in India.

FM: Can’t you produce them?

M.Arora: Well, Indian fabrics are beautiful yet in a very traditional way. They are not for today’s generation. It’s nice to collect them. If you want something futuristic, India is not the place. I do my knitwear in Italy, shoes also in Italy.

Backstage at Manish Arora, through the eyes of photographer Julien Vallon

Backstage at Manish Arora, through the eyes of photographer Julien Vallon

FM: Who is the Manish Arora customer? What does this identity mean to you in the first place?

M.Arora: It is very simple. Let me tell you a story. My friend’s kids, they are less than ten years old but when they see something of mine in a magazine, they recognize it. And they don’t work in fashion. This is what identity is about and I am not losing mine cause I always stayed faithful to my vision. It is build in me.
The Manish Arora woman is ageless; she is ultra confident and likes to stand out in the crowd. She is not shy. That is Manish Arora. My customer is the same in Europe, Middle East, Asia…

FM: If we compare your life as it is today 1994, when you won the Best Student Award in New Delhi, what has changed? How different is Manish?

M.Arora: Well I am more evolved because of the experiences I have had in life. But still I am only 42. I have travelled so much…
I would never imagine that I would work for a French House for example or making films, or visiting Paris 2-3 times every month. Personally maybe I am still the same. Professionally I feel I am becoming more and more refined and true to my own world.

FM: I would kindly ask you to go back in 2011, when you took over another House, further than your own. Why do you think Paco Rabanne chose you as their creative director and how difficult was that task for you?

M.Arora: I am not usually afraid of the new. Taking over Paco Rabanne was exiting. The first day I went to my office there I could see from my window Balmain’s offices, Nina Ricci was on the left and I was like “ Wow, where the fuck am I?”. Of course this lasted only one day, as I had to get to work.
From the next morning I got myself deeply involved in the task. The first show we did, created a lot of noise probably more than any other designer who took over Rabanne until now. Lady Gaga wore five outfits in one night immediately after we showed the collection, we had Anna Dello Russo on the cover of a magazine wearing it… It was quite big the news of the show. At the same time, though it was that moment when I realized that I was making a lot of effort for someone else.

FM: What was the balance between re-defining the signature of Paco Rabanne and doing something new each season?
How high was the pressure to do something completely new every time?

M.Arora: I stayed at Paco only two seasons you know, so I cannot expand so much about it.

FM: It’s a whole year..

M.Arora: I would say that the best thing I learned at Paco was how to survive in Paris, how to get used to live and work in Paris. It helped me to make my brand more systematical. I learn a lot, of the different processes it takes. And the French take fashion too seriously.

FM: And that’s a bad thing?

M.Arora: No, but its not like London. The Brits are more creative, whereas France is more about a system. Fashion is changing though. Ten years ago everybody was dressed in black compared to now when people try color. They give color a chance again; they’ve become more adventurous. So, I guess it is a good time for brands like me.

FM: And how did you balance your role as creative director of Rabanne with running your own label combined with your own personal life?

M.Arora: I always have a personal life. As coming from India, where we are used to working long. We are not like the French who work for a specific number of hours per week. It didn’t matter if I worked 12 hours or 18. I got such a rush of being the first Indian in a country of 1.4 million, to be able to do my first show internationally, and later being responsible for a French House like Paco Rabanne was such a high. These were the things that still keep me going on!

FM: How has the role of Creative Director changed through the years? Today is about one’s vision rather than fine technical skills. How do you respond to the responsibility of creating a collection each season? How involved are you?

M.Arora: In my own collection I’m involved in every aspect. Even at Paco when I started, we didn’t have a studio. We used to work in the office; the perfume office and then we slowly moved to rue Francois 1er. I literally set up the studio, got the assistants all that. I must say that year at Paco was exiting and I was on my toes all the time. It was fun.

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FM: Focusing on your collection for SS15, it was much lighter than other seasons. Style.com described it as a more retail relative?

M.Arora: I was a challenge I made for myself, how to make light clothes, something that Maria Luisa has been asking me to do for as long as I can remember: “Manish you should make your clothes lighter“ and I never listened. After doing so many heavy collections, like last winter, which was over embellished, over accessorized, we talked about candy and cupcakes and girls full of ice cream. Style.com said it was the most ambitious show of mine. So I thought, it would be great to give something opposite for SS15, something light, aerie, transparent and of course give the element of surprise to guests, customers and press. And that’s what Maria Luisa said to me when she came backstage to congratulate me for the show. “ What a contrast”!

FM: How would you define the meaning of fashion today? Is there an evolution from your perspective?

M.Arora: Fashion is very mechanical now in many ways. A lot is about what sells and what designers make. There was a time when designers showed their point of view and expected to change their customer’s point of view. I feel that these days, most of the designers do what people want. There is no time for emotion. Yet some still manage to bring out the emotion like Comme Des Garcons, its what I consider as special. Rei Kawakubo is always a good example of identity.

FM: Can someone who loves fashion so intensely abandon it?
M.Arora: Yes, though I have no intentions of doing something as such right now. Surely I had these thoughts before, if I decide it, I will do it.
For the moment, I enjoy every minute of my work.

FM: What shall we expect from you next?

M.Arora: Well, I think I can tell you now… We are launching a perfume. Not yet but we are working on it.

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Thank you Elisa Palmer

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