From running barefoot on grass, in a small village in UP, to becoming a globe trotting couture designer, Rahul Mishra has come a long way and seen it all — struggles, failure, self-doubts and glory of success.
Mishra was born in a small village, approximately 80 kms away from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Malhausi. And, stayed there till he was 9 years of age. His early education, and initial childhood was spent in this village, to which the designer describes as his most cherished days.
“Experiencing the fresh smell of the first rain in a kaccha (muddy) courtyard, running barefoot on the grass, visiting farms everyday, I had a very humble and down to earth childhood. From making paper planes to boats I did everything. I remember spending most of my time on a Jamun tree during summer afternoons.” he says.
Mishra describes himself as a shy, under-confident kid with a stammer. But he is quick to add that he was good in studies. Initially taught by his mother and home-schooled for a while, the designer attended his first class when he was six years of age.
“I sat in the first grade, but the teacher felt that I knew what was being taught in this grade, so they promoted me to the second grade. Same thing happened with second grade. And within a week, I was sitting in third grade, which was the last class in that school,” he reminisces about the thatched-roof school, where the students sit on the floor to study.
It wasn’t until Mishra moved to lucknow to study further, at the age of 9 that he discovered his love for art. He says, “I moved to lucknow when I was in sixth grade, and I stood first in my class. Apart from studies, I used to draw a lot of trees and flowers and I got into sports as well. I scored highest marks in biology in UP Board because of my realistic illustrations of body organs in the exam. I started enjoying arts and sports more than studies and realized what if I get to be creative all my life.”
But Mishra’s initial love for arts was not appreciated very well from parents. His father, who was a doctor, shifted back to Kanpur to help him focus on studies. “My father believed that being a doctor, engineer or an IAS officer will bring stability in my life,” he says.
Following his father’s advise Mishra even took admission in a Kanpur University for graduation in physics, chemistry and mathematics. But it didn’t sit well with the designer for he wanted to follow his love of arts. However, still unsure of what to do, he moved to Delhi in 2002 to his sister’s place. “In a way, I left my home and my father didn’t speak with me for an entire year.”
In Delhi, Mishra applied to institutes such as NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology ), NID (National Institute of Design) and the likes to pursue art. He failed to secure a seat anywhere in the year 2002 and self-doubt creeped into his head. “My family thought I would not be able to do anything in my life and even I started to believe that. I had nothing to do. I wanted to do anything but study. I was just looking for something that I could enjoy.” Shunning these negative thoughts, he tried again in the year 2003 and bagged a seat at NID, in apparel design, which was not his first choice. “I applied for filmmaking but I could only be given apparel because of my educational history,” he says.
Studying at NID was also not a smooth ride for the designer. “I was good at projects where there was complete creative freedom, but struggled in those where my hands were tied. One of my seniors also told me that I shouldn’t waste my time with apparel design.It took me two years, with multiple failures, to finally create a good collection,” he adds.
A turning point came in Mishra’s designer journey when he travelled to Kerala, in 2005 to work on a collection with Kerala handlooms and textiles. “I was travelling by a train to Kerala from college. I borrowed a digital camera from the college and I remember clicking everything and anything, on the way from the train. In Kerala. I met Padma Shri Awardee, master weaver Padmanabhan Gopinathan, who is a force of nature in handloom craftsmanship. I learned a lot from this one month of stay and work in the state, learning directly from the weavers. It shaped me as the designer I am today. I realised fashion is a very responsible thing,” he says.
This 12 garment collection would become Rahul Mishra’s dream debut placing him in the spotlight. Back in 2006, a reputed fashion institute split into two resulting in more vacancies for designers to showcase their collections, wherein Mishra’s entry also got selected. “I got a standing ovation for my first show. Manish Malhotra, Sabyasachi and many big designers were in the front row.”
After this show Mishra got a scholarship to study in Milan’s Istituto Marangoni, from where he graduated in 2009, came back to India and started his label. Mishra regularly showcased at India Fashion weeks ever since, and won many accolades.
He became the first Indian designer to win the International Woolmark Prize, in 2014 at Milan fashion week. And showcased a couture collection at Paris Fashion Week, the same year.
Reaching Paris Fashion Week was a journey on it’s own. Mishra was offered to showcase at Paris in 2009, after his first show for India Fashion Week in Delhi. But he felt he wasn’t ready. “I knew I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t sure if my garments are global. But after winning the Woolmark, I knew I was ready and so I went ahead with it,” he says.
Mishra regularly showcased at Paris Fashion Week ever since, but in January 2020 he became the first ever designer to present a collection at Paris Haute Couture Week for spring couture and continues to do so.
Having become a reputed name in the fashion fraternity all over the world, Mishra’s design philosophies remain the same as ever. “Design is always driven by ‘four Ps’ — ‘what is the purpose of your design’, ‘the purpose is defined by the process’, ‘your design should create participation’ and then comes the product,” he says.
Mishra is well known for promoting Indian craftsmanship. “The same design can be created in two hours via digital methods, and can take 2000 human hours. It’s up to the designer which route they want to go. I feel as a designer you should solve problems in society. How can I create more inclusivity? How can I create more employment? That is very crucial to me,” he adds.
Mishra is now gearing up for an affordable, ready to wear line in collaboration with Reliance Brands Limited with a 60:40 partnership.The name of the brand is yet to be announced. Talking about this partnership he says, “We are very excited about it. We were already doing ready to wear on Paris Runway Week, and now we have got a global supply chain. We are looking at opening stores in Paris, London, Tokyo and more cities in India like Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. I want to dress a woman everyday, and not just on special days in her life.” he concludes.
The author tweets @digvijayitis