How does a designer or brand each season infuse their collections with an evolving sophistication and chicness, new points of view and a fashion sensibility that embraces the brand’s DNA while keeping the collections relevant and fashion forward? Remember, most major brands are creating five to six new collections every year. So, at some point you would think the well of creativity could run a little dry; particularly, if a brand has been around a few decades.
Bibhu Mohapatra never seems to have this dilemma. Every season he excites consumers and the fashion industry with collections that draw inspiration from a deep well of cultural references and motifs. In a market where designers and brands are desperately scrambling for continued market viability as consumers aggressively move away from brick and mortar stores to e-commerce options, Mohapatra has found a formula that keeps consumers coming back for more.
Fashion Reverie was honored to interview Bibhu Mohapatra before he showed his spring 2017 collection during New York Fashion Week: The Shows.
Fashion Reverie: What is your inspiration for spring 2017?
Bibhu Mohapatra: For spring 2017 my efforts are to look into the unsung muses from the Belle Epoque. These French muses inspired painters, musicians, sculptors and writers and had very special relationships with these women. They were the main source of inspiration for many of these artists; however, we don’t know who a lot of these women were. In a sense, they are unsung. I wanted to investigate these women, and I thought it would be an interesting idea to study these women, many of them worked in brothels, and were outcast, yet they were a part of the demimonde and salon society.
Bibhu Mohapatra: I did not make my Belle Epoque reference specific to any one personality. I made it indicative of the whole era. The relationship between an artist and the muse always spoke to me, whether it was Rodin’s muse or Maude Gonne who was muse to the poet William Yeats; these studies are with different people. Often times the muse grows with the artist, yet there is a distance. Yeats wanted to marry Maude Gonne but she refused, realizing that if they married Yeats would cease to be inspired by her. This was happening when the Art Nouveau movement was gathering steam, and Art Deco was in the pipeline. So in this collection the Belle Epoque references are there, but I am making it more graphic and modern. There are a lot of opulent fabrics in this collection, lots of embroidery and jewels, as well. The collection is sexy glam with lots of lace and the use of diaphanous fabrics.
Bibhu Mohapatra: There are a lot of fitted bodices and details from that era that I reimagine for today’s women. For instance, I might take inner garments and reverse them, making them the outer garments. I do incorporate some of the fitted elements from the Belle Epoque into this collection; however, for the modern woman I have given those elements more ease. There is a lot draping and combinations of sheer fabrics with heavier fabrics. I like to re-interpret these elements my way without having the garments look very period. That is a challenge I enjoy. I immerse myself in this world and I imagine how that woman lives her daily life and then I extract and make it all my own. My fabrics come from all over the world and the embroideries are still being developed for the collection.
FR: Could you talk about your fabrications and color palette?
Bibhu Mohapatra: We have two or three shades of coral, beautiful shades of violet, greens, chartreuse, ivory, sand, navy, and black. The evening garments are composed of this beautiful crepe that comes from Japan that we dyed in a wide variety of colors. The collection has three different types of lace from Japan and Italy. We have a lot of linen stripes that be will used to give a graphic effect with beige and grey and beige and black effects within the stripes. We also have crystal-embossed fabric that is a new textile that we have incorporated this season. We have custom embroideries that are encrusted with crystals and pearls.
Additionally, we have lots of beautiful blouses in Supima cotton in different colors. Supima sponsored the cotton in his season’s collection because I mentor students in the Supima competition. I have some denim in the collection, some jacquard, and we have prints in crepe and chiffon.
FR: This collection compared to some of your other collections is more graphic, why that direction?
Bibhu Mohapatra: Adding the geometric aspect to this collection, makes the collection more current. There are a lot of lines and stripes; and I have never used so many stripes before than in this collection. For me, the human body is all about geometric shapes; I always see the placement of geometric lines on the body, sometimes it’s just seams, sometimes it is just stripped fabric cut on the bias. I wanted to give the collection that clean, modern edge.
FR: I see in this collection, and I’ve have seen in previous collections that you like to use color blocking. Why does color blocking appeal to you so much?
Bibhu Mohapatra: For the day pieces especially, color blocking is a way for us to add shocks of color. If I make a garment in all neutral colors I might add a bold color block going down the side to give a dramatic effect. As we go to the evening pieces things become more tonal.
FR: I did notice some ruffled garments. Were you trying to stay on trend by incorporating ruffles into the collection?
Bibhu Mohapatra: I felt that ruffles add a playful quality to the clothes that find reflected in the Belle Epoque style. This ruffled quality is expressed in opaque and sheer fabrics also incorporated in multi-layered pieces.
FR: Because of the multi-layering, there is almost a reveal or pulling back to show something more. Could you speak to that?
Bibhu Mohapatra: That particular layering effect is something I incorporated last season. It kind of went with the morphing or evolving DNA of the brand. It also allows me to make an important outfit for the evening without making it long which can hinder ease of movement. I can do a high-low garment that can be added to and/or take away elements that can actually be more than one garment.
Bibhu Mohapatra: She was always a sophisticated, educated woman but because of technology and more global travel she has evolved to an international woman who is comfortable in a lot of different cultures from the Middle East to Asia, Europe, and the States. She is not classified into a wage group. She may have deep pockets or she may use her money with discretion for purchasing very special pieces from my collections. She does not necessarily follow trends, but she is attracted to the individual style and craftsmanship expressed in my collections.
My brand is a premium line so there is a type of price point that is required to purchase the clothes. We are very close to launching some offshoots of the premium line that speak to more affordable price points. I have bridal in the pipeline; I have launched my faux fur collection for fall 2016 which will be in Saks Fifth Avenue and many specialty boutiques. And I recently launched a diamond jewelry line, Artemis, in collaboration with DeBeers.
FR: The “See Now, Buy Now” business model seems to be getting a lot of momentum in the fashion industry. Tommy Hilfiger is on board, as well as Monique Lhuillier, Mara Hoffman, and some other major brands. How are you incorporating this business model into your brand?
Bibhu Mohapatra: We are not using the “See Now, Buy Now” business model at the present time. We have been thinking about it and how it needs to be financed. However, for me my business has always been a balancing act between creativity and commerce.
In order for “See Now, Buy Now” to be an effective business model for a brand, the brand needs incredible resources. And to be able to speculate a certain amount of garments for mass production that you know will sell well to consumers is a huge undertaking. And for my brand we are not in that position to adopt the “See Now, Buy Now” model. We also keep some of our best-selling pieces in stock and we sometimes repurpose those garments for select clients.
I started this brand in 2009 and I have grown this brand very carefully. That said; I have to be careful if the company can withstand any new business model. We have a very healthy direct-client component that has tripled in the past few years. This kind of scale we can manage, but we are not at a mass-market “See Now, Buy Now” model yet.
FR: Is the challenge also sourcing the kind of luxury fabrics and new technology fabrics that you use in your collections?
Bibhu Mohapatra: The fabrics are not the real challenge. Many of the mills that make our fabrics can adjust their schedules and get it done for us. However, the exquisite embroideries and the detailing are much more of a challenge for us that would create an availability issue if we adopted the “See Now, Buy Now” model. It takes about four months to get a lot of the detailing and embroideries done. So we would have to start our process much earlier and compress the cycle.
FR: How have you infused your East Indian heritage into this collection?
Bibhu Mohapatra: The color palette alone in this collection reflects my background. Who would use the colors I am putting together but someone from my background? Some of the fabrications and embellishments definitely reflect my East Indian heritage. Those East Indians influences sort of creep into my collections organically because it so intrinsically a part of who I am. I do design for a global audience so some things in the collection are inherently Indian because of the way I think and how I envision my international woman.
—William S. Gooch