This was the Bibhu Mohapatra collection I have been waiting for since the aughts when we first became acquainted. At our first meeting the designer showed me a coat that was a wonder of handcraft and architecture, but which looked to me like it belonged in a museum rather than on a woman’s body.
What it was missing was a lightness of being, a sense of the fabric working with, rather than around, the body. For fall 2020 Mohapatra ticked all these boxes with a flourish in a confident and joyful collection that had the audience swooning. People were literally gasping with delight at some of the looks (and maybe also at seeing Ujjwala Raut back on the catwalk).
You wouldn’t know it from watching the winged dresses and “cloud” tops waft down the runway, but this collection “came from a dark place,” according to Mohapatra. Clearly he journeyed past that and into the light. The designer had been reading Amrita Pritam’s 1950 novel, Pinjar, a story about the complex lives of women during the partition of India, and started wondering if, some 70 years later, enough has been done for Indian women.
Mohapatra thought, “I can make some sort of statement, but if the clothes are not pretty, then I fail at my craft,” and chose instead to celebrate Indian women, in particular, those who have shaped him, though he clarified, “This is not my India collection.”
Pleating, a Mohapatra specialty, is everywhere for fall, which gave the opening look, a cotton plissé dress, extra oomph. It was refreshing to see the designer finding his footing with daywear—and pants. He showed a pair of lacquered velvet dhoti pants with beautiful flow and a touch of disco flair that someone has to wear to the opening of the Studio 54 exhibition coming to the Brooklyn Museum.
What keeps Mohapatra’s customers on their toes are his incredibly crafted occasion dresses. For fall he combined lightness with restraint (see look 21) that gave women the power; the models really owned their looks, these dresses didn’t wear them.
There were shades of Madame Grès in look 27, a cape-backed, draped gown, and a perfect balance of structure and flow, not to mention the prettiest shade of pink, in a chiffon-skirted strapless number featuring Mughal architecture-inspired embroidery (look 33).
It was nice to see column dresses mixed in among poufier, more princess-like ones, such as a light-as-air pyramid with glittering Mughal tree motifs. Proof that Mohapatra really is walking the walk came when he took a bow alongside his team, the majority of whom are women.