Manish Arora: The Life & Times of Fashion’s Master of Quirk

Manish Arora: The Life & Times of Fashion’s Master of Quirk

Ranjit Rodricks
Katy Perry with Manish Arora
Katy Perry with Manish Arora

Regardless of what their spin doctors and PR agencies might tell you, no other Indian designer has tasted as much success on the international fashion scene as Delhi-based designer, Manish Arora.

His eclectic designs in psychedelic hues, which all seem inspired by a serious acid trip, have been worn by numerous international celebrities like Lady Gaga, Fergie, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Katy Perry.

But let’s start at the very beginning…

Early Days:

Even though he’s now rooted in Delhi, Manish Arora was a Bombay boy who studied commerce and then chucked it all up to study fashion at NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) in Delhi. Once he graduated in 1994 – after winning the Best Student of the year award – he joined Rohit Bal and worked under the maverick couturier until he launched his own label in 1997.

A design by Manish Arora
A design by Manish Arora
Fergie in Manish Arora (photo courtesy by Zac Lehr, Zac Lehr Photography)
Fergie in Manish Arora (photo courtesy: Zac Lehr, Zac Lehr Photography)

But it wasn’t until three years later that the media sat up and took notice of Manish Arora’s creative bent when he took part in the very first India Fashion Week which, held in New Delhi in 2000. All the models had dreadlocks for hair and the makeup was designed to look like blood streaming down their face. Surreal!

The rave reviews he got for this futuristic-looking collection had sportswear giant, Reebok, sign him on to design a special label called Fish Fry by Manish Arora, which was launched in 2001.

Fish Fry by Manish Arora for Reebok
Fish Fry by Manish Arora for Reebok

International acclaim:

In 2002, Manish opened his own boutique in new Delhi and by 2005 he was sufficiently famous enough to show off his dazzling creations at London Fashion Week.

In fact, a few months later, Manish Arora was also the only Indian designer to exhibit a few of his couture creations at the famed Victoria & Albert Museum in London at an exhibition called Global Local, which was held in association with the British Council of India.

Esha Gupta in Manish Arora
Esha Gupta in Manish Arora

Two years down the line, in 2007, Manish Arora again made international headlines by taking part for the first time at Paris Fashion Week. The same year, he was invited again by the Victoria & Albert Museum to showcase his designs at the Fashion In Motion exhibition.

Nicki Minaj in Manish Arora
Nicki Minaj in Manish Arora

2008 saw Manish make his television debut with his own reality show, The Adventures Of The Ladies Tailor on the Discovery Travel & Living channel.

The show – described as a quirky exploration of fashion, lifestyle and design in the context of modern India – saw Manish travel to destinations like Goa, Rajasthan and Pondicherry where he “De-constructed design in the quintessential and quirky style that is synonymous to both Discovery Travel & Living and Manish Arora.”

See a clipping here:

Paco Rabanne:

But the icing on the cake was when Manish was hired as the creative director for the Spanish fashion house, Paco Rabanne in 2011. Post his debut show for Rabanne in Paris Fashion week, Arora famously said, “I think it was a good match when they chose me!”

Inspired by Paco’s debut collection from 1966, Manish delved into the archives to come up with his version of the signature chain-mail dresses, UFO inspired accessories (the hats for the show were designed by British milliner Phillip Treacy) and space-age silhouettes.

Unfortunately, after just two seasons of being Creative Director, Manish “resigned” from Paco Rabanne by “mutual decision”. Yet, the gossips had it that the collections didn’t sell well and that there were no buyers for his outlandish creations. While the house of Paco Rabanne were looking for a wearable “look,” Manish’s use of flying-saucer hats, exaggerated hips and huge permanent pleats didn’t go down well with the company that owns the fashion label (PUIG).

A look from Manish Arora's debut collection for Paco Rabanne
A look from Manish Arora’s debut collection for Paco Rabanne
Just some of the wacky creations of Manish Arora for Paco Rabanne's S/S'12 catalogue
Just some of the whacky creations by Manish Arora for Paco Rabanne’s S/S’12 catalogue

Amrapali:

But Paco Rabanne’s loss was Amrapali’s gain. In 2012, Arora launched a jewelry line in association with this high-end label which counts a number of A-list Hollywood and Bollywood stars as their clients.

Called India Enchanted, the collection amalgamates Arora’s kitsch style with traditional Indian jewelry designs, all inspired by the decadent lifestyle of the Indian royalty of yore.

Manish Arora for Amrapali
Manish Arora for Amrapali
Manish Arora for Amrapali
Manish Arora for Amrapali

As Manish and the Amrapali team delved into the archives, they came up with a bold and bright collection of necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings and hair and hand accessories which featured flora and fauna motifs like lotus flowers, gazelles and tigers.

The collaboration extended to his current fall / winter 2013 collection and this time around, Manish looked towards Rajasthan for inspiration.

Defined by the use of holographic stones, matte gold, lacquer coating and beads, the design elements were more geometric this time around and saw the extensive use of triangular shapes.

See the Manish Arora for Amrapali jewels on the models at Paris Fashion Week, here:

Bridal Wear:

But as far as Indian fashion goes, bridal wear is considered to be the money-spinner and every designer worth their weight in Swarovski crystals dabbles in it, since it is such a huge market. After almost two decades of launching himself in the Indian fashion industry, Manish Arora bit the bait and launched his own bridal line – called, Indian by Manish Arora –  in August 2013 at the couture fashion week in Delhi.

Indian by Manish Arora
Indian by Manish Arora
Indian by Manish Arora
Indian by Manish Arora

According to our guest blogger, Sujata Assomull Sippy, “He mixed all the kitsch elements he loves – his glittering leggings became churidars, carousel skirts formed parts of the anarkali, and his love of armour was turned into jewellery. Glow in the dark accents injected some humour. Saris had stripes, mughal motifs and polkas. Hand woven brocades were mixed with vivid digital prints, stones, faux leather, zardosi crystals and sequins. This collection made no apologies for being over the top is meant for the bride who is not scared of what her mother in law has to say.”

When asked by Team MissMalini why he ventured into bridal wear so late in his celebrated career, Manish told us, “I have never ventured into hardcore Indian bridal couture. This is the opportune time and of course, the bridal showcase would be true to my style.”

COLLABORATions:

Swatch – To create a special line of watches

Portico – For a signature line of bed linen and bath accessories.

Chambak – For whom he has designed a variety of fridge magnets, apparels, bags and other accessories in trademark kitsch style.

Good Earth – A range of crockery.

Happy Socks – A range of colourful socks.

Kurkure – He designed festive packs for the snacks for Diwali and other celebratory occasions.