The Daily Front Row
(NEW YORK) From The Daily in print! Repeat after nous: Bee-boo Mow-ha-patra. Because chances are, you’re going to be pronouncing it a lot this year. A veteran of J.Mendel, Bibhu Mohapatra launched his eponymous collection in February 2009. The FGI’s Rising Star Award followed in 2010, along with induction into the CFDA. Now running his studio out of the CFDA’s Incubator space in Midtown, Bibhu is fully prepared to exceed the fashion world’s very high expectations. BY MARIA DENARDO
What don’t we know about Gilles? Every time we went out, we went to a specific deli: Katz’s.
Did Gilles teach you French? “C’est beau.” I think it means beautiful or something.
You designed a lot of fur. Do you have residual nightmares about PETA? No, but I’ve had some experiences. I respect the passion. One time, I was going to a Vogue event with Gilles, and as we got out of the car, we were almost attacked by activists. I just remember thinking, “Dude, what is going on?”
What do you want to be known for as a designer? My goal is to make clothes that have a life beyond one season. If you buy something from me, I’d like it to work with most of the things in your closet and for you to make many stories with it. It’s all about my product. Without my craft, I am nothing.
You’ve got a way with long gowns and embroidery. What’s most in demand from you these days? The most expensive pieces, the eveningwear, sell best for me. If I offer my client something like a very sporty daywear separate, it doesn’t really resonate at this point.
For Fall 2011, your theme is “opposites, contrast, and ritual.” Who’s your opposite in the industry? Bob Mackie. What’s the opposite of fashion designer? An accountant. Oh, my God. I’m going to be killed for that. Maybe we should say a statistician? Where do you produce your collection? Everything is made in New York. I want to support my industry people here who are trying really hard to stay open.
Is your name often mispronounced? Oh, boy. Especially by telemarketers. They usually get my first name, but my last… I can see them stumbling down the hill with it. You know what’s so funny? The people from the call centers are Indian, and so is my name. But every time, they mess it up. And I call them out on it. I’m like, “What is your name?” And he says something like “Sanja.” Really?
Is there any friendly competition among the designers at the CFDA Incubator? Not really. But the CFDA has a Facebook page, and every time something gets published, they very nicely put it up. Sometimes, you feel like you should aspire to that.
Do you guys all hang out? Yeah, my good friends here are Waris [Ahluwalia] and Prabal [Gurung]. We make fun of each other. I always tease Waris that he’s not Indian.
So where’s the best place to take a first date? A lobster dinner at El Quixote in the Chelsea Hotel. It’s called the “daily double”—$29 for two lobsters and lots of vegetables.
You went to FIT, but you first studied at Utah State. Why? I needed to come to America to do an undergraduate degree and get funding. I was practical. I had a cousin in Utah who was getting her Ph.D. in economics, and she told me to come here. I got a scholarship and got my foot in.
What were your weekends like? We went hiking a lot—road trips in the canyon. We’d have a picnic. I can cook a crazy shrimp curry. I remember the very first time I saw snow there. I was living in this basement apartment with little tiny windows. Kind of like No Country for Old Men. I remember this white blanket. I sat outside freezing, trying to touch the snow and rub it all over my face. I went skiing a few times. I went to a couple of frat parties with all these boys, but I didn’t drink. I never had alcohol until I came to America. I was trying to make sense of it. The whole not-drinking thing changed pretty quickly. I started with red wine, but one glass would knock me out. Did you have a job while you were in school? Yes. I had to look for a job with only 20 hours. So there was a job board on campus, and they had a position at the University Inn. I told my cousin, “I don’t know, but it says something like ‘janitor!’ ” I had no idea what a janitor was. I thought it was like an office position, like an accountant. I met the manager, who introduced me to Jay. Jay appears, a very nice man in his 70s with a big bunch of keys hanging from his overalls. I was a little discouraged. It was minimum wage, $4.25 an hour. I had to clean all the offices, vacuum, and clean eight toilets. For the first two weeks, I would walk into one of the rooms and cry. But it’s okay. Someone had to do it, and I’m not above it. I did it for nine months. I could clean toilets like nobody’s business.
Did you know any polygamists? I saw some people who might be. I would see the same person with different families at grocery stores. I had some Mormon friends. Sometimes I would feel pressure to convert, but I was born Hindu, and I have my own way of thinking about religion. I had a few awkward moments, but overall it was a great time. Maybe I was just simpler then.
So what don’t we know about you? I’m not moody, but I am a Gemini. I spend time in cemeteries; I love reading the inscriptions on the gravestones. I have a very dark side. That’s why I’m having such a good time making this collection.