During his visit of the Istituto Marangoni in Miami, I had the honor and privilege to have an intimate conversation with Bibhu Mohapatra. Before he enchanted a full house students, admirers, press and industry professionals.
Bibhu is a man of storytelling, a curious traveler (every year he tries to visit a new country), he is an observer, a supporter (from a trip to Laos and a local workshop encounter, came a special material for his collection inspired by Nancy Cunard, leather woven with silk that was used to replicate in a Bibhu way her leather jacket) a cross-cultural enabler.
Images courtesy of www.worldredeye.com
FB - EVOKE - You a story teller, what’s the process of your story telling?
His biography and career trajectory are influenced by a sheer admiration for a strong, thought-provoking female lead character that surpasses frontiers. From a traditional household in the East Coast of India to dressing First Lady Michelle Obama, women have been at the center of his life. His mother loved sewing and taught him how to, a new development of the collection of knitwear and separates was born last year dedicated to her. Empowering women with what they wear by inspiring them to be leaders? Most of the times from an image, a documentary, a trip, comes the woman that will be the inspiration for the next collection. “She is not necessarily a fashionista, she is not always living” but she is always a woman defined by her mission, image and sense of style. His intent, mission and message are clear, he wants to “empower women with authenticity.”
FB - TO EMERGE YOU HAVE TO LEAD – What was the moment or the event that made you choose to move out on your own?
“I knew I had to work if I wanted to keep a roof over my head”, his honest and authentic way of being is the force that motivates him, and always did, from the moment he left his town for America, the land where “You can make your dreams come true, if you work hard”.
After years of designing for Halston and J. Mendel, he launched his eponymous line because he had a message he wanted the world to know. Although he knew he was never going to have the unlimited budget like when designing furs (“all you had to do was create the best, doesn’t matter how much it would cost”) with the strong support system of friends, colleagues and family that exhorted him it was time to design, the Bibhu woman was ready. Was he scared, thrilled, intimidated, excited? All of the above, FYI he would be drawing the sketches on the wall to be able to make all the changes before cutting the patterns. He is always been aware of the balance between commerce and creativity, he first majored in business, after all.
E. Hughes: “What makes you special?”
B. Mohapatra: “My parents”
He told us of the moment his family accompanied him at the airport, first time traveler flying to America as a freshman. “You have to remember where you come from and be grateful, my father recommended. My story is authentic and it’s reflected in my craft.”
“Culture defines us”, Eva Hughes suggested. That was the center topic of the conversation with Mohapatra and if there was one solid take-away, especially for the students, was the encouragement to “remain true to yourself. After I left, I held on to ideas, memories.”
FB - ARE YOU A ROMANTIC? The foundation of your collections is on evening wear in a world dominated by streetwear.
“Fashion has become fast, quick, but longevity is what I want to see in my clothes. The timelessness that gives my pieces longevity.” He is a designer known for his eveningwear, but with the new collection that will be presented February 2019 there will be an evolution with knitwear and separates that will serve as a transitional pieces from evening looks to daywear. Now don’t expect the white tee, I have heard that knits will be made in Italy, in other words, the Bibhu touch will keep the DNA alive.
FB - BALANCING ACT precious materials, vibrant colors and articulate garment construction is your heritage which you respect and honor in you collections. How do you balance heritage with cutting edge technology.
“Cutting edge doesn’t exist without heritage”
Think of what he said right here and realize how privileged.
FB - LUXURY IS A STATE OF MIND: you went from furs to evening wear to dressing our former First Lady to diamonds. Is the road to luxury a “sky is the limit” for you?
Again, he brings it down to extreme humbleness. His jewelry collaboration with De Beers and Forevermark sparked at a White House black tie event, after having designed an outfit for Michelle Obama’s first state visit to India. “I never worked with diamonds, but my mother always had a satchel with heirloom jewelry, those that are passed generation after generation. One day I asked to show it to me” and many of the pieces that belonged to his grandmother and great grandmother have been now reproduced in this new collaboration. He is interested in the process, whether it’s embroidery or diamonds and casting precious stones. He doesn’t deny that there will be a shoe line in the future, neither he confirms, but if there will be, it will be based on exquisite craftsmanship. New fresh crop of designers, take note: keep a constant curiosity for craft, learn the art, and when the moment of the collaboration comes, you’ll be ready.
FB - MENTORING you have been nominated a SUPIMA mentor, beside empowering women with your designs, you give back to young and emerging students. “I enjoy supporting young talents, give them a hand” and he definitely has much experience and suggestions to give, but he also says “I take more from them, I learn as well.” And that is the best part of what he does. I was told the school visit in the morning was a wealth of information.
When empathy is at the base of your actions.
Mohapatra is that gratefulness whisperer.
Little that we knew, fashion icon Barbara Hulanicki, OBE was in the house and with Istituto Marangoni’s Director of Studies Massimo Casagrande, Ms. Hughes, Bibhu and husband Bobby Beard, we all ended up on the 6th floor balcony (because Miami) closing down the house, way after the cocktail was supposed to finish.
The conversation was already off-records, I didn’t take notes, but truly I should have (#notetoself for next time). If those planters could talk.