Nearly 20 years after launching his eponymous brand, Indian fashion designer Gaurav Gupta made his hotly anticipated debut at Paris Haute Couture Week on Thursday.
The prestigious event’s recognition of Gupta signals the growing international status of a couturier who has long been beloved by his Bollywood clientele. This past year has seen the designer’s profile skyrocket, with his sculptural creations worn by global A-list stars including Cardi B, Lizzo and Kylie Minogue.
At last year’s Oscars, rapper Megan Thee Stallion donned a slate-blue, body-hugging gown, custom-designed by Gupta, that featured a dramatic train flowing out like delicate waves. The media coverage it generated “was so beautiful,” he said at his temporary showroom near the Champs-Élysées in Paris earlier this week.
“It propelled us and it gave us the confidence that we were ready as an Indian couture brand to go global,” the designer added.
Haute Couture Week is a biannual spectacle at which the most exclusive fashion — garments painstakingly made by hand and sold at eye-watering prices — is sent down runways in front of star-studded audiences. Gupta recalled being on a plane and “about to take off” when he heard that his brand had been selected to show at the event.
“It was very dramatic,” he said. “I was alone on the plane and for the next two hours, I was just looking outside and crying. We were just this couturier, and this is history happening in front of my eyes. This dream has been 25 years in the making — ever since I started working in fashion.”
Building a brand
After graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Gupta founded his label in 2005. His brother Saurabh joined the operation early on. Together they grew the business, opening five boutiques in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad, and regularly dressing Bollywood stars, Indian socialites and brides.
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In the beginning, Gupta’s high-concept collections came in more subdued palettes, subverting what was being sold in the Indian market at the time. Converting what he showed on the runway into commercial sales took some time to figure out.
“Being a very concept-driven brand in a very traditional market was not the easiest. Over the years, I’ve found a balance of how to make wearable concepts,” he said.
Merging what it calls “indigenous Indian construction and embellishing techniques,” the label describes itself as “Indian at its core.” One of Gupta’s most popular items is his high-fashion take on the sari gown. His version transforms the traditional Indian garment, which at its most basic is a rectangular fabric wrapped around the body in different styles, into something markedly sexier, he explains, with a Grecian-style drape and detailing such as knotting and plaiting.
A global outlook
Gupta and his team have been working toward the Paris couture presentation for the past six months, from developing concepts and sketches to sourcing, dyeing and embroidering fabrics. The label has also been preparing for buyers’ visits to the Paris showroom where its eveningwear collection, which is currently sold via Moda Operandi, will be on display. The American retailer Neiman Marcus is also set to offer the brand’s designs, and Gupta relishes the challenge of expanding his presence in the West.
“America is huge and we’re going to be stocked with the best players in the market,” Gupta said. “It’s been a nice progression of having celebrity collaborations — cultural collaborations, is what I’d like to call them — and (in parallel) have our agents do sales. It’s a 360-degree plan.”
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For the label’s debut collection at Haute Couture Week, the idea of “shunya,” the Sanskrit word for zero, was the starting point.
“When zero was discovered … the world expanded into infinity. Time was no longer linear,” Gupta said, adding that explorations of space and time inspired the collection.Actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan at the Cannes film festival on May 19, 2022 in Cannes, France wearing Gaurav Gupta creation. Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images/FILE
Thursday’s runway show began with a series of extreme silhouettes in sensual textures. Several looks featured swan-like wings that twisted around models’ shoulders and hips before trailing onto the floor. The ensembles were made using Indian hand-loomed and hand-woven tissue fabrics, which were sculpted using the label’s embellishing techniques and embroidered with crystals, giving each dress an effervescent sensibility.
An eruption of indigo, electric-blue pieces followed. Strong statements in their own right, each look was designed head-to-toe in the same hue and paired with matching legging boots that seemed to fit the models like a second skin.
Then came a parade of nude-illusion dresses that saw intricate black embellishments strategically placed over sheer, skin-toned tulle. They were followed by pops of color by way of silver, black and neon yellow dresses. A succession of black and gold creations then concluded the show.
“When people see my collections, they say, ‘Your clothes are very beautiful but they’re not very Indian,’ which isn’t right,” said Gupta.
“There’s a sense of fluid form, maximalism, the techniques and craftsmanship — all of that is Indian. I want to challenge the perception of the words ‘India’ or ‘Indianness.'”