When Indian-American Fashion Designer Bibhu Mohapatra ‘Stole the Show’ in India

by Simerjeet Sahota

BPheadshotPresident Barack Obama may have left the motherland with the fervor for more exciting things to come from the United States and India, and Kel Penn surely entertained us with all his casual selfies with top notch dignitaries and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, but we are still hung up one thing: the First Lady’s sense of style.

Fresh off of her sartorial win at the State of the Union, Michelle Obama landed in India as stylish as ever. Dressed to impress in New York-based, Indian designer, Bibhu Mohapatra, FLOTUS stole the spotlight and had both India and the United States buzzing.  And, rightly so, no one was more excited than Mohapatra himself, who celebrated the moment with his fans on the social media.

 

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Here are some interesting trivia about this sought-after designer:

1. He’s accomplished: Born in Odisha, India, he obtained a Master in Economics from Utah State University in 1996. Soon, he moved to New York City and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology where he bagged the institute’s Critics Award for Best Evening Wear Designer of the Year.

2. He’s experienced: He was employed at Halston as an assistant designer and in 1999, and was later named Design Director at J. Mendel.

3. He’s talented: In 2008, he established his own label and has been flourishing since. According to Style.com, his recent Spring/Summer 2015 collection was highly reviewed for its balance between “feminine and fitted, but a little eclectic, too.”

4. He’s a true Indian: He designed a collection of hand woven silks to help the traditional weavers in Orissa.

5. He’s popular: Besides the First Lady, Mohapatra is a sought after designer of many celebrities across the globe including, Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyong’o and our own, Sonam Kapoor.

Mohapatra offers a unique signature of print, color and modernity in his clothing. Through his designs, Michelle clearly stole the show in India. And, he seems to be the best designer choice for the First Lady while traveling to the sub-continent, making us want to wear Mohapatra all hours of the day.

Follow the Indian-American designer on Facebook and Twitter

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

South Asian Creators Claim Their Space at the Cannes Film Festival

Ever since we can recall, the Cannes Film Festival has been a merger of movies and glamour. On one side, there are hand-picked films — ready to premiere and make their mark in the world of entertainment — and on the other, audiences and paparazzi alike are served epic moments in fashion.

The festival, aimed to preview upcoming films from all over the world, invites a wide variety of guests that span the film fraternity, of course, but more recently, has opened its doors to many digital content creators, including renowned South Asian creatives.

With a more vast guest list comes a more recent debate: Cannes is a film festival and not a fashion showcase. Kickstarting the debate this year was none other than ace Bollywood director, Nandita Das, who in an Instagram post shared:

Sometimes people seem to forget that it is a festival of films and not of clothes!

In short, Das wants Cannes’ narrative to continue to focus on films.

[Read Related: Cannes Film Festival 2022: Red Carpet Representation at its Finest]

But of course, there’s been a paradigm shift in the guest list over the last few years; this shift has allowed talents from various industries — including lifestyle content creators, entrepreneurs, etc., who showcase their work in fashion and beauty like fine masterstrokes — to walk the carpet and represent their craft, making space for others in their industry.

Influential names like Dolly Singh, Kaushal, Diipa Buller-Khosla, and Shivani Bafna — all of whom made a raging impact on the red carpet this year — weigh in on the significance of representing South Asian artists/influencers on the red carpet, and how they feel they’ve been part of this paradigm shift at Cannes Film Festival.

Diipa Buller-Khosla

I believe that each step we take at events like Cannes sends a powerful message of diversity, cultural richness, and artistic excellence. Representation matters, and the presence of South Asian creators on the red carpet at Cannes helps broaden the narrative of beauty, talent, and creativity. It allows us to showcase our unique perspectives, narratives, and contributions, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive industry. By actively participating and making our presence felt, we help create more opportunities and spaces for South Asian creators, encouraging others to share their stories with the world.

 

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Kaushal

Since 2015, the first time I walked the red carpet, till this year I have always been invited by L’Oreal Paris, one of the main sponsors of the event. It has always been such an honor to be invited to the festival through the makeup brand that I have been using for almost two decades, and, before my social media career began. Personally, I feel a sense of acknowledgment from such a prestigious brand, and its head office teams that sponsor Cannes Film Festival, and value the work I have done and continue to do as a South Asian content creator within the beauty space. Makeup, hair, and beauty will always play a big role within the film industry and it’s something I have always created my content around which is why I am proud to attend.

 

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Dolly Singh

This is a proud moment not just for me but also [for] my peers and the entire content creator ecosystem given that we have reached such new global stages and presence. Of course, as you said, such film festivals, once considered as an exclusive hub for a congregation of the finest acting talents have, in the last few years, opened their arms to more people from the entertainment industry.

This is not just a sudden phenomenon with a burst of Indian creators at the festival this year but there is increased participation from non-film and non-South Asian celebrities across various spectrums from different sides of the world. Along with the many filmmakers, actors, producers, etc I also met some amazing influencers and entrepreneurs from other sides of the world. It’s amazing to represent India and celebrate and champion the advent of the digital ecosphere on such a prominent platform.

The confluence of actors and creators signified the amalgamation of traditional cinema and new-age digital influence, highlighting the transformative power of creative expression and how festivals like Cannes have become more forthcoming and progressive in their approach.

Cannes, like any other prominent festival, boasts of a red carpet that is synonymous with fashion and glitz, and I wanted to use this opportunity to represent all the amazing Indian fashion designers on the carpet besides, of course, attending the screenings. As someone who is just not an influencer but also an actress, I thoroughly enjoyed all the red-carpet screenings and meeting like-minded film talent from around the world at the event. At some point in the future, I would like to be attending Cannes for a film I’ve featured in.

 

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Shivani Bafna

Creators are often placed into boxes of where they belong and the rooms they can be a part of. Being on the red carpet dismantles the ideology that there’s a cap on how far we, as creators and as a South Asian community, can go and what we can achieve.

The Cannes Film Festival has always been viewed as the epitome of a glamorous event — everyone who attends looks like they’re living their best lives. I used the platform to share an authentic message of what the experience felt like for me. To represent all of us who doubt our potential, experience imposter syndrome, and are nervous to find their place, yet continue to push through to achieve their dreams!

As the first Indian American influencer to walk at Cannes, I hope I can inspire young women to confidently ask, ‘Why not me?’

 

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There’s no doubt that the Cannes Film Festival is centered around films, and continues to be a unique space for the global film fraternity to bring their art and showcase their aptitude. But, creators like Bafna, Singh, Buller-Khosla, and Kaushal — a special shoutout to Raja Kumari for being instrumental in paving the way as well — have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill upon their invitation to the prestigious event. Their will to represent their South Asian identities, celebrate their industries, and continue to hold space for their peers makes their presence at Cannes more than just clothes.

All images in the featured photo are from the influencers’ Instagram feeds.

By Sandeep Panesar

Sandeep Panesar is an editor, and freelance writer, based out of Toronto. She enjoys everything from the holiday season to … Read more ›

BySimran: On a Mission to Make Minimalist Desi Jewelry for Everyone

desi jewelry

While growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, with little to no outlet to connect with her desi culture, Simran Anand always strived to stay true to her Indian roots. Fashion, which is almost the easiest medium to incorporate his or her culture, is something she and her mom enjoyed exploring. “Beauty needs no ornaments,” her mom always says. Beauty is something that is innately within us, and we can only enhance it with desi jewelry or clothing, makeup, compliments or “ornaments.” That is one of her favorite quotes. It serves as a building block for her personal style and the nature of her brand. 

desi jewelry
Simran Anand, founder of @_bysimran, wearing the iconic ‘Baby Jhumkas,’ ‘Moksha’ anklets, and ‘Just Pretty’ necklace.

As a fashion enthusiast, she often found herself scrolling through Etsy and Amazon to find the perfect desi accessories to match her Western outfits. While there were abundant options displaying intricate jhumkas to chand-balis, none quite matched the vibe she was on the hunt for. 

And, what was that vibe? 

“Versatile, indo-western, comfortable. I truly wanted pieces that reflect western minimalism and desi maximalism. I am on a mission to create the ‘desi girl aesthetic.'”

Where, oh where could she find those? Sure, the mini jhumkas are a cute addition to a Lucknowi kurta and jeans. But, what about putting a South Asian twist to the perfect white dress for your European vacation? Or, something minimal to pair with maximal Indian outfits?

That’s exactly when her ever-so-supportive fiancé encouraged her to make them! Desi jewelry that is made for both sides of our identities, South Asian and American, “because that’s who we are.” Easier said than done, of course. The quality had to be on par with the daily jewelry we are used to wearing. Since she wanted pieces that were wearable daily, creating jewelry that is nickel-free, tarnish-free, and hypoallergenic was the goal. 

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After countless hours of designing and kickstarting her brand, she received her first batch. Staying true to her mission of producing wearable desi jewelry, the original clasp on the jhumka was a bit too thick and that was something she was not “300%” proud of. Now, her pieces fit more like a “paper-like stud.” The material was one hurdle. The other ordeal was dealing with her imposter syndrome. Dealing with the fact that she started this venture, which to some, may seem like “just selling jhumkas” was something that she needed to overcome. 

So, how did you overcome that? 

[Read Related: Accepting my Cultural Identity Through Jhumkas and Bharata Natayam]

The universe has its way of having your back. “When I posted a video on TikTok, I literally woke up from a nap to see it go viral.”  As the feedback came in, her confidence skyrocketed. “Every no is a yes you do not know about,” she promises. Sales started pouring in and Simran noticed that many felt the same need for such pieces as she did. 

Months after her launch, Simran aims to build ‘BySimran’ stronger each day. Soon enough, she would like for it to be a household name and a lifestyle brand. We can definitely see her “Hailey Bieber Meets Desi Girl” jewelry brand on every girl’s aesthetic Pinterest boards. 

 

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Pro Tip: 

If you are a mono-chrome girly like herself, get a white button-down basic shirt with some medium-washed high-waisted jeans, and pair them with some kitty heels and a matching purse. And, do not forget to finish the look with the micro-jhumka if going out for brunch or running some errands. If you’re getting ready for a dinner date, go for the baby jhumkas. Do not miss the Sapna anklets, which come in a pack of 2, the true desi way.

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By Shezda Afrin

Shezda Afrin is an aspiring physician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of four, it was quite normal of her … Read more ›

Hand Embroidery: South Asia’s Not-so-Famous Contribution to Global Fashion

hand embroidery

South Asian fashion is nearly always associated with color, glitz, and ornate designs. From embellished bridal wear, weighing as much as the bride herself, to brightly colored sarees, Indian craft and hand embroidery is hard to miss — except when it’s showing up in non-Indian clothing.

Did you know that Jennifer Lopez’s famous green, jungle-print Versace dress from the 2000 Grammy Awards was hand-embroidered in India? Or that top luxury brands, including Gucci, Dior, and Saint Laurent, have quietly outsourced much of their embroidery to South Asia for over three decades now? As brands cross borders to connect and innovate through fashion, South Asia has come to the forefront of global fashion as the go-to region for hand embroidery. In 2019, India’s embroidery exports exceeded $230 million, which was a 500 percent increase from the 1990s. This isn’t simply because of the affordable labor and extra cushion for the bottom line — it’s a testament to the unmatched skill of South Asian artisans.

[Read Related: Honouring Tradition and Embracing my Heritage Through Ethnic Wear]

South Asian artisans, also known as ‘karigars,’ are the unnamed force behind a designer’s vision. They often reside in rural parts of the Subcontinent and have gathered skill, creativity, and knowledge over generations. During my travels this year, for the launch of my fashion brand Chaa Latte, I witnessed artisans train from as young as seven years old, mastering embroidery techniques by the time they’re in their teens. Crouched over a table in a dimly-lit room, these artisans work tirelessly to adorn yards of fabric with beautiful beads and sequins, or weave glistening gold yarn into silk and cotton with sometimes nothing more than their memory to guide the motif. Some of them have little to no education and have never stepped outside of their village. Yet, hand them thread and a needle and they are among the best embroiderers in the world.

 

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Is Indian hand embroidery as prolific as French lace? I would argue yes, and maybe even more, but without the fame. Established brands and their collections have stood on the craft of these rural artisans for decades but have rarely given credit. Only few Western designers, such as Dries Van Noten and Isabel Marant, proudly celebrate their relationship with Indian craftspeople. Perhaps because of this nearly silent partnership, a label that says “Made in India” or “Made in Bangladesh” does not equate to beautiful, luxurious work — rather, the complete opposite. Fast fashion may be one output, but the true strength of South Asia lies in centuries of incredibly intricate, slow, and artisanal processes.

In a Times of India article, David Abraham of Abraham & Thakore — a well-regarded Indian label — eloquently says that we must recognize the fact that India is one of the very few countries left that can still produce small lot, labor intensive, highly-skilled craft and textiles.

He adds, “And that is the true luxury in a world of growing mass consumerism and an antidote to the very real threats of environmental pollution, global warming and a growing understanding that we need to buy less, pay more for fashion that is more timeless, classic and responsible.”

South Asia’s fashion identity is at a crossroads, and it’s up to designers, especially the younger generation, to build brands that showcase the luxury and painstaking craft of South Asian embroidery, weaving, and the various other hand techniques mastered over centuries. I launched my fashion brand, Chaa Latte, late last year because I believe the true beauty of South Asian fashion is in the subtle, intricate craft and this simply isn’t accessible to North Americans in a way that fits their lifestyle seamlessly. I was set on designing modern pieces for people of all backgrounds, who have a love for art in the form of fashion and have an eye for unique detail.

 

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My first collection encompasses some of my favorite techniques and textiles from India and Bangladesh, including mirror work and silk handloom sarees. The detailing is balanced with simple silhouettes and a neutral color palette. I am now working on my second collection, which will be released in Spring/Summer of 2023. 

Like me, many young designers are tapping into their unique heritage to draw inspiration and bring attention to the Western world. I had the pleasure of speaking to two fellow South Asian designers who are making a mark on the US fashion industry, while highlighting their love for South Asian craft. When asked about the role of traditional textiles and techniques in their work, Niharika of Tega Collective responds:

With each collection our designs are co-created with a specific indigenous community highlighting their traditional colors, patterns and natural symbols. Every region in the world has incredible biodiversity so we focus on championing native fibers in South Asia like Khadi (indigenous cotton) and Eri (peace) silk originating from Assam, India.

[Read Related: Celebrity Designer Sanjay Garg Gives Us the Inside Scoop on Everything Handlooms and the Sari]

In a separate conversation with designer Sana Khan Patel, from Aara by Sana, she tells us how she was inspired to start her line:

When a family wedding took me back to my hometown of Lahore, Pakistan, after a long 18 years, I was blown away by the level of skill I saw in the gullys (streets) of Lahore. From fabric dyeing to intricate beading to the quality of tailoring, they did it all so effortlessly and with so much pride. I quickly realized that the artisans simply want to create art but unfortunately, in most cases they are overworked, underpaid and treated extremely poorly. I immediately knew that I wanted to work with and learn from these OG’s as much as I wanted to put them in a position of providing for their families.

It’s the hope that this recognition from up-and-coming brands, like Chaa Latte, will shed light into how much South Asia is truly lending to global luxury fashion and the rich history that makes these art forms unique to our countries.

 

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For more information on Chaa Latte, please visit our website and follow our journey on Instagram.

Feature Image: Hannah Schweiss Photography

By Promiti Prosun

Promiti Prosun is the Bengali Canadian designer and founder of fashion brand, Chaa Latte. Though most of her career was … Read more ›