A touch of glass

Acclaimed fashion designer Manish Arora talks about his foray into sustainable glass art

One of Manish Arora's creations

Environmental sustainability, no longer a fad, is increasingly being embraced by artists, fashion designers and architects across the globe as a design philosophy to whittle down human impact on Earth. Concerns about climate change and loss of biodiversity, particularly in Asia, are also raising buyers’ awareness, propelling them to shop ethically.

To create conversations around this vital topic, Indian fashion designers, too, are doing their bit. Some are crafting ensembles from eco-friendly fabrics while others are endorsing sustainable causes. In his latest project, sartorial guru Manish Arora — couturier to international stars like Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry (apart from many Indian celebrities) — has crafted a collection of limited-edition sustainable artworks from waste material.

Arora’s creations are part of Festival of Colours, a year-long cultural extravaganza organised by a reputed resort located on the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Maldives.

Artistic guest

The ‘No News, No Shoes’ hideaway promotes eco-friendly tourism and upcycles glass as a sustainable practice. The event, on till February 2019, celebrates global food, fashion, art & craft, and Arora, 45, is one of the select few visiting guests at the resort, a list that also includes chefs, authors, wine producers, world-champion freedivers, astronomers, artists, wellness practitioners and tennis coaches.

Arora’s exhibits — a dozen-odd glass decorative objects, accessories and jewellery pieces — were created from glass bottles (discarded by the resort’s kitchens). They carry the imprimatur of his vibrant colour palette, handcrafted as they are in psychedelic pinks, greens, blues and gold.

Arora’s exhibits — a dozen-odd glass decorative objects, accessories and jewellery pieces — were created from glass bottles (discarded by the resort’s kitchens). They carry the imprimatur of his vibrant colour palette, handcrafted as they are in psychedelic pinks, greens, blues and gold.

The fashion entrepreneur says he collaborated closely with the resort’s glass studio for the project, which executed his vision after painstaking research. “My vision was to emphasise the fact that recycling and sustainability can be leveraged to create art. I have conceptualised the collection based on my inspiration, ‘Life is Beautiful’, which is about seeing beauty in all aspects of life,” says the designer known for his astute craftsmanship. “My pieces are a reflection of various designs and concepts that I’ve incorporated in my earlier collections, with the focus on my favourite shape, the heart.”

How tough was it to foray into the complex art of glass-blowing? “I was approached by the resort for the project, and we entered into the alliance with a clear understanding that their craftsmen would be helping me through the assignment,” says the designer. “The studio is a unique and innovative concept which upcycles waste materials to create art pieces. This is what excited me, apart from the fact that this was also an opportunity to explore something I hadn’t done before,” says Arora, also known as ‘the John Galliano of India’.

The maestro admits that though he has never worked on glass sculptures, he has used the material plentifully as an embellishment in his embroideries for many collections. However, the process for creating glass art was quite different. “In the studio, glass is first crushed and melted in a state-of-the-art glass furnace. The resort’s team of glass specialists then use techniques —such as blowing, casting and slumping — to create objects that are of a much higher value than it was in its original form as a bottle,” he explains.

Arora adds that the resort’s glass specialists also create unique signature items for its restaurants. Working with the chefs at each of their restaurants, the team generates designs that “celebrate the experience of art and food through their shared roots in culture and tradition. The group also works to create unique glass details and installations.”

Master turns student

Arora’s project took over two months. “We researched on what could be done using the glass-blowing technique, and then I planned pieces that I envisaged would best represent my design philosophy. Being a novice, I had to learn the nuances that go into making glass sculptures,” informs the entrepreneur whose fashion empire straddles six countries.

What parallels would the couturier draw between making glass sculptures and fashion apparel? “Well, they are two completely different techniques, each requiring a certain process and skill to create masterpieces.”

Even so, Arora admits that working with glass was quite an exciting journey. “It gave me a different kind of an adrenaline rush. The uncertainty of how the final piece will shape up after the investment of all that sweat and blood was what was most exhilarating. I really can’t explain the feeling of seeing how each of my sculptures finally shaped up,” he says.

Was the couturier inspired by any glass sculptor while creating his art? “Dale Chihuly,” quips Arora, referring to the American artist famed for his monumental installations and environmental artwork. “He is an inspirational figure in the world of glass sculpting, and I find his work uplifting and fascinating.”

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