Log / Fashion

Bobo Calcutta channels queer love into its AW18 collection

In conversation with fashion designer Ayushman Mitra about Bobo Calcutta’s riotous garments that feature with wild patterns and intricate needlework.

By Ritupriya Basu on 21 August

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Ensembles from Bobo Calcutta's AW18 Collection Ludicrous Legacies

When he would reach home after school, a nine-year-old Ayushman Mitra (nicknamed Bobo) would dig into his mother’s make-up box and paint his face in strange hues. On one such afternoon, his mother got back home earlier than expected, and found him admiring himself in front of the mirror. The sense of shame that took over him that day is still etched in Ayushman's memory.

Today, his identity as a homosexual man is what fuels his creativity and the garments he creates for Bobo Calcutta. His journey in the world of fashion was kickstarted by his urge to create a space for queer identities where there is no room for embarrassment or shame. With this in mind, Ayushman’s clothes feature a clash of colours and patterns, never shying away from a bit of whimsy. Each of his ensembles begin as paintings on a canvas, which then turn into laboriously hand-embroidered pieces. He effortlessly shuffles between his roles of an eccentric artist and a meticulous fashion designer.

Through the lens of his latest collection titled Ludicrous Legacies, Ayushman talks to us about the larger questions of same-sex love and queer politics that have been a springboard of inspiration for him.

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The split-face motif that recurs in Ayushman's work is a symbol of self acceptance

Design Fabric (DF): You are a fine artist-turned-fashion-designer. When and how were you drawn to the canvas?

Ayushman Mitra (AM): My foray into art was very instinctive. My grandfather was a painter and I still have memories of him holding my hands as I clutched a brush between my fingers and drew on his canvas. I must have been only three at the time. It all started from there. People and places that I love have always been my strongest inspirations. I am a romantic at heart and I translate my emotions and feelings into my art, which now travels from the canvas to clothes; in this way, everyone gets to be a part of this never-ending love montage. Mythology and nature too have been important to my work.

DF: When did you decide to turn your paintings into wearable art? Was it during your course at Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design?

AM: I remember sitting with friends at Soho square in London and discussing our graduation projects. Studying in an eclectic hood like Soho had a huge impact on my aesthetic and the kind of work I was making at the time. The culture that surrounded us was overwhelming and it was extremely inspiring to be a part of it. Not just fashion, but the queer community too was a driving force for me. The freedom to express who you really are was very liberating, and pushed my craft forward.

That was when the idea of painting on fabric popped into my head. I painted on a few denim pieces for my friends in class and they loved it. The project was well received and I decided to come back to Calcutta and get on with my plan to start my own label. I threw myself into this space between art and design, and it still takes a lot of learning and unlearing every day. The course at Condé Nast was more about brand development than design, so I essentially did not go to art school or design school. It was a challenge for me to deal with quite a few aspects of my profession. My masterji has been my greatest teacher when it comes to pattern making and garment construction, and even now, each day brings an opportunity to develop a new skill.

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The AW18 collection is awash with busy patterns which are first painted on a canvas and then printed on fabric

DF: The split-face caught in a lip-lock is a signature motif in the embellishments of your garments. When did you first develop this image that now defines your work?

AM: I was working on a series of paintings called Naam in which one of the artworks was inspired by Chitrangada. Chitrangada was the protagonist of a dance-drama written by Rabindranath Tagore. She was a warrior princess who was raised like a man and redefined what it meant to be a woman. While working on this illustration, it struck me that I could use a double face motif to express the duality of her character. It all started from there and as my work inclined towards queer politics, the kiss in the motif became an integral part of the story I was trying to tell.

The split face is a symbol of self acceptance; it is important to embrace your true self before you expect others to understand you. It also stands for the liberation of sexuality and one’s right to live and love freely.

DF: The faces you draw are almost rendered genderless, and the elongated almond-shaped eyes remind me of Jamini Roy’s paintings. Was he an inspiration for your art?

AM: My work is a love child of Cubism and Kalighat paintings, almost like something that would be born if Picasso met Jamini Roy over drinks at a party thrown by Frida Kahlo. That is how I imagine it. Street style and graffiti influenced the very beginnings of my career. Cinema too has had a huge hold on my creativity. I would love to make a film someday. That will be the culmination of all the art forms I have practised throughout my life.

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Ludicrous Legacies celebrates queer identities and their right to love

DF: Tell us about your latest collection Ludicrous Legacy. Where did the inspiration come from?

AM: This collection was inspired by the idea that anything and everything that is marginally different than the mainstream becomes absurd, offensive or even alien. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have all at some point formed opinions about people’s choices without understanding the context of their personality. This collection is a celebration of individual choices and of the ludicrous legacies that people leave behind.

I highlight beauty in strangeness though layers of hand embroidery in hues and shapes that hint at the works of Yayoi Kusama. Drapes of printed silk with Cubist motifs find companionship with references to contemporary nightlife and fashion in Berlin. In the campaign, a genderfluid gaze harkens a new world order in which the ideas of sex, gender, the self, sexuality and love are liberated of its conventional connotations. Each garment is a collage of identities and a mirage of art movements that have defined the last century.

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The collection will be showcased at Lakme Fashion Week on the 24th of August

DF: Do you paint on fabric and then turn them into garments? Or does the construction of the garment come first?

AM: I first scan my paintings and then digitally print them on fabric. The embroidery then becomes an embellishment that adds a second layer to the narrative of each garment. Embroidery is something that I love to play with, it excites me the most.

DF: Your work is deeply inspired by your sexuality, as was the Pride Campaign you launched earlier this year. Moving forward, are you planning to use your craft to give the queer community a larger space in our society?

AM: I think the only way to foster a lasting impact with your work is to never stop creating. When your work is centred around a facet of sexuality that our country doesn’t even completely understand yet, you just have to keep pushing the envelope and produce a diverse representation of the queer community. A dream project would be to design a range of garments for drag queens in India.

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