Born in Odisha’s Rourkela district and raised in a traditional Odia family, where no one had any idea on ‘how one can earn a living by designing clothes’, fashion designer Bibhu Mohapatra made a mark on the international fashion map.
The designs of Mohapatra have grabbed a place inside the closets of many powerful women. Be it Viola Davis, Kendall Jenner, Jennifer Lopez, or Priyanka Chopra, Mohapatra’s designs have given a different tinge to the wardrobes of many. Not to forget Michelle Obama, who in 2015, alighted from Air Force One in a floral-printed knee-length dress topped with a jacket on her maiden trip to India as the first lady of US.
The designer, now based in the US, was in the country for Make in Odisha Conclave in Bhubaneswar. Mohapatra told Outlook in an interview about his favourite Indian weaves and his journey from Odisha to the US.
Here are some excerpts from the interview.
1. How has your journey been from Odisha to New York?
My journey has been exciting and eventful, with experiences of meeting some of the most amazing people along the way. For the last 22 years, I have not lived in Odisha. However, I feel that my roots have become deeper and stronger in the soil that made me. I am one fortunate man who has had his share of ups and downs, and every experience counts as a great lesson.
2. Odisha has a variety of indigenous craft forms that are popular across India. Which one is your favourite crafts from the state? Have you incorporated any in your work?
The patchwork, the ikat, the tie-and-dye, all the hand-weaves, the silver filigree work, the temple art… there is so much to draw from this state. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by those. I took it for granted a little bit, but when I left Odisha all those things became alive for me much more. In very subtle and modified ways, I use these crafts, like the embroideries and the patchwork, in my work.
3. Your favourite Indian weave? Have you been influenced by the ikat weave of Odisha?
Odisha Ikat is something that I was surrounded by while growing up. From my mother’s sarees to the dress materials and homeware fabrics, they all had a strong presence in my childhood life in Odisha. It is definitely one of the fabrics that I am most passionate about.
Image credit: Facebook/ Bibhu Mohapatra
4. What are your views on the revival of weaves?
This is the key to preserve the craft and tradition. With the development of technology and the pace of consumption, these heritage crafts have been somehow neglected. But in the past decade, a lot of sincere efforts have been made to develop the weaver communities. I am fortunate that I get to do a small part in the revival process by designing the collection of sarees that are woven by some of the communities around the state.
5. How popular are Indian weaves in New York and other parts of the world?
They are very well known but they are not easily accessible. If we can make them accessible and establish a proper supply channel, the sky will be the limit.
6. Is there a demand for Odisha products in foreign countries?
Definitely. There is a demand for Odisha textiles and handloom in foreign countries. There are many countries who have taken Odia crafts and doing Ikat all over and marketing it. For us, not to use Odisha Ikat and put it in the global market is a sin. It’s a 100-year-old heritage. Odia’s sensibility to utilise patterns and colours are the key to nurturing them.
7. Your ways of transforming a traditional Indian weave into an evening wear.
Traditional Odisha weave is one of the most intricate and uniquely luxurious techniques around. That alone lends it to be very dressy and special.
Bibhu Mohapatra to showcase at Make in Odisha Conclave 2018.
8. Tell us about the Make in Odisha Conclave, which has brought you home.... Do you think it was a watershed moment in Odisha’s industrialization journey?
It is Odisha’s time to shine and conquer. I was present at the opening night of the Odisha Conclave 2018. I was moved to tears by the excitement and energy of the programme and the message that was sent, along with our CM, Mr Naveen Patnaik’s words. It is a major watershed moment, not only for Odisha’s Industry sector but also for its creative economy potential and promise.
9. Do you think you were able to make it big globally because you stayed back in New York? Would it be a lot more difficult for a designer based in India to reach that level?
I would say that a lot of Indian designers are making waves, but of course, if you are in New York you have access to people you want to be associated with. That is one thing that works in favour of designers working out in New York. But India is catching up very fast; there are some incredible designers who are doing their own thing.
10. You have dressed some of the world’s most influential women. Any favourites?
My personal favourite is Michelle Obama for sure because I am inspired by her, who she is and who she stands for. If we talk about red carpet, I recently dressed Viola Davis and she wore a white embroidered dress and looked stunning! It was a double excitement for me because she is beautiful and she is a brilliant actor. I am inspired by her work. So when this happened, I was over the moon.