Updated: Jun 25, 2019
Menswear designer Rishabh Manocha is passionate about making an old custom new again. In 2017, the recent graduate of Parsons School of Design and Central St. Martin’s opened his self-titled company in New York City, where he focuses on reviving the lost art of bespoke tailoring for the 21st century man. As a young designer, Manocha’s experience packs an impressive punch. To date he has worked with high-end designers such as John Varvatos, Joshua Katcher, Todd Thomas Studio and JW Anderson, and has assisted on photoshoots for French fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier. With an eye on sustainability, education and client inclusivity, Manocha’s expertise and artisanal integrity bring a fresh and conscious approach to custom menswear that will have patrons feeling confident in their choice of commissioning a custom-made garment.
IRK Magazine sat down with Manocha to discuss his unique approach to bespoke menswear, which combines his deep appreciation for craftsmanship with inspiration taken from literature, sociology, fine art and his diverse cultural background.
IRK: When did you know that you wanted to be a designer and how did you first enter the industry?
Rishabh Manocha: I was born in New Delhi, India and my father always had a transferrable job, so we moved from one state into another. I remember I was in grade 4 and I just asked my mom, “Can one make a living designing Sarees”? Her response was, “That’s an odd choice of professions, but I guess one could.” It was grade 4 again that I saw my first fashion show and I was enamored by the color, by the choreography and the sheer scale of how something could be presented that was otherwise considered so frivolous in a society like India at the time. I knew ever since then that I wanted to be in the industry.
My parents were very supportive − they were apprehensive, but always supportive. My father lived in the Sultanate of Oman in 2006, and that’s were I spent the rest of my adolescence. Over the years I choreographed my own shows in middle school through high school. In grades 11 and 12 I also launched my own magazine called “The ABA Atelier”. ABA stands for "American British Academy", my high school in the Sultanate of Oman. The magazine focused on women’s empowerment, fashion, politics, art and philanthropy in the Middle East. It was the first student-led magazine to ever be published in the Middle East.
IRK: So from early childhood to adulthood you have lived within many countries and diverse cultures all over the world. How have these cultures informed or influenced your voice as a designer?
Rishabh Manocha: Every culture has contributed in some way. India has contributed in the artistic integrity that I bring to the table as a designer. Very important is the craft, and I have much reverence for age-old crafts. The Middle East has contributed in terms of the simplicity of silhouette and the monochromatic choice of colors. That’s also very important to me and I feel it has a great place in fashion today. As well, New York City in how a designer can really go into the roots of these things, transform them (but at the same time not exploit them) and present them to a modern, contemporary market in a sustainable, ethical way.
IRK: In addition to your experience of living in both Eastern and Western cultures, where else do you find inspiration for your practice?
Rishabh Manocha: Libraries actually, I love going to libraries. I love going through archives. I also go to a lot of trunk shows and museums. Every Saturday is ‘museum Saturday’, but I think that inspiration is also in less ordinary things. I always like walking around New York City. It’s such a melting pot of inspiration in itself; everyday life is an inspiration to me. Speaking of more extraordinary things, I like the work of Georg Simmel and Charles Baudelaire and really tying those narratives into everyday life, seeing where they meet and seeing where the super philosophical meets the super mundane. That’s where a lot of the dialogue that I have with myself happens when I’m designing.
IRK: In your line Rishabh Manocha, we love your collection of “Gandhi The Dandy” because it is both evocative and unexpected in its combination; Gandhi being a spiritual leader who renounced material objects, yet for the Dandy it was all about decadence, luxury and flamboyance. What inspired you to bring these two worlds together?
Rishabh Manocha: I think the simple answer to that would be the quest for exploring and representing oneself; the best version of oneself. Say, if you talk of Gandhi, people talk of him as someone who renounced everything, but he used his lack of material possessions as a very strong sartorial statement and a very strong political statement and that’s exactly what the Dandy’s do too. So what I’m trying to get home is the point that through juxtaposition, we not only see the opposites, but we also see the commonality between the opposites. There’s more that unites us then that which distinguishes us, and it’s about that spectrum; between the white and the black there is a very strong gray.
IRK: I read that in the recent past you collaborated with Joshua Katcher of Brave GentleMan, who is known in the fashion industry for his advocacy of sustainability and animal rights. How does sustainability play a role in your work?
Rishabh Manocha: Sustainability, I think, plays a role in any bespoke. Sustainability is inherent to the very nature of the business, because you are creating something for someone that’s going to last forever. So you’re going to use ‘that’ amount of fabric, which means that your fabric cost as well as your fabric intake is minimal, because you already know how much you’re going to be spending. The way the client is going to use the garment is going to be with a lot of care. He’s not going to buy ten of the same thing. He’s only going to buy just one and he’s going to use it for a decade, at least, because it’s bespoke; it’s made-well. Me particularly, I work with a lot of mills in Brazil that produce wools or wool-inspired fabrics from recycled soda bottles just like Joshua Katcher does in his brand. I refine them to the level of bespoke, so traditional bespoke cutting mixed with fabrics that are of-the-age; that are more contemporary. That’s what sustainability is to me as a designer and to my clients who appreciate that.
IRK: In addition to sustainability, what do you feel your bespoke menswear collection brings to men's fashion that is currently lacking in the industry?
Rishabh Manocha: There are two things are critically lacking in the industry, which are of great importance to me. One is craft. The industry is lacking the skill that used to be in menswear for a very long time. Ever since industry took over the last 25 years or so, and production is outsourced, we have lost a lot of the skillset that translates to form, that translates to fit and to the ergonomics of pattern cutting. So that’s all gone, but a lot of designers are trying to reinvent it and bring it back. Those that do, retain to it. For example, traditional tailoring houses. What they often lack is the sensitivity of people who do not define as ‘men’. So the LGBTQ community, for that matter, do not feel very comfortable going to a traditional bespoke tailor for the sheer reason that it’s a very ‘straight’ approach to menswear. This means we are alienating our market and we are also in some way coming across as people who are not coming-of-age with the times.
IRK: What would you say to that person who is used to an 'off-the-wrack approach' to building a wardrobe and is intimidated by the idea of going to a bespoke tailor for the first time to commission a garment?
Rishabh Manocha: I would tell them, take the step forward! Just try it as an experience! I understand where they are coming from. It's not any person’s fault that likes fashion but does not know about bespoke tailoring. It goes back to our old school nature of doing things, where we were to a large extent sexist, racist, classist, and also in a way not inviting people who had not experienced bespoke tailoring before. It's been such a close-knitted community for generations, but now it is on the verge of extinction because it has remained such a close-knitted community. So again it needs to become relevant and for it to become relevant it needs to become less stuffy, more open-minded and more engaging. People who want to transition from the ready-to-wear, off-the-wrack feeling should still have that customer ease and customer satisfaction, but get a better product for their money. I think once you have your first bespoke garment then it's just smooth sailing right from there. It can become very addictive too because you then realize, ready-to-wear doesn't really fit me very well.
IRK: As a young designer just launching your own line, what are some of your future goals, let’s say, if you had unlimited resources? What would you be doing with your line that you cannot do now and how would your practice change?
Rishabh Manocha: My long-term goal is to be involved in education. I have a very close family friend and they were financiers and run a brand in London called “Whitcomb and Shaftesbury”. With the resources that they've accumulated over the years, they've started a school in rural Tamil Nadu in the southern part of India. They train impoverished kids the art of bespoke pattern cutting. So here you are miles away from Piccadilly and you see these bespoke suits that nobody in the world can make except a very select niche of people. That is very reassuring of the world we live in and of this idea that design and artisanal practice can be a way, not just to make something beautiful, but also sustaining a livelihood for a community that is otherwise impoverished. So my long-term goals, if I had endless resources, would be to expand my business, but most importantly to open an educational institute. As a student who went to both Central St. Martins and Parsons School of Design, I see that students really are lacking the technical prowess that the previous generation benefited from immensely. They have all the concepts, they have a great deal of ideas and vision, which a lot of previous generations did not, but what they lack is the immediate techniques under-the-belt that can be used to really take those ideas to the next level. That's what a great hindrance is and I think as a designer and a person who is really passionate about education as a trade, that's what I would do if I had unlimited resources at hand.
IRK: Well, thank you very much Rishabh for sharing your story and personal insight. It is very uplifting to meet a young designer that places so much care in their product and empathy for both the needs of their client and the desire to create access to bespoke eduction for future designers all over the work. Your work and vision are truly inspiring!
Rishabh Manocha: Thank you. It is my pleasure!
All photos courtesy of Rishabh Manocha.
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