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Bibhu wows New York with nod to imperial China



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Indian-born designer Bibhu Mohapatra, who has dressed Michelle Obama and Gwyneth Paltrow, unveiled a stunning fall/winter collection in New York inspired by one of the most important women in Chinese history.

Mohapatra, who has been a fixture at New York Fashion Week since 2009, was inspired by empress dowager Cixi, the former concubine turned 19th century regent who was a powerful figure in China for nearly 50 years.

British Indian author Salman Rushdie, one of the greatest living writers in the English language, was guest of honor and posed for a series of selfies with Mohapatra and female guests backstage. Mohapatra said the collection celebrated "the prowess and poise of the mysterious female mind," and was greeted by ecstatic applause when he appeared on the runway at the end of the show.

The designer, who dressed the first lady when she and Barack Obama made a landmark visit to India in 2015, said he would "love" to dress Hillary Clinton, campaigning to become America's first woman president. Dragonflies were leitmotif of the collection, fashioned into double-wrap leather belts, made into leather chokers and picked out in embroidery and sequins on evening dresses and coats.

"Dragonflies really have a lot of cultural meaning to everything," Mohapatra told AFP backstage between being congratulated by friends. "They're prophetic in a lot of instances, it's about good crop, good weather and it's meaningful," he said. As a child, he used to try to catch them but his mother would warn him to be careful. "They're very delicate, so I love them so I wanted to incorporate them," he said.

His 2016 fall/winter collection also celebrated opulent furs -- his mastery testament to his past nine-year stint as design director at iconic French furrier J. Mendel.

Practical furs

There were furs in all shapes, sizes and colors: a black fur collar and hem on a black leather trench coat, a stripy red and orange fur coat, a teal fox vest and rosewater mink.

Despite the discomfort that some designers feel about using real fur, Mohapatra said it was important that they were sourced responsibly. "As we're going into global uncertainty climate wise, it's important to be protected and furs are really practical no matter what," he said. "They have their stigma -- so does silk, so does cotton -- and as long as they are sourced responsibly they are fine."

Day wear was a lean silhouette with high necklines and long skirts. Evening wear was sumptuous -- the overall effect princess meets Bollywood meets Star Wars with regal trains. There were strapless ball gowns, figure-hugging sheaths and black velveteen that fell in soft folds. Grecian-style dresses in silk chiffon billowed in white and green, and his final gown was strapless ivory and ebony with a thick gold train.

There was lavish use of imperial red, pagoda embroidery, embroidered dragon fly and a chocolate chinchilla coat with alligator waist detail. The collection hit several key trends of the season, including buckle accessories as also seen from Alexander Wang and Vera Wang. As at Oscar de la Renta, Mohapatra included a giant bow at the back of the neck on an evening dress, his in gold, and there was metallic brocade as at Michael Kors in the morning.

Mohapatra grew up in Orissa, in eastern India and moved to the United States in 1996. After getting a masters in economics from Utah State University he studied at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. He launched his eponymous collection in New York in 2009 and his clothes sell across the United States, Europe, Russia and the Middle East. (AFP)

Bibhu Mohapatra
New York Fashion Week