NEW YORK designer Bibhu Mohapatra is riding high since Michelle Obama arrived on a landmark visit to India wearing his dress – his Fashion Week show was mobbed on Wednesday (February 18).
Dozens of people given standing-room tickets were turned away from a packed house at Lincoln Center, forced to watch the fall/winter 2015 collection on TV screens in the lobby as there was no more room.
The collection was full of rich fur coats, both long and cropped, in white, brown, red and blue, mixed with elegant monochrome tailoring and structured evening gowns in red and electric blue.
Speaking to a reporter before the show, a happy and relaxed Mohapatra was loving the attention, 19 years since moving to the United States, first to study economics and then fashion.
“To be represented in my homeland by probably one of the most important persons and not only because of her fashion style or her following, but who she is and what she stands for, was a big deal for me,” he said.
It is not the first time Obama has worn one of his outfits, but selecting the blue flowered dress and matching coat to step off Air Force One with President Barack Obama on January 25 was a career high.
“I feel very fortunate that I'm in a very small way part of that history,” he said of the visit, which signalled a growing closeness between Washington and New Delhi.
“One billion people were watching on a live telecast and (the Obamas) being received by the prime minister of one of the largest democracies. Not bad!” he said.
The Obamas arrived in India on Saturday evening US time, and Mohapatra went straight to his studio and left the pictures on his team's desks.
“I know that means a lot to them. And who doesn't want to get validated for their work? And I felt validated. I got so many phone calls, my phone literally rang all night – for a week,” he said.
Mohapatra's success is the American dream personified.
He grew up in a middle class family in Orissa, on the east coast of India, and moved to the United States in 1996.
After earning a Master's degree in economics from Utah State University, he enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Before launching his eponymous label at Fashion Week in 2009, he was design director at French furrier J. Mendel for nine years.
Hollywood actresses Hilary Swank, Gwyneth Paltrow and Glenn Close have worn his clothes, but he says he would love to spend more time in India.
“I'm a bit of a nomad, I love to travel,” he told reporters.
“I would like to be omnipresent, if I can be, because the world has become a really small place.”
Economic development has transformed the India he left in 1996 into a “very different” country, he says.
'It's exciting. Every time I go back, there's so much. We launched in India in 2014 so now we're going to be doing more and more things. A few things are in the pipeline,” he said.
But Mohapatra also loves the United States. He lives in New York and spends his weekends upstate, where he keeps chickens named after supermodels.
He started with 17, then there were 21, but there were a “few attacks” and “some models perished,” he admits.
“I go every weekend upstate and relax,” he said. “I don't cook them, but I like to cook, I like to cook Indian food and invite my friends.”
But why the unusual chicken names?
“Because they're beautiful! They're like so elegant and they give eggs,” he laughed.
“You can't get those from supermodels!”