Designer Bibhu Mohapatra returns to Utah to talk about making dresses for the stars
Bibhu Mohapatra returns to Logan to talk about making dresses for Michelle Obama and others.
You would expect a designer who has seen Michelle Obama, Zendaya, and Gwyneth Paltrow wear their clothes to have studied in one of the hubs of the fashion industry, like New York.
Bibhu Mohapatra got his start at Utah State University, a place he says gave him “the right platform” to pursue his dream job.
“My time [in] Utah gave me such solid experience that I’m able to do what I’m doing now,” Mohapatra said recently, when he returned to Logan for a series of USU campus events, particularly Speaking in a series of lectures to current students of economics and costume construction.
Mohapatra – who was born in 1972 in Odisha, a state in eastern India on the Bay of Bengal – is an international alumnus of USU, where he earned his master’s degree in fashion merchandising. He also studied economics. He then earned another master’s degree in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Growing up in India, Mohapatra learned sewing from her mother. These skills always stayed with him, he said, as did the Indian influence in his designs. “I always say my legacy runs through my veins,” he said.
Mohapatra credits his cousin, Savita, as “the one who inspired me to come to America”, he said. Savita was attending USU, and Bibhu stayed with her for the first few months he lived in Utah in 1996 — and became, he said, one of her first muses.
After graduating from FIT, Mohapatra worked for design houses such as Halston and J. Mendel. He started out on his own in 2008, from his private companywith a three layer order.
Mohapatra’s work has consistencies, like an affection for playful dresses and cropped jackets. Her work experiments with bold details, such as sequins in embroidery. He also likes to use different textures of fabrics, including a good deal of tulle, a product of his Indian influence.
Celebrities have started to understand Mohapatra’s style. Gwyneth Paltrow wore a black and white dress designed by Mohapatra in Paris in 2013. Lupita Nyong’o (“We”) wore one of her dresses at a 2014 White House Correspondents’ Association after-dinner cocktail party.
“The best thing that has ever happened to me in my career,” Mohapatra said, came in 2015, when then-first lady Michelle Obama departed Air Force One with her husband, President Barack Obama, in New Delhi- wearing one of Mohapatra’s models.
Mohapatra said Michelle Obama had hinted she might wear the items he had made for her on the India trip – but he had no idea she would be wearing one of his dresses when the couple first were welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“A lot of windows have opened for me” with Michelle Obama’s endorsement, Mohapatra said.
Later that year, actress/singer Zendaya posed for a shoot in Harper’s Bazaar in a lavender dress designed by Mohapatra. More recently, Allison Janney won her BAFTA in 2018 (for “I, Tonya”) in a dress designed by Mohapatra. Tonya Lewis Lee, wife of Spike Lee, walked the 2019 Oscars red carpet in a black and yellow dress Mohapatra designed. And in 2020, “Stranger Things” co-star Cara Buono wore one of her dresses at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The key to designing for someone, Mohapatra said, is to consider “who the role model is as a person and what are some of the important factors that propel their individuality. … My job [is to] design for them, not to turn them into someone they really aren’t. … really understanding who they are as a person, empowering them and defining that … so they project the best version of themselves.
Mohapatra expanded her fashion repertoire to jewelry, inspired by the “timeless brilliance of the Universe” for her “Forevermark Artemis” collection.
Fashion will always come first, he said.
“To me, fashion is a perfect blend of creativity and commerce,” he said. “It’s not just about selling clothes or creating stupid products. … It really starts from an individualistic point of view. What are the things I want to say this season? What kind of story do I want to tell? How authentic can that be? »
Mohapatra reminded budding fashion designers in Utah State that he knows what they’re dealing with, working so far from New York or Paris. “I was there,” he said.
Mohapatra’s advice to future designers: “Be very focused and really believe in what [you] want to do… and yourself. Creativity is unique to each of us. Try to find your own style and be sure to tell an authentic story with your craft.
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