PARIS • Rahul Mishra and Imane Ayissi made history on Thursday by becoming the first Indian and black African designers to show their clothes on the elite Paris haute couture catwalk.
Only a little more than a dozen of the world’s most prestigious luxury labels – including Dior, Chanel and Givenchy – have a right to call their clothes haute couture.
All the clothes must be handmade – and go on to sell for tens of thousands of euros to some of the richest and most famous women in the world.
Mishra, an advocate of ethical “slow fashion” who blames mechanisation for much of the world’s ills, said “it felt amazing and very surreal to be the first Indian to be chosen”.
“They see a great future for us – which will make us push ourselves even harder,” the 40-year-old said after his debut show was cheered by fashionistas.
Both Mishra and Cameroon-born Ayissi, 51, are champions of traditional fabrics and techniques from their homelands and are famous for their classy lines.
Ayissi said his selection was “immense” both for Africa and himself.
“I am so proud that I can show my work and showcase real African fabrics and African heritage,” he said backstage as celebrities, including Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay, congratulated him.
Mishra broke through on the Paris ready-to-wear scene after winning the International Woolmark Prize in 2014, the top award that also launched the careers of greats such as Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.
The purity of his often white creations with their detailed but understated embroidery has won him many fans, including Vogue’s legendary critic Suzy Menkes.
The doyenne of fashion’s front row called him an Indian “national treasure”. The designer has won ethical and sustainability awards for his work supporting local crafts-people in rural India.
“My objective is to create jobs which help people in their own villages,” Mishra said. “If villages are stronger, you will have a stronger country, a stronger nation and a stronger world.”
Ayissi takes a similar stand, refusing to use wax prints popular in West Africa which he dismisses as “colonial”.
“When we talk about African fashion, it’s always wax, which is a real pity,” he said, “because it’s killing our own African heritage.”
Ayissi, a former dancer who worked with singers such as Sting and Seal, said he wanted to open up “a new path for Africa” and find an “alternative way of doing luxury fashion”.