Thursday, August 31, 2017

Manish Arora: A Few Brilliant Highlights a Decade On

** FYI, I went ahead and posted this even though I never finished re-hunting down the images for it. It'll get finished eventually.

Decorated with France's highest civilian award in 2016 "in recognition of his unparalleled contribution to fashion" and, before that, appointed creative director of the Spanish-French fashion house Paco Rabanne back in February 2011, just to toss a couple of accomplishments and some background out there, Manish Arora has been appropriately dubbed "the John Galliano of India" (except without a breakdown accompanied by an infamous anti-Semitic rant), and I hope his career oozes butterflies and embroidered circuitry everywhere for many years to come.

I first found out about him while searching for inspiration at some point in late 2006, not too long after he made his debut at London Fall Fashion Week '05. At that time there were very few Google Image search results for him and his work; today it's like a beautiful avalanche of the embroidery of countless seamstresses on LSD. Because I mean, you know, smartphones. Smartphones with cameras.

Arora's first runway collection is far from his best but is still very memorable. 
It's difficult to choose images to represent all of these ready-to-wear collections for this post because they really need to be seen in their entirety, but I've tried anyway. For this debut collection, you can have the video, though, because it's weird and psychedelic like the cameras are remote-controlled dragonflies hovering over the runway, or it's actually underwater, or something like that:

Even if you find this garish and awful, you have to admit that it is bold and unique, the kind of thing that assaults the senses and slaps the shit out of everyone sitting there watching, in all black, trying to be super serious. Plus if you get to about 5:45 an audio clip from the super kitschy and awkward rendition of "Like a Virgin" they did in Moulin Rouge starts playing lol. I mean, it makes perfect sense, though. "Call him the Baz Luhrmann of fashion", any number of fashion blog posts from around that time very accurately said.

The subsequent Fall-Winter '06 ready to wear collection was quite fun and included but certainly wasn't limited to cute kitschy prints of London landmarks and Christmassy things like snow-covered pine trees and cabins. 
Arora also got a jump on or possibly even started the enormous felted statement necklace trend at this point. Other highlights included a ton of beautiful beading, an adorable combination of classic preppy Western looks, and of course, even some more traditional Indian flavour. 

The Spring-Summer '07 collection was the first one I saw back when I was searching for inspiration for my overly-demanding high school studio art class in late 2006. It completely blew me away at the time and probably remains his most recogniseable to date. It's tear-jerkingly spectacular. Again, I've tried to pick my favourites, but encourage googling the whole thing. 
I actually constructed a mask with a giant butterfly half covering one eye and half coming off the side out into the air for that studio art class after I saw this, but it was a completely disappointing and juvenile attempt to emulate this greatness. 

It's pretty clear that 2007 was a turning point in his designs and maybe even the zenith of his creativity, at least at the time this was originally written.

What I love about his work isn't just the creative vision and explosive rainbow palette, but the fine detail work and incredibly varied textilesy aspects. Much of his garment menagerie includes that aforementioned lush embroidery, beading, stones, feathers, and even three-dimensional geometry. It's really too bad that what's available for purchase from these designers is never anywhere near as innovative as what they put on the runway, unless you're an A-list celebrity. I need that texture in my life, man.

When I was collecting and saving these images as a teen I called the folder for the above collection "Butterflies" and the Fall-Winter '07 collection "Androids". The latter is my personal favourite and is positively full of things I covet and wish I could actually wear. So much geometry, heavy embroidery, latex, faces that look like circuit boards... 
It's like Bollywood Blade Runner!

(god how did any of us survive that era of super low-res imagery, I'm dying inside)

I'm writing off '08 slightly even though it's still fabulous because it was like a continuation of the line of thought of '07, just a bit less intense and more wearable. 
The spring collection is nice and jaunty and has an 80's-90's nostalgic appeal to it, as does the fall collection, which returned to the depths of outer-Bollywood-space. Actually, it reminds me more of the classic film Metropolis, but with all that luscious Indian embroidery, Mickey Mouse, and gladiators. If only there were no such thing as bad hallucinogenic trips and they were all more like this. 

I personally found the Spring '09 collection kind of underwhelming, and even more so when Katy Perry wore its crown jewel, the carousel dress. It's fitting that the collection was circus-themed, though; she just looks like a cheap circus performer most of the time anyway. 
Lady Gaga also wore a thick, possibly felt, leotard-type thing from this set, making it, I think, the first one that captivated the world's pop tarts. 

While the Fall '09 collection involved some impressively advanced clothing engineering - largely in the form of dramatic spikes that Lady Gaga favoured for quite a while - it, too, was a little underwhelming compared to the collections that came before it. 

Luckily, Spring '10 saw the return of androids and yet more very impressive, three-dimensional avant garde clothing structures. They're the sorts of things that should be on display in museums, with people stopping and tilting their heads to admire their lines and movement. Rihanna actually wore a combination epaulette/harness hardware piece off one of the designs. 

(and once again the fact that the pictures are still crappy because that was before everyone could be a professional photographer with a $1000 iPhone makes me feel kind of nostalgic)

The later 2010 collection is very reminiscent of what you'd imagine people would have worn in Atlantis, as was the passing trend at the time. It's too bad Alexander McQueen's epic vision of Plato's Atlantis and Sølve Sundsbø's The Girl from Atlantis had just beaten him to it. It's also too bad that this whole image ran its course. I mean, its spirit kind of came back with the brief Tumblrspawn style called seapunk that accompanied vaporwave, but not really. That got too obnoxious to handle very fast anyway.

Plato's Atlantis
The Girl From Atlantis
Early 2011 was reminiscent of an episode of Ancient Aliens, maybe... in Malibu? Its fab but not overwhelming palette was comprised primarily of baby blues, corals, and yellow/gold.

Fall/Winter 2011 - some of which was still for sale on Arora's site when I first wrote this - was an interesting combination of jewel tones, dead tauntauns, cut-outs, shiny metal hardware and what I suspect are the supersized reproductive organs of various flowers. I really love it; it's got a bit of everything from past collections rolled into it without looking rehashed. In other words, he's refined his style to a science.

(Originally Published 3.1.12)

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