The India Design Forum that concluded last week in Delhi roped in some relevant thoughts (exhibitions, lectures and demonstrations too). What caught my attention at least on paper was an invite to Manish Arora's Greatest Hits, an exhibition of the designer's best pieces from his collections down the years. Mounted at Evoluzione, a multi-designer fashion boutique at Kila, Mehrauli in Delhi, these were archival pieces, chosen by Arora himself.
Manish Arora may now be creative director of Paco Rabanne, a French fashion house, and among those who wields the most clout at Paris Fashion Week, but he is, first and foremost a man of uncanny talents.
He 'suffers' from a rare lack of conformism that gets read by bumbling reviewers like us as 'futuristic' fashion. He is one of Trinity of Indian fashion—Rajesh Pratap Singh with his minimalism and Sabysachi with his excess being the other two. Manish is too many things at the same time, a thick rope woven from philosophies and psychologies; history and modernity; Indianness and glocality.
Thankfully, his clothes are not what dreams are made up of. But if you are dressing for a daring or rebellious event in your life, his garments would work. It is difficult to carry off a Manish Arora because only a few understand the radical, riotous mix of his colours and ideas. Inside it, is a melting pot replicating India's deep chaos.
From his turbulent imagination, we get circus prints and dresses, stories of Trojan wars laid out on gowns, an endless sea of gold sequins on another with an androgynous bolero. There is leather, weather and feather in Manish's work. There is also India re-imagined, yet fused out of tradition, even nature.
You will see a trishul somewhere, a butterfly elsewhere. There are faces of female dancers, their mudras, rockets, space age prints, balloons, there is the use of fur and chiffon, stones and buttons. His ramp shows would topple any other show when it comes to fashion spectacle and they rarely embody a personality with a determined sexuality. His models, like his creations are people who have dropped from another planet, or crawled out of the woodwork where they sat wearing grey, masks for decades.
Doesn't it sound like I am writing from an asylum where I am being treated for schizophrenia? Well, that's Manish Arora, then. He is also the only designer with a dozen important design affliations—MAC cosmetics, Swatch, Absolut Vodka, Disney, Good Earth, Reebok, Swarovski to name a few.
Which is why an exhibition of Manish Arora's Greatest Hits should have been curated with much more indepth research, with the curator's notes and titles, a digital film perhaps in the background that rolled with Arora's work around the world, his choice of models on international runways, his current work backstage at Paco Rabanne.
Present is light without a past, especially if it is an artist of Manish's calibre. Deconstructing Manish Arora is not easy and Evoluzione and the designer himself should not have underestimated this. Which is what happened.