It takes gumption to launch a luxury fashion line in the midst of a global recession. Clearly, Bibhu Mohapatra – who at the age of 24 moved from his native Orissa to Utah for an MA in economics; then upped and moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion; and last year launched his eponymous line in said recession – has plenty of gumption.
Bibhu Mohapatra at work
Fortunately, he also has plenty of talent. An online stroll through hisFall 2010 collection is an exercise in lust control. These are sumptuous clothes, artfully constructed creations of the most gorgeous textures and materials. Eight years at luxury house J. Mendel helped give him the chops, but there’s more to it than that. Mohapatra looks to every corner of the cultural and intellectual universe for inspiration: the armor of 16th century Japanese warriors, the paintings of German abstract artist Hans Hartung, even his own X-rays. “I keep my eyes open all the time,” he explains. “The most beautiful things come from not so beautiful things.”
Add to the mix his innate Indian sensibility, and the package is complete. “I come from a heritage that’s so rich. It’s a constant feed that I have, and without it I don’t think my approach to design would be the same.” Indeed, he says, he makes an effort to rein in that influence. For him, it’s not about making a Western version of a sari, but about discovering new things – like the hand-woven peacock feathers, once worn by Indian royalty, that he stumbled upon on a trip to India and used in his debut collection. “When the light hits it, it becomes magical,” he says.
So it’s no wonder that Mohapatra’s star is rising. Three seasons in, his clothes are sold in more than a dozen high-end stores around the world, and regularly featured in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and WWD. In February, he became one of 12 emerging designers chosen to participate in the CFDA Fashion Incubator program, entailing, among other things, subsidized studio space in New York’s Garment Center. “It’s like moving from a tiny apartment to a penthouse suite,” Mohapatra says of his new digs.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that in a random drawing among the 12 recipients he scored the biggest studio. When you’re hot, it seems, you’re hot.