Bibhu Mohapatra is often described as "up and coming," but we're pretty sure he has arrived. The designer immigrated from Orissa, India to Logan, Utah at the age of 23, with plans to pursue a degree in economics. His aspirations soon took an aesthetic turn, and he traded the University of Utah for F.I.T.
Seventeen years later, he's among the hottest designers in the business, known for color-drenched, ladylike dresses with cuts that embrace movement. (It didn't hurt when Michelle Obama wore him on Leno.) After a widely acclaimed appearance at New York Fashion Week, he's heading for Houston in November, where you can catch him at Fashion Houston or, more intimately, at a trunk show on November 14th between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Elizabeth Anthony Esther Wolf. Fashion correspondent Natalie Barry interviewed Mohapatra by phone.
Q. How did you get your start as a designer?
A. I was a very young kid, about 12, when my mother taught me how to sew. That started everything for me. I started sewing and making clothes for my sister, I didn’t have any formal training and my mom supported me. I always wanted to do something in fashion but continued my studies and got my masters in economics but I could not wait to go to New York and study fashion. I applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology and I got in.
Q.What are you most excited about showcasing at Fashion Houston?
A. My product and sensibility really matches with the clientele there, and so I am definitely looking forward to showcasing look 1 of my collection, which is a printed skirt and blouse. I’m also looking forward to showcasing a beautiful one shoulder fuschia dress with tiny crystal embroidery.
Q. What inspired your Spring 2014 collection?
A. The collection is inspired by my friend Wendy Whelan, who is a principal ballet dancer for New York City ballet. She is classically trained in ballet but has recently immersed herself with modern dance, and has learned a new language, in a sense, to express herself. While talking to her about her new projects she’s working on I was so touched by her excitement in her new beginning that it was the driving force behind the collection, which is using modern dance as a form of self-expression and a new beginning.
Q. Do you plan to collaborate with any designers in the future? Or any you would love to work with?
A. I don’t have any plans to collaborate with any fashion designers but I would love to work with some where can develop some new ideas and concepts. I love to collaborate with other artists, whether it be artist, painter, or photographer.
Q. What would you say has been your biggest success?
A. I think I’m still working on it and have a long way to go, but I come from a very humble background but I have a studio where I have a group of amazing people that work with me, and I would say that it is a success. Also it’s nice to be validated and see your clothes not only on big personalities but also on the street. It makes me happy.
Q. On an average day what would most likely be wearing?
A. On an average day, I wear my blue jeans and if I’m just coming to work I wear I wear a cotton t-shirt and for evening wear I wear one of my jackets over it.
Q. How would you describe your aesthetic?
A. My style is a juxtaposition of living and ease. I like to have a beautiful tailored jacket worn with a washed and very relaxed t-shirt and jeans.
Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
A. It’s a tough business because there are so many great aspiring designers out there but individuality is key. Have your own style as a designer, and you have to be nice.
Q. Is there a celebrity whose style you admire? If, so what about their style do you like?
A. I love Kate Blanchett, I think she is the most amazing artist I have ever known. She is so good at what she does and her style is impeccable. She’s like a chameleon, she can go form romper chic to haute couture. To me she is the ultimate muse.