It's Monsoon Wedding cum New York, I Love You at Café Kristall, Kurt Gutenbrunner's new restaurant at the Swarovski Crystallized store in Soho. Swarovski Crystallized and Rachel Roy co-host an intimate, 25-person seated dinner celebrating top Indian designer Manish Arora and his limited-edition, Valentine's Day collection of jewelry created for the brand. Mira Nair, the famed Indian director of both films, is fittingly present as are heavy hitters from across the fashion, art and design worlds. The glamorous, East-meets-West crew make merry on Mercer; after sipping on cocktails in the sleek, minimalist upstairs space, we descend a dramatic staircase which leads to a candlelit, private dining room. A single, glittering table dressed in golden hues stretches invitingly. Lavish, calligraphied placecards set the stage for an evening which lingers long after the basmati bowls are polished clean. Legendary stylist Patricia Field saunters in, forever a siren in flame-red hair, and sexy, slashed leather pants. Hugs are exchanged with Fern Mallis. Rachel Roy smiles across the table with a beauty that never fails to startle; we discuss her friend Padma Lakshmi's daughter, Krishna, and the baby's mile-long lashes, then marvel at how the svelte new mother is next month's Condé Nast Traveller India's cover girl. On the topic of India, Rachel confides, "I wish I spoke Hindi. My mother is Dutch, but my father is Indian. I would love to learn." House of Waris designer Waris Ahluwalia gamely offers lessons, then we both conclude that it's sufficient to know one word: Bus. Enough! Waris doodles a heart on my notebook (which I save — his Assouline collaboration To India With Love is a book I treasure) while Rachel and I discuss our love of opulent, ruffled blouses. The heart reigns dominant.
Awarded the Best Women's Prêt Designer at the first ever Indian Fashion Awards, Manish Arora is the toast of the Indian fashion community. He is widely recognized for his Lichenstein-sque employment of pop art colors and psychedelic prints and is dubbed "the John Galliano of India." The effervescent Arora is indeed all heart and has much to celebrate. "Did you see the Nespresso window two blocks over," he asks, but the question is rhetorical as he quickly enthuses, "I did them!" He's not boasting; there's an innocence and genuine joy for color and creation that make him immediately arresting. Regarded by many to be the best Indian fashion designer, with global collaborations under his belt with M.A.C., Reebok, and Swarovski Crystallized to name a few — he laughs with glee when I tease, deadpan: "I had to Wikipedia you on the cab ride down."
Arora's sense of humor is delicious; he nods with mock dismay and sympathizes, "It's terrible. I must remember to update my Wikipedia site. " Nepalese born Prabal Gurung joins the conversation, and shares, "Did you know Manish was my first boss?" Having already dressed leading ladies like Michelle Obama, Demi Moore, and Oprah Winfrey, it's staggering when one considers Gurung only staged his first runway show in the Tents at Bryant Park for Fall 2010. I ask Prabal to reflect on Manish as a boss. Gurung chooses his words with precision and care. "Talented," he muses after a long pause. "Demanding. Challenging. Inspiring. Exciting to be around." Manish is clearly pleased, but adds mischievously, "For three months I become very rude, mean and selfish. It is awful to be around me. Thank goodness I only have to do this two times a year." We laugh, but Manish adds soberly, "I take it seriously. I wake up at 6:00 a.m. and I am extremely disciplined and organized. The greatest joy for me is walking down the street and seeing a woman wearing something I designed. I was just in Stockholm and I saw a woman wearing my tights." The natural question hovers, and Manish enjoys the tease.
I relent: "Did you say something?"
Prabal bursts out laughing and answers for his old boss: "Of course he did! You did, didn't you, Manish?" Manish smiles, this time almost shyly. "That is true," he admits. "I went up to her and said you are wearing Manish Arora tights. Hello, it's me."
It is a magical night filled with superstars in their respective fields, but as we part ways in the cold January night, I reflect on Arora's final sentiment regarding the greatest sources of inspiration in his career: "I love being a designer. I love my friends. And above all, I love being an Indian because we are warm people. When I am in India, I always feel like I belong." The Arora Love Heart Crystal for Swarovski Elements we are each gifted is a symbol of this night, and glimmers in affirmation that love is ultimately life's most powerful vision.
PHOTOS (Chance Yeh/Patrick McMullan):