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Rahul Mishra on finding inspiration from art, craft and memories across the globe

Unraveling the impressions of art from Malhausi to Paris

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Image Courtesy: Rahul Mishra/Instagram, Photo by: Dinesh Madhavan
Rahul Mishra

With his beliefs in sustainability and India’s traditional craftsmanship, Rahul Mishra has proved that fashion can truly be a high-powered catalyst in bringing social change through textile promotion and reverse migration over the last ten years. More a storyteller than a designer – he has touched many hearts across the globe by celebrating the simplicity and imperfect beauty of art, memories, and most importantly, human hands with his ingenious designs. And in an equal parts spell-binding and inspiring chat with Runway Square writer – Karishma Gulyani, Rahul Mishra reveals the secrets of finding inspiration from art, memories, and travel and how his brand is an extension of his distinguished values.

Runway Square: What does the label Rahul Mishra symbolize?
Rahul Mishra: Sometimes it can be difficult to define any brand or a visual entity in a few sentences. But if I have to define us, I would say we are a completely sustainable and handmade brand that works with a philosophy of 4E(s) – Employment, Engagement, Environment and Empowerment. As a brand, we also seek to design a system to create more participation instead of just creating luxury for consumption. And when the participation happens from people, from craft, and from culture, everything comes into play. So, that’s what we stand for and it’s an ever-evolving philosophy. And we aspire to work continuously in this direction.

RSQ: And how does your personality transpire into the label?
Rahul Mishra: Well, one is that I am a very fluid and adaptable person, and a quick learner. So, in that way, the brand is also very dynamic. The philosophy might be constant, but we are evolving every day. As a human, I am also evolving everyday and that evolution of my own thought process translates back really strongly into the system in which we work. And the second thing is we also nurture talent within as well as outside the organization. So, in that way, as a person, I also love to work with everybody and connect on a personal level. You know, there might be hundreds of people who work with us, but we know everyone personally. We all are very clear about having a very personal and happy kind of a space for work. And one more thing, I am able to direct the team really well. Like a teacher, I inspire them to learn more, give them a task and make them work on that while making sure the team performs 150% well because 100% is just not enough nowadays. As a creative director, I like to have centralized system rather than one power centre at the organization with a notion that we aren’t scared of anything – be it someone leaking our designs or intellectual property theft and all that. I think it’s all about sharing knowledge, creativity and dreams with the team. That way it becomes a common dream and then the success is always going to be there in our way. You know, a fashion designer’s job is not like a painter’s where one man army can work. After all, multiple people are associated with a brand giving it a much diverse personality.

RSQ: You have let craft lead the way over the last 10 years. So, what has been the driving force to make craft and craftsmen the hero?
Rahul Mishra: I really feel like the most sophisticated tool in the world is human hands. Whenever human hand comes into play in art and craft, there’s nothing better as the machines are still not good enough to perform as well in terms of elegance, sophistication, and beauty. You can have a machine that polishes a surface to great beauty, but there isn’t a machine that paints like a painter. There is nothing more beautiful than the degree of imperfection that human hand brings. From how we started at Lakme Fashion Week to where we are today – it’s been a wonderful dream and craft has always been a big part of it. We’re currently in Paris for our first couture exhibit during Paris Couture Week. So, yeah, it’s just a beginning for us as a brand and we are still learning, and exploring many other avenues. Right now, I am concentrating on different materials like iron, steel, and wood to learn and somehow bring them into my clothing. So, let’s see how that happens, but it is quite exciting!

Rahul Mishra’s Fall/Winter 2019 Couture Collection

RSQ: As an Indian designer, you have highlighted the best of homeland by combining the art of embroidery with modern techniques. Is it been a conscious effort to break the stereotypical ideas surrounding India and Indian fashion industry?
Rahul Mishra: I feel that a trick of being a good designer is to be able to feel the pulse of the future. You know, a designer not just creates for now, but also for the future. So, in that way, when you are creating for today’s women, I think it is completely important for any designer/brand, especially on such an international scale, to top up their craft and create something modern and empowering. For us, it’s how far can we see the future and how far can we travel in time to bring that craft back, and add newness to the craft. So, it’s almost like a time travel which as a designer I love to perform for its sheer beauty.

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The opening look from Rahul Mishra’s FW’19 collection – Village Diary for which he collaborated with weavers from Maheshwar.

RSQ: Nostalgia seems to be quite a powerful tool in your collections. Why do you like to delve into the world of memories?
Rahul Mishra: Everything around us is a product of memories. Memories are created out of our experiences and then these experiences or learnings are passed onto the next generation. I think it just looks like that I’m highlighting memory in my utmost honesty because whatever I create is just a memory of the things I remember or the learnings that have been in my subconscious for so long. So, in that way, whatever I am today is because of my wonderful childhood. And I have got a beautiful three and half years old daughter, Aarna and whenever I see her, I get caught in a train of thoughts from my childhood which leaves me feeling inspired. Other than that also, past is obviously really beautiful and is always the foundation of the present. And well, future doesn’t exist; it’s just a thought. So, we can only experience present and remember the past. There’s nothing beyond that.

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Moodboard for Rahul Mishra’ Fall/Winter 2019 collection – Village Diary which was inspired by his visit to the village he grew up in, Malhausi

RSQ: With the Fall/Winter’19 season, you completed 10 consecutive seasons at Paris Fashion Week. So, what does Paris mean you today?
Rahul Mishra: For fashion, Paris is the most important city in the world. When I’m doing my shows in Paris, it’s like I’m a cricket player playing in the World Cup or a swimmer playing in the Olympic Finals after all the best of talent is at Paris Fashion Week. Also, it was great to do PFW for my personal growth as well because as a designer, when you are just beginning or evolving, a chance to showcase among the best designers at the most critically acclaimed place is quite a blessing. And that’s why we were motivated to create something good and distinguished.

Retrospective of Rahul Mishra’s 10 Consecutive Seasons at Paris Fashion Week

RSQ: And how has the culture of Paris impacted your label?
Rahul Mishra: It’s been more than 5 years now in Paris. And it has had a great impact not just on my collection, but even on my personal choices and my personal space. Like my house also has got a lot of Parisian knick-knacks. And my stores also have a slightly minimal yet not absolutely minimal or Scandinavian interior with a strong heritage feel, just like Paris is a great blend of heritage and modernity.

RSQ: MC Escher, Van Gogh, Henri Rousseau. Art has always been a strong part of your design philosophy. Which has been the most enthralling art experience from all your travels?
Rahul Mishra: I remember when I did my collection with the idea of Henri Rousseau; I was invited by Chief Curator of Musée d’Orsay which is one of the finest museums in the world for impressionism. And on my private visit, she also showed me the paintings that had never been displayed for the world. What an amazing experience! I was surrounded by so much richness and heritage and thought that God had been really kind on me for being given such a privilege. I think I can never forget this experience in my life. And when I asked her that you spend so much of time in preserving these artworks, she said that these value more than her life because these are the treasures which we are going to pass on to the future generations, so that they have something to live with. So, she put it very beautifully how art is preserved more than life. And in my personal journey, I feel these all are amazing stars of a galaxy – Van Gogh, MC Escher, Henri Rousseau or Picasso – and we are like a small planet that borrows some light from them to shine bright ourselves.

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A sketch from Rahul Mishra’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection – The Rainforest that infuses life into Henri Rousseau’s paintings.

RSQ: When and where did you last go on a holiday to break away from the fast-paced world of fashion and to gather some peace?
Rahul Mishra: I went last year to two places – one was Monte Carlo, Monaco. And from there, I travelled along the Italian Coast. Then exactly last June, I was in hills in Uttrakhand. There’s a small village of Sauli and we stayed there for a week. Right now, I am not going on a holiday because I’m amongst too many things, but then, currently, I am in Paris for work. And in the month of October, we are planning to travel to Santorini, Greece. Also, in between, I’m going on a small trip with one of the top institutes of global fashion to the Maldives for a luxury holiday to just chat and relax for 3-4 days.

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Rahul Mishra with his daughter, Aarna in Sauli where the journey of his Spring/Summer 2019 collection started.
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Moodboard For Rahul Mishra’s SS’19 Collection – Gossamer

RSQ: As a designer, do you feel that you can’t travel without the pressure of deriving inspiration out of a place and can’t just simply relax and spend time with friends and family? 
Rahul Mishra: You know, inspiration happens to you almost like falling in love. It’s a very positive feeling. You are never going to feel pressurized about inspiration after all drawing is not like somebody pestering you with deadlines and all. I usually do my constitution of a collection on a holiday because it’s a beautiful setting and no one’s calling you. And sketching can be very relaxing against such a setting. So, yeah, inspiration can happen anytime and anywhere, and there’s never any pressure associated with feeling inspired.

RSQ: Lastly, what are the three words you’ll use to describe the next 10 years? 
Rahul Mishra: I would say big dream, big global footprint (with retail stores across the globe, not just in India), and to be the brand that employs maximum number of people in the world.

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