Gaurav Gupta: The Indian Couturier to the Music Superstars
From Cardi B’s striking blue bespoke gown at the Grammys red carpet last month to the likes of Mary J Blige, Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Jennifer Hudson, Kylie Minogue, Bebe Rexha, Luis Fonsi, Ashanti, Thalia and Saweetie, the Delhi designer has dressed them all in the last one year alone
Celebrated international pop culture artists have been wearing pieces from Indian couturier Gaurav Gupta’s future phantasia collections on red carpets around the world for the larger part of the past year. Mary J Blige to the Time 100 Gala, Megan Thee Stallion to the Oscars, Maluma to the Latin Billboard Awards in Miami, Lizzo, Jennifer Hudson, Kylie Minogue, Bebe Rexha, Luis Fonsi, Ashanti, Thalia, Saweetie – the names read like a veritable Grammy nominations list! And 2023 has started off with an even bigger bang, with the designer making his Paris Haute Couture Week SS23 debut with his Shunya collection, on Republic Day. It was lauded by the fashion world for being intrinsically Indian, yet imaginatively international in style and spirit.
A week later, on international music’s biggest night on February 5th, the Central Saint Martins alumnus’ name was propelled to the front ranks of celebrated international designers when rapper Cardi B wore an electric blue creation from his Paris Haute Couture Week collection to the 65th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. The gown that electrified the fashion world now has its own identity – it is called the Cardi Blue. Cardi of course is no stranger to Gupta’s indigenous sculpting genius – she wore an ivory ensemble by him, representative of air that lent a cosmic flair to her character standing in a field of roses in her No Love video in early 2022.
“I’m finally home – I was always meant to do this,” says Gupta of his international fame. “I have always been a conceptual couture mind and I resonate with my education at Central Saint Martins in London very well, where I unlearnt what I had learned to learn again. Thirty kids from around the world are picked every year at CSM and I was one of them. My experiences in establishing and owning my label in India since 2004, with my brother Saurabh as co-director in our company, and the love and support my 350-strong team and I have earned over the years have led me to these moments. It was very difficult in the early years to find a balance between conceptualism and commercial viability as we don’t follow any rules, but I stuck to my beliefs and the brand’s aesthetic of future primitive fantasy.”
Alongside his e-tail business, Gupta has brick and mortar stores in Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata, with the Mumbai store in Kala Ghoda re-opening after a redesign on March 3rd. Will Gupta’s international fame lead to business with fashion purists in Europe and America buying his sculptural garments? Indian designers who have made an international name for themselves to date have done so largely within the NRI community, who are looking for traditional outfits. Given that he comes from a family that owns a steel business, Gupta definitely knows a thing or two about running numbers. “We started our strategic expansion plans in the West slowly and steadily, with the very successful cultural collaborations with celebrities, following it up with luxury retailers, Neiman Marcus and Moda Operandi in the U.S. carrying our label today.”
Gupta transformed bridal wear in India when he launched his label in 2004. Till then, only saris and lehengas were considered bridal wear, anything else was a rebellion and anarchy against the cultural traditions of the country. But through his meticulously crafted couture collections, albeit in subdued palettes and understated colors, Gupta brought about a radical change in Indian bridal wear. Today, his contemporary garments that are a combination of the traditional and the modern, like the sari-gown, are a must on every bride’s wedding wishlist.
“We are driving a non-conformist culture which is abstract yet liberating at the same time. We nurtured this notion in the country where brides were only wearing traditional clothes, Now brides of all nationalities wear our cultural couture for their weddings,” says Gupta. “Our white wedding gown is extremely popular with African girls. What is exciting for me is not the gown, but the aesthetic of a woman wearing live art on the most important day of her life. She’s breaking convention by not wearing what her mother or her sister or her aunt wore. She is celebrating the fantasy of life. I invented the sari gown which is now a staple in every designer’s collection. We pioneered a movement of a new Indian wear culture with our futuristic, contemporary aesthetic, and we make lehengas and saris our way. I like to play around with pre-conceived definitions and redefine them in my own way. I am excited when I can tickle people’s brains with the new fantasies I create – I don’t live for the applause – I live for the gasps of excitement, the goosebump moments. I love sub-cultures and new cultures and that’s really what drives me.”
The New Delhi-raised Gupta believes that the celebrities who wear his label in the West get attracted to the brand organically. “Everyone who has worn us are all icons and pop culturists in all facets of their lives. Their voices resonate with us. When one is a true artist, the attraction is infinite. I mean Mary J Blige, Maluma, Lizzo, Cardi B, Sharon Stone – they are icons who have changed the world with their individualism and voices. Sharon Stone wearing our golden gown for her live appearance with Sam Smith and the choir singing around her! I believe in cultural collaborations. And Paris couldn’t have happened at a better time for me. The love for Shunya has been incredible!”
Relieved is how Gupta feels today, having realized a long cherished dream of showing in Paris. “I have been waiting to make this moment happen and I have been ready for it for a while. To be invited by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode for the couture calendar is just incredible. Couture culture and the thought process of geniuses makes sense to me. I don’t work with references, time or place but the Paris crew delivered exactly what I wanted for Shunya. Their reverence for me and my vision was wonderful. I wanted a new hairstyle for the models because the last new hair that is in my subconscious memory is that of Alexander McQueen’s show more than a decade ago. The show’s soundtrack was an original that comprised of the tabla, cello, tribal sounds with an electronic overlay that was specially composed [by producers Gaurav Raina aka Grain and Curtain Blue] for the show.”
Gupta believes that “every public figure should have a humanitarian outlook towards life and talk about justice.” Having met Nelson Mandela when he was a youngster, he tries to bring about active change in whatever he does, especially through his work. “The Shunya show had trans models, African models, curvaceous girls – couture shows don’t do that,” he says, “togetherness and love is infinite and the image of two models walking down the runway, conjoined by the dress is an image that will stick for years to come. Zinnia, the Indian model, is an anthropologist off the runway and there is so much more to her and the other models than just the physical representations. Shunya was truly an international show. Honestly, in the last 18 years I have never been as satisfied with my work as in the Shunya collection, working with all these people. It’s wild to hear the Chinese and Russians discussing Shunya and my infinity theme that stemmed from the discovery of zero by an Indian, Aryabhatta.”
Will the couturier to pop royals around the world make headlines at fashion’s biggest red carpet event, the MET Gala in New York on May 1st this year? “Everything has a time and place, and it will happen soon,” says Gupta.
Gupta credits his supportive family for his rise in the world of fashion. “I am surrounded by angels in my life – my parents, my brother Saurabh and Navkirat, my soulmate who I live with, and all my friends that I meet along my path and my team,“ he says. “My parents and Saurabh have played a very big role in my life as they support all that I want to do. I am full of gratitude for everyone that is in my life. Had it not been for Saurabh, I would still be working in Istanbul today, where I was headhunted straight after CSM! This is just the beginning for us – from here to infinity!”
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