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    An interview with Gaurav Gupta as he debuts at the Met Gala

    Jessica Michault

    His dress 'The Melting Flower of Time' was worn by Mindy Kaling

    In an exclusive interview, Indian designer Gaurav Gupta shares his experiences and insights from designing his debut dress, "The Melting Flower of Time," for the Met Gala. This year, the talented designer had the privilege of crafting this breathtaking ensemble for actress, screenwriter, comedian and producer Mindy Kaling, marking a significant milestone in his career.

    Known for creating show-stopping looks for powerful women, Gupta has previously captivated fashion enthusiasts with his designs worn by celebrities like Cardi B, Beyoncé, and Megan Thee Stallion.

    His distinctive approach, especially noted for its elegant use of neutral hues, has already made significant waves on red carpets around the world. Join us as Gupta gives us a candid glimpse into the inspiration and creative process behind his iconic Met Gala debut.

    How does it feel to debut at the Met Gala? It must be a huge moment in your career as an artist

    Our debut is an immense moment. The past two to three years have been a whirlwind of activity, building on everything we've done over the last two decades. With so much happening simultaneously, it's almost too much to fully grasp each significant moment as it deserves.

    It's overwhelming, really. We're always in the thick of preparing for the next event, the next big reveal. Each moment feels significant, yet it's hard to truly feel each as deeply as perhaps I should, given the pace at which we're moving.

    With all these achievements, have you had a moment to sit back and simply enjoy the 'wow' of it all?

    The thing is, for me, it's like, it's actually a big shift in every way. It's been a significant shift in every aspect of my life. Personally, how my friends view me has changed, and professionally, we're achieving historical milestones.

    We are an Eastern brand, and as an Indian, dressing global icons like Beyoncé and having our designs go viral at events like the Grammys and Oscars — it's all been part of a major cultural shift. It's challenging to find a moment to reflect on these achievements as they happen because it's just such a much larger thing to reflect upon than any one moment.

    So have you been able to have a larger reflection point, or have you not had that moment?

    It's definitely an evolving process. Reflection comes in bits and pieces for me. Occasionally, I find a moment to think, "This is great, how can we build on this?" For instance, our commercial partnerships are expanding — we're working with Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and launching in Bloomingdale's. We're also making moves to enter new markets like London. It's all about making sense of our global expansion, which is unfolding all at once. So yes, I do reflect, but it's amidst a flurry of activity, trying to grasp the full scope of what we're accomplishing.

    Does the premiere of your first Couture collection feel like a paradigm-shifting moment, like an 'overnight success' happening after 20 years?

    It's interesting, I think I only grasp the full impact of such moments retrospectively, like how significant the Met Gala was for us. Definitely, it was a paradigm shift. Dreaming of this since I was a child and later as a fashion student in India and at St. Martin's in London, I remember my time interning at Paris Fashion Week, imagining our brand reaching this level. It’s been surreal and genuinely overwhelming. It’s like watching a dream unfold in reality, which pushes me to dream even bigger now.

    What are the new dreams for you? Are they more about expansion, cinema, or something else?

    The new dreams? Yes, they're first about gaining control and properly expanding what we've already built, especially our eveningwear line. It’s about handling one challenge after another that comes with our growing demands while still maintaining our standards with the expansion. But it's exciting, and it sparks new dreams, like embarking on a special project I've been thinking about: 'de baleine.'

    Beyond that, we're looking at broadening our scope — thinking of diving into accessories, which feels like a natural progression for us. We also want to solidify the essence of our brand, to transform it into a distinguished house, much like the paths seen by my peers from St. Martin’s who have become creative directors at major fashion houses. I do understand the risks and the elements that our life journey of a brand can take.

    So I think we have just been very carefully curating the journey of the brand. So I think the dream is still the larger dream of having a global globalization or global vision of this universal vision of this brand. And then expand it in different things. Yes, there are dreams about designing a city, crafting a movie, creating costumes for OTT dramas — these are all on the horizon. It's not a limited dream in any way.

    As you approach the 20-year mark, how are you preparing to celebrate this significant milestone?

    Honestly, realising it's been 20 years is quite surreal; I sometimes feel as though I'm still that 12-year-old starting out, filled with dreams and aspirations. I don't see time as a linear progression. Instead, I view it as looping infinitely, as i am not moved by specific time periods or geographical regions; my inspiration comes from broader concepts like the philosophy of existence and the continuum of the universe. That is why even our brand’s identity, symbolized by the infinity loops in our logo, and our first collection, inspired by the concept of zero, a representation of this philosophy. So for me celebrating 20 is just a social thing.

    What vision do you have for the future?

    Having been in this industry for 30 years, the challenge to continuously create unique and original aesthetics that aren't derivative of existing styles grows increasingly complex.  The process to maintain this uniqueness needs you to go deeper inside. It involves having honest conversations with oneself about creativity and originality. This is something I often discuss with designers and artists who seek advice. I always tell them to go deep, really deep, and avoid simply looking around to see what others are doing and really explore personal ideas. 

    Your work seems more influenced by real-world experiences than digital research. Can you talk about how this approach shapes your designs?

    In our design process, we actually steer away from traditional mood boards. Instead, our approach is more fluid and intuitive, deeply tied to abstract concepts and emotions. For example, when conceptualizing new pieces, with the concept of 'zero' or 'ascension' as foundational inspirations. I explore colors that resonate with these concepts.

    This isn't a quick decision it often takes months to find just the right tone that capture the essence of the ideas we're working with. Other sources of inspiration are as varied as meditation, cosmic phenomena, natural elements like lava, or the intricate patterns of a bird’s wing. These aren’t loud or explicit themes but subtle, nuanced influences that guide our creative direction. The idea of a muse for me is an outdated concept as it is for me  the limitless fantasy of the human brain, where freedom and innovation flourish. I’m putting a collection of paintings together, it’s like a curation leading the way for new cultural expressions.

    I understand that every designer has their unique method of creation, similar to how an iconic designer like Alber Elbaz might focus on materials and drape. Can you tell us more about your practical approach to design?

    Oh, talking about Alber Elbaz always gets me emotional, as he was not only a phenomenal designer but also a very close friend, and I miss him dearly. One of my core memories was when I met Vivienne Westwood. I was able to spend three hours with her because we were at King Charles's house. It was animal ball and we were both engaged in creating masks, and passionately conversing about climate change that I completely forgot to meet Prince Charles.

    But It was an unforgettable encounter, and such moments stick with you forever. Thankfully I had the privilege of meeting Prince Charles previously in India, where we collaborated on elephant family and animal conservation projects. I’ve also had the chance to meet other remarkable individuals like Cardi B, who appeared on my show, and respected Indian actors like Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone. Their profound internal beauty and the significant cultural impact they have make these meetings special.

    For me, it’s not just about their star power; I am drawn to people who shift culture and thinking, like Vivienne Westwood, who has profoundly affected how we approach creative expression. These interactions inspire and influence my own creative process significantly.

    How do you want to help culture shift?

    I've been actively working on this, particularly when I returned to India and noticed the predominance of traditional attire. It felt a bit like these traditions were being followed without much thought, so I wanted to shake things up by introducing modern interpretations to traditional designs. It's about evolving and even disrupting the standard aesthetic to bring about change. I'm really proud of how these efforts have permeated through society. My redesigned saris, which we modernized and made more accessible, are now seen everywhere like eBay, even in a diluted form on various television shows. This shows how deeply our work has influenced the collective design philosophy across the culture.                               

    We've reimagined traditional elements, such as the sari, which was once merely a piece of cloth. We've transformed it into a zipped gown that not only resonates with Indians but has also captivated a global audience. This innovation is like engaging in a dynamic dance with cultural norms, continuously challenging and redefining what is traditionally accepted.                                                                                    

    Such transformations have started conversations on a global scale. For example, introducing the concept of 'Shunya' (zero), a concept from India, to a worldwide audience via social media platforms has helped deepen the understanding of Indian culture globally. This engagement is not just about appreciating the aesthetics but also about understanding and valuing the deep historical and cultural significance behind them. This, to me, represents a significant cultural shift, helping to awaken a global audience to the rich wisdom of ancient cultures, which I believe is essential in a world that often feels too plain and jaded.

    What is currently capturing your imagination, especially since you've mentioned concepts like 'zero' previously? What is inspiring your current collection?

    My fascination has always been with ancient wisdom and the untapped powers of the universe and nature. Particularly, the idea that we only use about 10% of our brains is something that captivates me. Think about the remaining 90% — the subconscious mind and its endless potential. This concept of the vast, unexplored capacities within us really drives my creativity.                                                                         

    There is this film where Scarlett Johansson's character accesses her full mental capabilities, and it's this idea of unlocking the full potential of the human mind that intrigues me. The fact that could achieve so much more, like levitating or flying, if only we could tap into that unused 90%. It's a reminder of how limited we are by our current understanding and how much more we could achieve. This exploration of human potential and the mysteries of our own minds deeply influences my work and the themes of my collections.

    As you've established a strong presence in the region, what are your plans for further expansion there?

    We initially didn't have a direct presence, but now brides from places like Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia are making special trips to India for couture appointments. They're not just looking for traditional wedding attire they want to transform our cultural designs into unique white wedding gowns. The whole situation, is just a natural resonance as they are literally loving the uniqueness of the aesthetic and wanting to do that.

    But it's not just the brides who are captivated. Their mothers, sisters, and the entire bridal party are also drawn to our designs, showing a general appreciation across generations. And then we have you know, the younger cooler customer going Europe and wearing an experimental piece like the tan suit or dress for her own parties there.

    How long have you been implementing these new design strategies and expansions?

    We're really just at the beginning of this journey. I wanted to start experimenting with these new ideas to see how they would unfold. So we recently launched a few pieces to test the waters and see the reactions, which have been positive.

    You know in our design process, I particularly enjoy the art of draping. There's something magical about shaping fabric through draping that I find more appealing than even pattern making. It makes the craftsmanship involved in our creations something even more incredible about our work in India.

    The traditional skills are immense and inspiring, yet sometimes I feel they are overly defined by their historical origins. So we're trying to evolve these techniques to fit modern sensibilities, as there is so much to be done without losing the essence of their tradition. 

    How does collaboration work for you, especially for something like your first Met Gala? Do you reach out to people, do they come to you, or is it a bit of both?

    It really just happens. We have a great friend, Shree Bose. She's Indian and also an alumna of St. Martin’s, like me, and she runs a brand strategy agency in Los Angeles. She and I are able to make this magic happen, for us It's not just about dressing celebrities but also about crafting stories and creating cultural impacts. Somebody like Cardi B or Beyoncé naturally gravitates towards our aesthetic because it resonates with their own cultural influence. Our collaborations aren't about chasing celebrities with massive followings but more meaningful than that.

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