There is an intrinsic dichotomy between architectural and natural inspirations in Rahul Mishra's pieces: one dress in his latest collection may feature a series of embroidered buildings on the back that hint at densely populated cities, while on the front there is an intricate representation of a symbolic lotus flower. Yet there doesn't seem to be an imbalance in such contrasts: as Mishra himself points out, he loves to tell a story, and storytellers thrive on tales of contrasts.
It must have been this perfect equilibrium of imperfect dichotomies that won the hearts of the Woolmark Prize jury panel. In February, during Milan Fashion Week, Mishra was indeed announced the winner of the 2013/2014 International Woolmark Prize (IWP).
The prize goes back to the '50s when it was first organised by the International Wool Secretariat (IWS). In 1954 Karl Lagerfeld won the coat category and Yves Saint Laurent won with a dress design. Both were judged by a panel that included Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain.
Held since 2008, The Woolmark Prize revives the spirit of the first IWS awards trying to spot emerging talents from across the world ,while promoting the Merino wool fibre.
The final round of the latest event - held at the Triennale Museum and with a judging panel comprising many prominent fashion critics and editors - featured five talents: ffiXXed, representing Asia; Christopher Esber, for Australia; Sibling, for Europe; Rahul Mishra, for India and Middle East; and Altuzarra, for the USA.
As winner, Mishra will receive a financial contribution of AU$100,000 and the opportunity to be stocked from August 2014 in the most important retailers around the globe including Harvey Nichols, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Colette, but to mention a few.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Rahul Mishra: I am 33 years old and I come from a family of doctors. My childhood was very humble: I spent the first ten years of my life in a very natural surrounding in the countryside; I loved that time. I have two sisters and we are the first generation in our family to enter into the fashion business. Along with my wife Divya I run a small fashion house in Delhi with a staff of 40-45 people. My father is a retired doctor today and also takes part in day-to-day accounts and general administration at my studio. Divya is also a trained designer from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and she also did a course in Strategic Design Management at the Politecnico di Milano, so she handles the overall management at my studio and also looks after design and production. We live in a bungalow surrounded by plants and pets. We have very minimal taste in terms of interiors, but we love to collect old antique pieces of furniture.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career choices?
Rahul Mishra: As a child I remember reading the quote "Make your Passion your profession, there will be no single working day in your life". So I've always been passionate about creativity, innovation and contributing with new things to society. I feel I'm extremely lucky at being able to pursue this in my career. I also find Mahatma Gandhi's teachings very inspiring and in particular the quote that says: "Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him."
Is there an icon, artist or designer who inspires you in your work?
Rahul Mishra: I get really inspired reading about Mahatma Gandhi: I consider him amongst the greatest designer - meaning "problem solver" - and philosopher humanity has ever seen. Apart from him, there are so many of creative people who keep on inspiring me, including M.C. Escher and Steve Jobs.
How did you feel at winning the Woolmark Prize?
Rahul Mishra: It feels amazing. It is so surreal, it’s still sinking in. I am very proud that I could show a new side of Indian fashion and represent India's craft at the highest level. These 30 minutes in my life which I have lived have redefined me forever, touching not only my own brand, but also my support system, that is the hand loom and hand craft of my country. I am a very proud Indian: I was able to showcase the true India in front of so many people and competing with the best talents in the world. I was very hopeful with the way the collection had turned out: the journey behind this collection is also very interesting and, at the back of my mind, I was praying and hoping this moment was going to happen.
There is an interesting dichotomy in your collection, on one side the architectural and geometrical inspirations and on another nature with the symbolic lotus flower. Are these dichotomies a way to refer to our world, divided between our more human and natural side and the fast world of technology?
Rahul Mishra: I am a storyteller and the best stories are always characterised by strong dichotomies. For me such dichotomies are starting points because it is in the midst of a contrast that we are able to find a perfect equilibrium of imperfect dichotomies. That is why storytelling in my collection is also so perfectly balanced. We live in an era of great conflicts - natural Vs. man-made, rural Vs. urban, socialism Vs. capitalism and so on. Our very existence is defined and redefined by different polarities, this is the reality. Somehow this situation inspires me.
What kind of yarns did you employ in this collection (only organic yarns)?
Rahul Mishra: All the yarns for this collection were organic. We used superfine 100% Australian Merino wool yarns, 1/80Nm in ecru colour with weaving twist, and for extra weft technique and embroidery 2/80Nm wool yarns.
And what about the manufacturing processes behind your knits, did you involve any special artisans from the Indian Craft Community to make them?
Rahul Mishra: Knits were sourced from the mills and some hand knitting was done in northern India.
You were featured in a National Geographic Channel documentary made in collaboration with UNESCO & Ministry of Textiles, India. Would you like to maybe work on a proper documentary about the rich Indian heritage in disciplines such as embroidery and textiles?
Rahul Mishra: I would love to work on such a documentary which may showcase everything about craft and tell the story behind specific areas, making links between craft and anthropology and culture. I would love to showcase a complete modern perspective to explore the potential of participation through sustainable luxury.
Is there a knitwear company you'd like to collaborate with one day?
Rahul Mishra: I would love to partner with some knitwear company willing to revive traditional ideas using modern techniques.
What plans do you have for your immediate future?
Rahul Mishra: I will be a brand ambassador for the Woolmark Company for one year and I will be busy launching the collection in some of the top retailers of the world. I will have to plan my entire year very carefully so that I can be present at the international fashion weeks. I'm also planning to showcase this collection at Wills India Fashion Week and expand this line into a bigger one that features more Autumn/Winter pieces to get a bigger impact at all the key global partner retailers who will be selling the collection.
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