Rahul Mishra revisits Santorini with The Shape of Air

Pitch darkness. A glistening orb-like structure revolving in the distance. Throbbing music accentuating the sense of foreboding. The first few seconds of Rahul Mishra’s The Shape of Air, that was showcased digitally at Paris Haute Couture week recently, puts you at the edge of your seat. And keeps you there for a little over six minutes in which the Couture Fall 2021 collection unfolds in all its dramatic beauty, much like its muse Santorini. The detailing breathtaking. The craftsmanship divine. It is Rahul’s most dramatic presentation till date. “This collection was a journey from within. I got the haunting pause of one-and-a-half years (since his visit to Santorini) before we did this collection… I got a chance to digest it…,” Rahul told t2 post-showing. He decoded the collection for us.

The collection has a sense of haunting beauty…

Actually it was haunting for me also. In 2019, Divya (wife) and I had taken Aarna with us to Paris (for his ready-to-wear show). She was four and in the first week, we went to Santorini. This was her first time at an island and that too Santorini, which looks like heaven… very hard to describe. She asked us a lot of questions and like they say, when you go to a new place, walk, walk, walk. When Aarna was walking, she would hum Ae zindagi gale laga le because Divya keeps listening to that song. I had a beautiful experience of Santorini. Then corona happened and hum saab ghar pe baith gaye. Aarna keeps telling me ‘Yaahan toh corona hai, hum Santorini chale jaye. Hum ko Vienna jana chahiye. There won’t be corona there!’

What has happened is, all memories have become a future dream now. When I came back, I told my team that one day we will make a collection on Santorini. I feel more like an artist who travels. Artists like (Claude) Monet and Paul Signac have travelled to different places and painted those places with their own impression. I am a big fan of impressionism as an art form. Monet, in a conversation with Herman Bang in 1895, said ‘I am pursuing the impossible… I want to paint the air in which the bridge, the house, and the boat are to be found — the beauty of the air around them…’ So, when he says he is pursuing the impossible, I also thought let’s do something impossible.

When you are doing Santorini on clothes, the biggest mistake you can make is make it look like a souvenir shop postcard. I had to look at it from a different angle. I have called this collection, inspired by Monet’s quote, The Shape of Air, because I am making shapes now. Santorini is very distinct from any other place in the world. The  buildings look like as if air has shaped them… curved edges, round pillars and the sky has given colour to the domes and doors.

Tell us about the mind-blowing detailing…

I have been studying architecture in the last one-and-a-half, two years. So, after my last show, I am looking at architecture from a city planner’s eye, as to how somebody’s roof is somebody else’s entrance… I never wanted to create exact Santorini but the impression that is created on my heart. I created the layering of each individual building. The buildings often look very transparent. Architecture never looks so lightweight like it looks in Santorini.

For water, we created beaker shapes so that it almost looks like water is spilled individually into them. As if water is falling out of the dress. We have also truckloads of tulle to create water. There is a feel of the ripples and splash shapes. For shallow water, we created light green and darker blue for deeper water. Oia sunset is a famous sunset in Santorini where the water turns orange, as if there is a volcanic eruption. Aarna asked me is there fire inside water. We created a similar kind of thing in sequin sheeting.

You can feel air when there is a breeze caressing the trees. We tried to do depict that through bougainvillea. There is again a lot of construction, pattern-making and gathering. Somehow we could achieve the bougainvillea kind of look. I also tried to achieve air by bubble or balloon.

It was very difficult to achieve this collection. The most difficult part is you combine fluidity of water and tactile softness of the cloud and the sky with the harshness of architecture in one garment. We have versions of the sky with sequins and scallops. My imagination has limits, but my karigars’ karigari is limitless.

Tell us about the setting….

I chose a black box just because I wanted to show a boundary which is built around us. Simple things have been taken away from us because of the pandemic. We are literally under house arrest now. Even with the most beautiful memory, you are thinking how you can relive that. There is still a lot of uncertainty. I am scared and I will admit it, but I am finding my happiness in small things. I am lucky to live with my family and talk to so many people. This is the reflection of the times we are living in. It’s almost an Inception kind of thing. It’s an impression of a memory, layered in dark fantasy.

A lot of us were shooting for the first time (since the second wave hit us). And, I could see a joy, like a glimmer of victory after months of suffocation. These girls felt like Amazon warriors. As an idea with the collection, we felt, it should look like a new world order.

The orb-like structure looks really intriguing…

There is artist called Ruchi Bakshi Sharma who had done an installation of the revolving wheel. It’s called ‘Winds of Change’. She says how many revolutions will it take before we see a positive change in society? She treated it like that….

The eye make-up was dramatic…

We collaborated with this brand called asa beauty. It is about holding each other’s hands. We have all Indian talents and products. Mitesh Rajani has done the make-up. The eye is an impression from the old Greek mythological characters and speaks of strength, almost a Wonder Woman kind of feel.

Pictures courtesy: Rahul Mishra


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