The New York Minute

Interview Series: Meet Your Remarkable New York Neighbors

The Fashion Designer

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Bibhu Mohapatra of Bibhu Mohapatra luxury brand and Artemis Jewelry Collection.
I was at dinner one night and got a text. It said, “I hope you’re watching TV because Air Force One just landed in Delhi, and Michelle Obama is wearing you, and it will be televised live.” There she was, the First Lady of the United States next to President Obama, standing in my homeland, with the Prime Minister of India waiting on the tarmac to receive them…That was a singular moment in my life.

Bibhu Mohapatra has garnered awards and recognition around the world. In 2010, he was a finalist in the Women’s Apparel 2010 Rising Star Award presented by Fashion Group International. The same year, he received the Young Innovator Award from the National Arts Club and became a Council of Fashion Designers of America member. 

Bibhu signed his first licensing deal in 2014 for a collection currently sold at Saks Fifth Avenue. In 2016, Bibhu launched his first-ever fine jewelry collection, Artemis, in collaboration with Debeers Forevermark and has since opened his flagship store in Manhattan.


Paul & Vince: How did you come to be in New York City in your current career?

Bibhu: I grew up on the East Coast of India and had a very beautiful, happy childhood, surrounded by lots of crafts, design, beautiful textiles…and by the time I was 10 or 12 years old, I started cutting up my mother’s old saris and bedsheets, and started making things…and she encouraged me.

I came to America to get my graduate degree in economics, and I had a little scholarship to Utah State University, where my cousin had gone. I did well, as I was very good at numbers. When I changed my concentration to fashion merchandising, my main professor saw my sketchbook one day. She said, “Look, you need to go to New York.” I thought it was impossible. But this professor called up her friends in the theatre and art departments and let me sit in on classes, so I could work on my portfolio and not pay for more classes. So, I’m one lucky person; that is the truth — people I have met paved the way for me.


Paul & Vince: Wow! Beautiful story. So, how does your typical day at work go?

Bibhu: Our studio is here in Tribeca, on Duane Street, and I still look forward to coming to work every day and making things happen. Usually, I’m the first one to come to the studio. I go through email, make a plan for the day, and then have meetings…design and production meetings…And then a big chunk of my time goes into meeting with clients.

This takes time, especially if a client is new to the product. It takes a lot of time to tell the story because we put a lot into these clothes but we don’t produce a lot. We work with artisans all over the world, some of them doing embroidery crafts that are 1500 years old. We believe in creating beautiful, fine products that have longevity. It’s very important to us that we don’t create things that are just “eye candy” or that are only seasonal. When I create something, it should last.


Paul & Vince: Could you tell us something people don’t realize about your work?

Bibhu: Of course, I am very proud that our collection is in Saks Fifth Avenue; we are in boutiques all over the US, we are also in the Middle East, in Bahrain, Saudi, and Qatar, and we are launching in London this month. I have celebrities wearing my clothes. But you know, one of my design tests to get into the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York was to design a dress for the First Lady of the United States. At that time, it seemed like a fun challenge but a dream, an impossibility in real life. So now that I have designed for Michelle Obama when she was First Lady…well, it’s another truly great moment in my life.

Paul & Vince: How did that come about exactly?

Bibhu: Well, we had dressed her a few times, and then she was going on her second State trip, so I made her two outfits, but then I forgot when she was going! I was busy working on a collection, and I was at dinner one night and got a text. It said, “I hope you’re watching TV because Air Force One just landed in Delhi, and Michelle Obama is wearing you, and it will be televised live.”

Paul & Vince: Wow, so everyone in India saw it?

Bibhu: Yes, I immediately texted my sister, and she sent me a blurry picture from her television screen, and there she was, the First Lady next to President Obama, standing in my homeland, with the Prime Minister of India waiting on the tarmac to receive them. It was incredible. That was a singular moment in my life.

So, when I saw her at the White House at the last party of the Obama’s, I told her about that Fashion Institute test many years ago. THIS is the American Dream, I told her. I am an immigrant, and now I’m here holding your hand in the White House, thanking you for making my American Dream come true. She was very moved and said we must appreciate those moments, like standing in the White House, because we never know if we’ll be invited back. [laughs]


Paul & Vince: So, what are your favorite things to do in your free time?

Bibhu: Well, it’s so great, this city, because it gives us so much culture just from being around or walking on the street.
If I have a day off, that’s my time to go to the museums, and sometimes three in one day — I immerse myself. Because, as creative people, we get so committed to our work, we need to give our work some space and let it breathe. So I love going to museums and letting the world of an exhibit envelop me. Usually, I go on the weekends, and it’s very busy, but I don’t mind.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: Now it’s time for our Just For Fun question. Who would you choose if you could recreate the clothing for any famous Disney character?

Bibhu: Well, of course, Glenn Close is a good friend of mine. We have dressed her a few times, and she is as fabulous as Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. So I would love to dress Cruella. I would take her into the studio, tone her down a little bit, and give her a bit more color and layers instead of just the typical “evil villain” garb of black, white, and red.

I would let her clothing tell her story. In so many women-driven stories, there is blood, revenge, anger, and all these things. Often the so-called “evil” characters are women driven by passion and the injustice done to them. They’re settling scores…and sometimes, their feelings are warranted.

Paul & Vince: That is so true. So, would Cruella still wear a dress or a cloak?

Bibhu: Ha! I would put her in a fuchsia and red and orange sari…So that she’s very colorful, fiery, and much more interesting.

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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