While Lady Gaga is famous for her bizarre outfits, Arora too has made headlines for his eccentricities. In 2008, Arora gave his bulbous Ambassador a “kitsch makeover” by embossing it with Swarovski crystals and hand-made fabric in loud colours. His tryst with colour goes back a long time, says close friend, designer Rajesh Pratap Singh, recalling Arora’s days at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in New Delhi. “He stood out even then because of his colourful ensembles,” adds Singh who was also his roommate at NIFT. Arora is famous for his palette of psychedelic colours and kitsch motifs; his garments combine traditional Indian crafts like embroidery, appliqué and beading with Western silhouettes.
Fashion writer and consultant Meher Castelino describes Arora’s talent as “out of the box”. She still remembers his creation showcased at the Smirnoff Fashion Awards in 1994. “Even then, he was way ahead of his time,” she says. Graduating from NIFT with the Best Student Award, he launched his eponymous label, Manish Arora, in 1997. In 2000, Castelino attended his first show at the Lakme Fashion Week. “It was bizarre…The models’ hair was in dreadlocks and their faces were painted to depict blood streaming down their noses!”
Yet, Arora didn’t get off to a great start. The media scoffed at his outrageous designs, labelling his clothes unwearable. In 2003, Outlook carried one of his quirky creations on its cover and asked: “Who wears this?” His successful debut at the London Fashion Week in 2005 made the international market sit up and take notice of his talent. Three years later, Outlook chose Arora as the best designer for 2005-06. “Though Manish might create drama on the ramp, his clothes are definitely wearable,” believes Castelino. Acknowledging his much bigger market abroad, Castelino adds, “Though they might not be able to pronounce his name correctly, everyone knows it!” Despite his hectic schedule, Arora always responds to her mails and texts promptly, she adds.