On Friday, Rahul Mishra became the first Indian to win the coveted International Woolmark Prize at the Milan Fashion Week, joining big names like Karl Lagerfield and Giorgio Armani who have bagged the Australian $100,000 prize. Describing this as a victory of Indian craft, Mishra talks to Asmita Aggarwal about his design influences and why fashion can be "a cruel thing". Excerpts
How does it feel to have won this honour, which puts you in the league of Karl Lagerfeld, Armani and D&G? You are also the first Indian to have won it.
I am super excited. There were five designers from the US, Europe, Australia, Asia, and West Asia vying for this coveted award, so I am thrilled to have been among such stalwarts. I would like to thank the Fashion Design Council of India and its president, Sunil Sethi, who spotted my talent and gave me a chance to excel.
What made your line special?
My line was based on providing livelihood to wool weavers, so we created designs using wool as a non-winter garment. For me, it is a victory of Indian craft.
What was your line based on?
It was called The Lotus Effect and was based on the hexagon shape, which is the genesis of all shapes, including the lotus, and I used this idea in my garments. It was heavily influenced by Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher and his monochromatic work.
I like experimenting, so I combined Chanderi with wool for my Milan Fashion Week show, and I must say it looks fabulous. Innovations create a story. Fashion is a cruel thing. It is the biggest enemy of craft. But on the other hand, fashion helps you be new every season. I feel there must be some sort of synergy between the old and new.
Tell us about your journey from Kanpur to Milan.
I am from a small village in Kanpur, with no access to Internet or international catwalks, so my design has emerged out of my thoughts. My school fee was Rs 7 a month. But I won a scholarship to the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, where D&G and Moschino studied. Staying in Milan opened my eyes to a new world.
Will India find its own definition of style? Issey Miyake, for instance, made global clothes; he never sold kimonos.
Good design must have no language, no boundaries of geography. It must be universal and that's what I attempt to do with my label at Milan fashion week.
Your dress was also loved by Beyonce Knowles for her collaboration with Rent The Runway, the popular online rental boutique. Yours was the only Indian label that made the cut.
Yes, it is a yellow sheath. Rent the Runway is a very American idea. They retail and rent clothes, so you have creations from D&G and Armani to Herve Leger and I am glad they have bought from us also. I think my label is making global clothes originating from India. I am a strong storyteller, each garment has a soul, a philosophy behind it, and that's what sets you apart.
What have been your fashion influences?
Fashion is influenced by my memories of childhood and also the people I meet, but innovation comes from within. I follow a design process which I inculcated in National Institute of Design. So for me it's not just about a person wearing a shirt or a dress, there is an entire philosophy behind it. This invisible, intangible philosophy is much like A R Rahman's music, something original, pure and untouched, that is fashion for me.
Why is a 'Made in India' label still considered not up to the mark, despite designers like you participating in international fashion weeks?
There is this quote by Mahatma Gandhi that I particularly love, "Recall the face of the poorest you have ever seen - and ask yourself if your contemplating will be of any use to them". I live by this. You must do the best you can. So 'Made in India' must be taken to the next level by us as designers collectively.