Ahead of debuting his 12th collection at Paris Fashion Week, internationally-renowned Indian designer Manish Arora was kind enough to invite us into his Paris studio to talk about the inspiration behind his new AW13 collection. The astounding collection—which features psychedelic desert imagery, kaleidoscopic neon digital prints, and phenomenal laser-cut leather detailing—looks like the dream wardrobe of a neo-tribal futurist princess. However, Arora’s inspiration for this season was taken directly from a transformative personal experience he had here on earth, namely at the legendary Burning Man festival, held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Here, Arora tells us about that life-changing experience, and the differences between being a creator of fashion in London and Paris.
How exactly do these prints featuring images of the desert relate to your experience at Burning Man?
When I came back I was still very affected by the whole experience, in a good way, and I just couldn’t get these images out of my mind.
What was it that really struck you about the festival?
It was the sense of total freedom that I’ve never felt, even though I’m 40 years old. 8 days with no money, no technology, no phone—you don’t even look at your wallet.
Isn’t it a trade system they use there?
It’s not even an exchange, you just give. And when I came back I was like, ok, the only way I can get it out of my system is to do a collection thinking about it. Then maybe I can move on.
What was the strongest memory from there?
The strongest memory I had there was the amazing clouds and the desert. In the beginning, it’s not so crowded, and then it keeps building, building, building over the 8 days. So my first memory was this bare desert, beautiful clouds, so I started there. Then, of course it went on into the evening. There’s a lot of neon lights. Night clouds with laser light.
Where are you based?
I spend 15 days a month here in Paris, and 15 days in Delhi. We have our own factory there, where we produce everything. Well, let’s say 85% of the collection is produced in India and 15% is produced in Italy.
How many collections have you done in total?
I started in London. I did 4 seasons there.
When was your first show in London?
September 2005. I started with a really good PR agency, Blow, and Michael there somehow believed in me and he took me on. Then before I had even finished my 4th season in London it was suggested by the president of the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture, Mr. Didier Grumbach, that I come to Paris. Then I moved here and have been in Paris ever since. I think this is my 8th season here and I am very happy.
What was the main motivation behind moving to Paris?
I wanted to have a new adventure in Paris, I liked the idea of having a new challenge.
There is a finer quality to your clothing that suits Paris.
That’s what I have learnt since coming to Paris. If I was still in London, maybe I would not have progressed in this dimension. Because, you know, the French take fashion so seriously. What’s nice about London is that they are so welcoming to new people. I know the minute I was there, everyone was there to support me. The CFE [Center for Fashion Enterprise) supported me. But when you come to Paris, you’re on your own.
Was funding an issue in Paris, even though you were already quite well-known by that time?
It’s very difficult here. Now I’ve found my balance, the right team, and I’m enjoying it. It’s challenging to show at every season because France is, let’s say, good, if you’re good; And not good, if you’re not good. And I’m also lucky that the French people like me. The French love India, actually.
So did the move to Paris force you to refine your skills?
Yes, in France it’s all about shape, not just about idea. That’s the difference. In London it’s just about the idea, it’s about making a statement. Here in Paris it’s about fit, it’s about the new shape of the season, it really is a business here.
Does the pressure to be commercially successful influence the way you design?
Yes, it does. Of course. If you look at my previous collections, I would say there has been a huge evolution since then, and that could have only happened because I started showing in Paris. And that’s what I’ve learnt here: it’s not just about making a statement, like I said, but it’s also about selling.
Right, making money so you can keep doing what you want to do.
And it was only after I started showing in Paris that I learnt how exciting it is to see a woman walking down the street wearing your clothes. It means more to me than seeing a big celebrity wearing my clothes. I’m going for that now, I’m getting more excited about that.