/ Designer Profile: Bibhu Mohapatra

Designer Profile: Bibhu Mohapatra

Jul 21, 2013

In the fierce and fickle fashion industry, few designers can boast a celebrity clientele that includes stars such as Salma Hayek, Cate Blanchett and Gwyneth Paltrow. Indian-born designer Bibhu Mohapatra is one of them. From not-so-humble beginnings at fashion giant Halston to a nine-year stint as design director at J. Mendel and the recent launch of his own ready-to-wear or RTW label — which sells at Bergdorfs — Mohapatra shows no signs of slowing down.

Unpretentious, the eloquent designer is very grounded, and in the fashion industry, that trait is rarer than a Himalayan Croc Hermès Birkin. With three RTW collections for his self-titled label under his belt, Mohapatra has perfected the art of elegance. The designer is fuelled by his Indian culture — soft silks and fabrics, vibrant colors and cultural crafts. “My cultural heritage has always been influential in my design process even though it seeps through in many subtle ways,” he explains. “My work is always a study of opposites. The balance between my Indian heritage and my training and experience in the west is what I think sets me apart (from other women’s wear designers).”

Specializing in to-die-for evening dresses, cocktail gowns and beautifully tailored clothes, the designer has earned constant praise from hard-to-please fashion critics. Style.com stated that his “assured technique and penchant for special-occasion dressing should ensure that his star continues to rise.”

His star does indeed continue to rise — and at an unprecedented pace. Joined by fellow designers Prabal Gurung, Rachel Dooley and Alice Ritter, Mohapatra was an obvious choice for the CFDA’s (Council of Fashion Designers of America) latest undertaking. The aptly dubbed CFDA Fashion Incubator project saw twelve up-and-coming designers granted studios in New York’s Garment District for a mere $1,500 to $2,000 per month. Announced this February, the CFDA Fashion Incubator is fostering the talented designers and ensuring their continued success. “(I) jumped off my chair and screamed ‘Jai Ho!’” Mohapatra says of his initial reaction to being selected as one of the twelve. “The fact that I am under the wings of CFDA and its mentorship is the most precious gift to my brand.”

As well as being supported by the CFDA, Mohapatra was recently inducted into the fashion council — a committee comprising the fashion elite. Racking up awards left, right and centre, this June, Mohapatra was the recipient of the National Arts Club Fashion Committee as a Young Innovator. Active in charities and fundraisers, Mohapatra feels it’s important to involve himself in humanitarian causes. In addition to donating gowns to different charity events, the designer donates something even more valuable: his time. “I am a young professional committee member of The Komen Foundation for breast cancer research,” says Mohapatra. “This is important to me mainly because this is still the most aggressive threat to women’s health, even today. A lot has to be done before a cure is found.”

Taught to sew by his mother, he spent a lot of time designing and creating clothes for his sister. After attending two different universities for economics, Mohapatra moved to New York City to attend the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology. The gracious designer acknowledges the multitude of support he’s received. “My parents, my siblings and my relatives and my friends and my wonderful team; they are responsible for where I am today.” After graduating, Mohapatra was offered the position of assistant designer at the legendary fashion house Halston. About his experience at Halston, Mohapatra is earnest, saying, “(It was) simply amazing! It was my first creative job and I learnt a lot there. I am very fortunate to have that experience.” Cultivating his skills at the fashion giant, Mohapatra was later sought out by Gilles Mendel, CEO of the French label J. Mendel. Mohapatra was appointed design director of the brand, and in a short amount of time, he transformed J. Mendel into one of the most popular luxury fashion labels. His designs were constantly gracing the red carpet and clothing the world’s biggest celebrities.

Mohapatra parted ways with J. Mendel in 2008 in order to start his own label. When asked whether he was enjoying more creative freedom after breaking from J. Mendel, the designer was enthusiastic, saying, “Absolutely! Yes, as the design director at J. Mendel I had a lot of creative freedom that I expressed through my work there, however, now under my own label, the freedom is limitless and what I express now, is 100 per cent in my own language.” A master of both ready-to-wear and couture, Mohapatra has a select group of private clients in New York, Europe and India for whom he continues to create custom couture evening gowns, cocktail gowns and fur. “RTW and couture are two different kinds of challenges that I enjoy facing up to. One is reality driven and the other is fueled by fantasy.”

In the near future, Mohapatra is ambitious, wanting to “develop and establish a strong wholesale business in the West and also in the eastern countries. And,” he says, “eventually I wish to have my own retail locations with an entire lifestyle collection that includes accessories, home collections, etc.” With the support of the people close to the designer, the CFDA, his loyal clientele and his unequivocal talent, I imagine it won’t be long before Mohapatra accomplishes that goal.



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