How Gaurav Gupta Became India's Buzziest Couturier

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From a Paris Couture debut to a viral red carpet moment with Cardi B, 2023 has been a breakout year for the designer.

"It's almost like a spiritual experience. It's like you are on an acid trip or something. You're like creatively bursting. I can't explain it," Gaurav Gupta reveals by phone from India, recalling his Paris Couture Week debut last January. "You're working with the right energies of talents from all over the world, be it the stylists, the showroom, the production, PR, hair, makeup, models, casting... everything coming together... that itself is such an elevated experience."

This year has been a breakout year for the couturier, who first opened his atelier nearly two decades ago. He kicked off 2023 with his first Paris couture show, hosted by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (the French group founded in 1868 that has since been the gatekeeper of couture). Gupta says he remembers crying out of happiness.

The collection, named "Shunya," is a Sanskrit word that translates to "zero." Conceptually, it explores both the stillness and infinity of zero, a concept greatly popularized by Indian mathematicians. Generally, Gupta's designs are intensely sculptural, as if adding a new dimension to typical clothes. Beads cover garments like stars themselves trace cosmos. Some arches a cast veil over the face of the wearer, while others frame the face like a flower. In "Shunya," colors range from rich obsidian to shimmery silver skimmed in neon yellow.

"The clothes are wearable costumes from a futuristic or a period drama," says the designer. "It's a parallel fantasy universe."

Gaurav Gupta Spring 2023 Couture shown at Paris Haute Couture Week in January.<p>Photo: Thierry Chesnot for Stringer/Getty Images</p>
Gaurav Gupta Spring 2023 Couture shown at Paris Haute Couture Week in January.

Photo: Thierry Chesnot for Stringer/Getty Images

Gupta was moved by how much he felt the public understood his designs following the Paris showing.

"I've been really, surprisingly happy about the fact that people from Russia, China, Korea — places where they don't even speak English — have understood the concept of 'Shunya' and zero infinity, and how that's translated in so many different forms in this Paris Couture Week collection," he notes. "For me, as a conceptual artist, that's been the biggest win: that people really are going deep into the concept, understanding it and explaining it further... there's something subliminal that people catch onto. People catch onto truth. And I think... truth and creativity always win."

Despite the breakout year, Gupta's journey has been decades in the making. It began with fashion school in 1997; he went on to launch his namesake brand in 2004. The couturier doesn't cite a particular magazine or a seamstress in his family as his earliest fashion inspiration, but rather, he remembers his creativity blossoming whenever he could get lost in his own mind.

"It's drawing, imagining, daydreaming. All of that is the real beginning of the process of a creative mind," he says. "It was just about getting lost in flowers and clouds and just being a dumb kid who didn't know anything. I was just with these thick spectacles, like, what is happening in the world?"

<em>Gupta thanks attendees at his Spring 2023 couture show in Paris.</em><p>Photo: Thierry Chesnot for Stringer/Getty Images</p>
Gupta thanks attendees at his Spring 2023 couture show in Paris.

Photo: Thierry Chesnot for Stringer/Getty Images

Most of his family, he explains, works in steel and isn't as artistically inclined. Though he felt encouraged by them, Gupta focused on getting a proper fashion education. He first studied at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India, the top fashion school in the country.

"[The education] was very technical. It has gave me a really good knowledge on tailoring, pattern cutting, draping, sketching, color cycle... just everything," he says. But the designer also wanted more, and dreamt of a certain school in London: "I loved Comme des Garçons, even though I'd never been outside India. I knew that I loved Vivienne Westwood and loved [Alexander] McQueen, and I was obsessed with Central Saint Martins. I knew that I had to go to that college." After graduating from NIFT in 2000, he worked for a bit before doing just that in 2001.

"Saint Martins was fantastic. It was the opposite of my fashion school in India," he says. "St. Martin's was just very vocational. You're given a project, and you're left on your own to find your identity, and then you have to present a project to... Stella McCartney in three weeks. So it's literally like you're thrown in the deep end by yourself, which was fantastic."

Though Gupta credits the program with helping him find his "conceptual self," it had its challenges, too. "Nobody in class was friends. We didn't have time. It was very competitive, and we were just really serious about our work," he says. "It really pushes you to the limit to find your own, and the environment is such because they picked 50 children from all over the world...I was literally the only Indian in the whole building... it was really intense."

After graduating from the prestigious program, he wasn't able to obtain work visas, so he returned to India and launched his brand in 2004.

"I did it out of need, not knowing what to do next in 2004 because I had to put something out there," he recalls. "But I was coming back to India from a really creative environment of London, and India was only selling very traditional clothes then. So I was in a completely different zone. It's like I was time traveling — it was really difficult initially."

<em>A model walks the runway at Gaurav Gupta Haute Couture Spring 2023.</em><p>Photo: Thierry Chesnot for Stringer/Getty Images</p>
A model walks the runway at Gaurav Gupta Haute Couture Spring 2023.

Photo: Thierry Chesnot for Stringer/Getty Images

He took some time away from his brand to work as an art director for a company in Istanbul, but returned to "properly" launch it in 2006. Showing at India Fashion Week that year put his name at the forefront of the nation's fashion conversation. He says the main newspaper of India called it, "the most innovative show."

Gupta has a unique ability to design a show-stopping, conversation-starting dress, but that took years to master. He toyed with trying to design more commercially before realizing his fans wanted his most authentic, conceptual creations.

"There was just this buzz around us, which is conceptual, which India hadn't seen. We were doing jersey. People thought of jersey as just undergarment fabric in India at that time," Gupta remembers. "People were only doing Indian-wear in fashion or doing very basic silhouettes in Western-wear. And I came in back from Saint Martins, and I was like, let's go totally crazy. I did concepts of beautified military or Greek gothic and jackets transforming into dresses and whatnot — it was quite cool."

He also recognizes he arrived on the scene at a unique moment during which India was "ready for a cultural shift" and becoming more accepting of less traditional garments. Gupta does create culturally Indian clothing, but with his own twist.

"We slashed it, made it sexy. We invented the sari-gown, which is a mix of sari and a gown. And today it's actually a staple in every Indian designer's collection or any Indian person's wardrobe," says Gupta. "For me it was really exciting as a conceptual mind to pioneer a new movement of a new culture of a country or a tribe in the world."

Since then, the 44-year-old has gradually built on that momentum and gained international visibility via several recent wins: showing a couture collection in Paris, dressing celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Saweetie, Lizzo, Quinta Brunson and Mary J. Blige and scoring covers of India's top fashion magazines including Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire. Since opening his first store in 2009, Gupta now operates five throughout India.

Perhaps trumping all of those credits, in February, Cardi B arrived at the 2023 Grammys wearing a striking, sculptural cobalt-blue gown by Gupta that became one of the evening's most viral outfits. The dress appeared suspended in the air, with swoops of fabric extending from her shoulders and partially obscuring her face like a frozen hood. Gupta was officially a red-carpet designer to know.

<p>Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images</p>

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

"I am so fortunate that I literally have angels around me," he says, explaining how lucky he feels to work with his colleagues and A-list celebrities.

These viral moments and resulting broader recognition are already opening up new opportunities and conversations for the designer. "I think the best relationships are through creativity," he says. "The cultural conversation that I can have with Lizzo today is insane because the power of additional creative powerhouse is insane. That's when cultures shift."

Gupta will now show regularly at Paris Couture Week, which he calls a "dream come true" that was "only a matter of time," thanks to his global ambitions. Per the designer, the next chapter of his business is about continuing to explore his potential. The world may now know him as a fashion designer, but he reveals he's not afraid to push those boundaries and design just about anything anything.

"I think I should be making costumes [for] movies. I should be making movies myself. I'm up to designing a city. I can design anything," he proclaims. "I just want people to feel free and believe in fantasy and believe in magic."

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