Monday 22 January 2024

Rahul Mishra's Superheroes: Celebrating Biodiversity Through Haute Couture in Paris

The celebration of the natural world in Rahul Mishra's SS24 couture collection in Paris. Photograph by Elli Ioannou for DAM 

Rahul Mishra is a trailblazer, a champion of slow fashion through traditional Indian crafts. His eponymous label embodies sustainability, using fashion as a tool to empower local craft communities. Showcased in Paris, his latest haute couture collection for Spring 2024 delves into the symbiotic relationship between humans and the natural world, focusing on the often-overlooked insect kingdom and its vital role in our ecosystem, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photography by Elli Ioannou
Fascinated by dragonflies, Mishra has 
incorporated them as an essential part of
his new collection in Paris.
Travelling to the 9th arrondissment on Paris' Rive Droite, the DAM team discover Rahul Mishra's couture show is being held at a monolithic, red-brick former French telephone exchange on the corner of Rue Bergere and Rue du Faubourg Poissonniere. 

This is the second time in the past few days we have been to see a runway show at this building with its domed entrance and massive reinforced-concrete facade decorated with an ironwork clock, the signs of the zodiac marking the hours, by the sculptor Szabo. Designed by Francois Le Coeur and constructed between 1911~14, now it is a building site, awaiting a renovation that will turn it into contemporary office space. 

Today, crowds wait outside for the show below the high, stepped entrance. With invitations in hand, we pass through security and tall glass doors open into a foyer which is now a raw concrete shell. Guests wearing 10-inch heels and floor length gowns look with some trepidation at the steep, concrete stairs girded with red builders' tape. 

Skirts are grasped in hand and people launch themselves upwards, some struggling to reach the top of the four flights. We had already seen the American designer Colm Dillane's Kidsuper show here during Paris Fashion Week for menswear, when it was covered in forest of luminescent pink and green, like a contemporary art installation. 

Rahul Mishra not only celebrates the insect kingdom but also calls for a better understanding of these creatures vital to our ecosystems

Mishra also created delicate, abstract
designs to express his ideas about a
permeable architecture that works
with rather than against Nature. 
For his collection, Rahul Mishra created a pared back space that showed the building's industrial bones except for the lavish, sparkling chandeliers and gilt salon chairs for guests to sit on. The vast, unadorned room provided a suitably urban backdrop for his brilliantly-hued designs.

This background with its concrete girders above certainly heightened the contrast with the designer's celebration of all things insect in his collection, sometimes in astonishing detail. 

Each piece showed the exquisite craftsmanship of Mishra's Indian artisans with their use of traditional embroidery, from sequined butterflies and serpents to three dimensional scarabs. These elements were not merely decorative but symbolic, representing the delicate balance of our ecosystem and the importance of preserving it. 

Mishra's collection is a thoughtful reflection on the natural world, emphasizing the intricate beauty and essential role of insects and reptiles. Aptly titled Superheroes, the collections highlights the Indian couturier's respect for nature and his dedication to sustainable fashion. 
Drawing inspiration from his personal experiences, Mishra's connection with the natural world is rooted in the Himalayan Forest where he has a house. This serene environment, teeming with diverse species, starkly contrasts with built-up cities where insects, snakes and reptiles are often viewed as pests. Mishra's reflections on the world through his work emphasize the need to bridge the gap between our urban lives and nature, fostering a greater sense of harmonious coexistence. 

This collection was not just about sumptuous visual splendour but also carried a profound message about biodiversity and the urgent need to preserve it

The Serpents Labyrinth, designed
to evoke the snake as an ancient symbol.
The first look of the show set the tone with a striking representation of a petri dish, complete with meticulously embroidered dragonfly (see main picture above). This piece, with its lifelike detail, evoked a sense of Mishra's wonder and reverence for plants and animals and his delight in bringing them into his collection.

"It's disheartening to envision a future where a magnificent creature like a dragonfly is discovered for the first time by a young child in petri dish," Mishra says. 

Another of the key pieces is the Serpents Labyrinth designed to represent this feared reptile instead as an ancient symbol of rebirth, renewal and wisdom. Mishra hopes people will look at the snake in another light as an essential part of our biosphere. 

Other standout designs were a deep azure ruffled cape dress called Sapphire Rain, a hand-embroidered Divine Being look with a dragonfly corset top and sequined ivory trousers and the circular Moth Light design created as an embroidery installation showing colourful moths against the bodice. 

Another more abstract creation is the Azure's Tree jacket and trousers which gleams in cobalt blue with a design that mimics bitten leaves by insects. These pieces highlight Mishra's ability to blend artistic vision with technical virtuosity. His designs symbolize the need to protect flora and fauna along with their habitats. 

This collection was not just about sumptuous visual splendor but also carried a profound message about biodiversity and the pressing need to preserve it. Mishra's work urges us to appreciate these "benign architects of the planet" and to recognize their crucial role in maintaining ecological balance. 

The designer's commitment to empowering local craftspeople not only helps maintain traditional crafts but also promotes more sustainable fashion practices

A silvery, realistic lizard is intricately
hand-embroidered on to a long,
black skirt by local artisans,
The social consciousness embedded in Mishra's work was further highlighted by his quotation of the entire D.H. Lawrence poem Snake as his show notes. The poem, which narrates an encounter with a serpent, reflects the societal instinct to destroy what we do not understand. The designer's collection challenges this mindset, encouraging a shift towards admiration and preservation.  

The realistic representations of insects and reptiles on his garments evoke a sense of delight rather than trepidation. While the meticulous craftsmanship in the designer's collections is a testament to the dedication and skill of the artisans he uses across India.  

Each garment, with its intricate hand embroidery and detailed appliqués, represents countless hours of labor and love. Mishra's commitment to empowering local craftspeople not only helps maintain traditional crafts but also promotes more sustainable fashion practices. 

In a world dominated by fast fashion, Mishra's slow fashion demonstrates a more ethical and responsible approach. By employing time-honored methods and supporting communities of artisans, he creates fashion that is not only beautiful but also meaningful. The designer's work shows how haute couture can be both luxurious and environmentally friendly, offering a compelling alternative to the mass-produced garments flooding the market. 

In a world dominated by fast fashion, Mishra's slow fashion demonstrates a more ethical and responsible approach to producing garments

Layers and layers of hand-cut, bright-pink tulle 
create the striking volume of these capes and gowns. 
Mishra's palette for this collection was as bold as his message, featuring vibrant hues in dark blues, lime greens and deep pinks. These colors, inspired by flowers and insects, add a dynamic element to the collection, enhancing its overall visual impact. 

The bright hues combined with the elaborate embellishments, made the collection both striking and thought-provoking. A touching exploration of Nature and its beauty. 

Through the art of his designs, Mishra not only celebrates the insect kingdom but also calls for a better understanding of these vital creatures to our ecosystems. His commitment to sustainability and historic craftsmanship shines through this collection, offering hope to an industry often criticized for its environmental impact. Rahul Mishra's Superheroes remind us that true power over our future on this planet lies with creating harmony and a positive coexistence with the natural world.

Highlights from the Rahul Mishra SS24 Haute Couture show in Paris 

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