x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Manish Arora modernises without westernising

Anuj Chopra talks with Manish Arora, a New Delhi fashion designer and the creative director of the French fashion house Paco Rabanne.

Manish Arora, a New Delhi fashion designer and the creative director of the French fashion house Paco Rabanne, discusses his work. He is widely regarded as the "John Galliano of India" for his flamboyant designs, vivid colours and liberal indulgence in traditional Indian crafts such as embroidery.

He started his eponymous label in 1997 and a second label, Fish Fry, three years later. The Manish Arora label is available in more than 84 stores worldwide, accounting for one-fifth of his US$5.5 million (Dh20.2m) company.

You have often appealed to Indian fashion designers to "modernise, not westernise". What do you mean by that?

Most designers seem to be confused between the two terms. While many foreign designers are focusing on Indian embroidery, patchwork, beading and handmade embellishments, designers here seem to be aping the West with the illusion that their designs will appeal to a global market. Indian style has definitely moved beyond the draped sari and its woven fabrics, but that does not mean we should give up our traditional crafts. We need to combine modern garments with Indian sensibilities to produce innovative designs that stand out in a fashion world cluttered with cookie-cutter brands.

What business skills should designers hone to market their collections?

Primarily, you need to identify your target market. Understanding your clientele is also very important to sell your brand globally. The collection which we show on the runway is just a concept. You then build on that theme and make different lines suiting customers from different regions. For example, if you are designing for Europe, you have to understand European sensibilities, seasons, and the local body type. You cannot sell a European client a chiffon sundress during the winter buying season.

You made a successful debut at the London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week some years ago. What does it take for an Indian designer to excel in international markets?

You cannot slot the entire globe as an "international market". What sells in Japan might not sell in the Middle East. You cannot go anywhere until you know every detail about your target market. If your product does not appeal to it, no amount of marketing or media hype will help. Other than that, collaborating with various global brands also helps in creating an international brand image for a designer. I have personally been associated with brands like Reebok, Swatch watches, Pommery Champagne and Nivea.