Gaurav Gupta On Indian Craft, Paris Couture Week, And Beyoncé

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Indian designer Gaurav Gupta’s signature swirl gowns, which have been worn by stars on the red carpet, have earned him international attention

The Met Gala. Paris Couture Week. Beyoncé. In just the last couple of years, Gaurav Gupta’s name has been mentioned with each of these trending topics, and the designer’s swirling creations have taken over the red carpet. In the fashion world, that makes you a legend. But while Gupta may sound like a whirlwind success, his story actually began two decades ago.

Upon graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins college, the designer returned to India to launch his namesake fashion brand in 2004. At the time, India wasn’t exactly fashion-forward: the country’s fashion industry was dominated by traditional Indian clothing or basic styles inspired by Western fashion. Gupta’s creations do not fit into either category. Instead, the designer draws upon conceptual themes like mythology, spirituality and surrealism, and his resulting dresses are equal parts dramatic and intricate.

Instead of relying on lavish embellishments as many Indian designers tend to do, Gupta’s gowns make a statement with their sensual draping and sculpted silhouettes, achieved by a blend of traditional Indian craftsmanship and historic techniques used in European fashion, like corsetry.

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Indian couturier Gaurav Gupta founded his eponymous fashion brand in 2004

Among his innovations is the sari-gown, a reinvention of the millennia-old Indian garment that Gupta has imbued with the ease of an evening gown. Instead of draping it around her body and pleating the skirt herself, a woman wearing Gupta’s sari only has to zip it up.

Unsurprisingly, Gupta’s saris are big in India. The rest of the world would know him for his signature swirl gowns instead. Gupta’s dresses have famously been worn by Megan Thee Stallion at the 2022 Oscars; by Aishwarya Rai at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022; by Cardi B at the 2023 Grammys; and most recently, by Mindy Kaling at the 2024 Met Gala. Beyond the red carpet, Gupta’s biggest celebrity endorsement has come from Beyoncé: the singer wore several custom Gaurav Gupta ensembles, including one of the aforementioned sari-gowns, during her Renaissance world tour last year.

While going viral is often seen as a short-lived success for fashion designers, Gupta also made his mark on fashion history. In 2023, he became the second Indian designer ever to join the Paris Couture Week calendar. He was invited by the ultimate authority of the French fashion industry, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode. In a sense, Gupta lived up to the title that was awarded to him at Rome’s fashion week, Altaroma, in 2003: the “Future of Couture”.

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Gupta, only the second Indian fashion designer to join the Paris Couture Week calendar, draws inspiration from nature, mythology and spiritual themes

Instead of confining his fashion fantasy to the closed-off worlds of celebrity and haute couture, Gupta has expanded his universe. He has launched a bridal line, a ready-to-wear line, and even menswear designs. While still based in New Delhi, Gupta also intends to bring his brand to new markets like the US, Europe and the Middle East. This year, the designer held a trunk show hosted by the Singaporean retailer Melange.

Below, we caught up with Gupta to learn more about how he’s revolutionising the Indian fashion industry, and what it’s like being a designer to the world’s biggest stars.

What drives your creativity?

GAURAV GUPTA (GG): I think people who have the gift to be creative are naturally spiritual people. Creativity is one of the highest forms of spirituality. My inspiration comes from the universe, the cosmos, meteors, nature, abstraction, art, surrealism, sculpture and artists.

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Gupta’s Spring/Summer 2024 haute couture collection, Aarohanam, features cast-metal pieces made using traditional Indian techniques

Many of your collections draw from mythology, surrealism and fantasy. Why do you think fantasy is necessary to life?

GG: Most of the world is so mundane. People are caught up in coping with mundane life that they’re not able to see the real fantasy of what life and beyond have to offer. We don’t dwell in the surreal and our subconscious. Fantasy is alive all the time, it’s just that we need to be able to see it. I think I was born to (show people this), not just as a designer but also as a person.

How do you highlight India’s rich heritage of craftsmanship in your designs?

GG: I have 500 brilliant artisans working with me, and we use very intensive Indian techniques.Our artisans have become unique artisans in themselves, because we have taken Indian techniques, like zardozi, and made it not look Indian. Those kinds of embroidery techniques are ancient, but we do it in a futuristic way. Metal casting has been done in India forever, but we are making Kundalini sticks or a breastplate with it. Draping is also something very natural to me; it’s very free and fluid. And draping is Indian. India is one of the only places where the national costume, the sari, is still being worn after thousands of years. You don’t see that anywhere else in the world. India is still an ancient, living “mindscape”. India is very important to me as a deeper, conceptual, spiritual, tribal and ancestral space as well.

How has the Indian fashion industry evolved in all the time that you’ve run your brand?

GG: I’ve been part of the change. I am the change. When I came to India 20 years ago, everything was so traditional. It still quite is in some ways, because the Indian bridal market is the biggest fashion market in the country. Ready-to-wear, especially luxury ready-to-wear, is evolving a lot more; a lot of international brands are coming into India. India is the next big luxury market in the world, but it is a complicated market because it’s still very Indian. It’s never going to become like any other [market in fashion]; it’s always going to remain as India. It’s very local. It’s something different altogether.

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Gupta’s Spring/Summer 2024 haute couture collection, Aarohanam, also displayed his distinctive swirls and structured designs

You’ve dressed some of the biggest stars in both the East and West. Is there a difference in designing for both?

GG: I’m in the middle of the world—I’m Eastern and Western, but at the same time I don’t define myself as either. I think both sides are looking for innovation and celebration and freedom and infinity. And they are able to resonate with those things when they collaborate with us.

Beyoncé is clearly a big fan. How would you describe your collaboration with her?

GG: It’s surreal and exhilarating, but it kind of feels natural as well. When I started showcasing in Paris, I felt like I was at home. And when I’m doing these kinds of clothes for Beyoncé—you know, a lot of people online even wrote that this is such a great combination. It feels like the art is finding its home. I am a fan of Beyoncé, in totality: how she is, the body she has, the light she emanates. She has that sense of going beyond and being infinite.

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Gaurav Gupta Spring/Summer 2024 haute couture

What did joining the Paris Couture Week calendar in 2023 mean to you?

GG: It’s a dream come true for any atelier in the world. Paris Couture Week is the ultimate platform for fashion and art, and the coming together of the two. To showcase on the calendar with brands that have been around for a long time is very prestigious. I’m honoured to be making history.

You’ve run your fashion label for 20 years now. What are important qualities to have as a fashion designer to ensure longevity?

GG: A lot of hard work—there is no shortcut to hard work. Extreme perseverance. And a strong belief in yourself. Being original is completely important; copying others or following trends won’t take you a long way. And have a solid business model and the best people working with you. Have a business partner like my brother, who’s amazing.

What’s next in the pipeline for your brand?

GG: I’m working on a few collections right now: India couture, Paris couture, ready-to-wear, the holiday collection and menswear.

This story originally appeared in the June/July 2024 issue of GRAZIA Singapore and Grazia.Sg.

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