Manish Arora: A Tale of Great Success and Greater Defeat
Once upon a time, there lived a fashion designer once deemed the ‘John Galliano of India’. He went by the name Manish Arora, which soon became synonymous with his extravagant and psychedelic style. He spun magic into his clothes with a meticulous combination of old-world Indian embroidery and new-age western silhouettes. His tale is one of great intrigue, a surge of power followed by a swift and harsh fall from grace. Tales such as these are often fuel to gossip and slander, but if mistakes were not made, we would not have much to learn from.
Manish Arora’s Rise to Fame
1997 was the year it all began, Arora launched his own label ‘Manish Arora’ and began retailing in India. Three years after his launch, he participated in the first-ever India Fashion Week in New Delhi and represented India at the Hong Kong Fashion Week.
The year was 2001, and Arora launched his second label, “Fish Fry”. This was a sportswear line created in association with Reebok. In 2002, he opened his first flagship store, ‘Manish Arora Fish Fry’, in New Delhi and within a year opened another in Mumbai. Another successful showing at India Fashion Week had Arora’s brand in high demand. It led to a stocking deal with the fashion house Maria Luisa (Paris) which was the beginning of a successful export business.
Just when you think he’s already done it all, in 2004 he was awarded the Best Women’s Prêt Designer at the first-ever Indian Fashion Awards’, Mumbai. The following year he participated in the Miami Fashion Week in May 2005 where he was presented with the Designer’s Choice, Best Collection Award. The same year, he participated in various other shows in London where he received an overwhelming response. He opened another store at Lodhi Colony Market, New Delhi.
2006, Outlook nominates him “Best Indian Fashion Designer” and features him on the cover of their March issue. He opens his first Manish Arora franchise store in Villa Moda, Kuwait and yet another Manish Arora Fish Fry store at Crescent at The Qutub, New Delhi.
“Indian by Manish Arora”, a brand designed for the growing Indian market for women’s wear, is licensed to another fashion company. Manish was invited to show his collection at the “Fashion in Motion” exhibition held at Victoria and Albert Museum, London in September 2007. By 2009 he owned four stores in India and sold his collections to more than 80 retailers, worldwide. He also entered into a joint venture with BIBA Apparels Pvt. Ltd. to further expand the label.
Two of his designs were showcased at the World of Wearable Art in New Zealand. One of which caught Katy Perry’s attention, and she wore it to the MTV awards in 2008.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
The Bottom Line:
The man doesn’t stop! His desire for growth was insatiable, and he used already existing platforms to promote his work and spread the word about his label. With the way the world is progressing, there is always the chance to be buried underneath all the new designers and labels that pop up every year. But if there is one thing you learn from Manish Arora’s success; it should be the importance of constant and persistent ambition that is required to stand out amongst all the new additions to the fashion industry. His creativity had no bounds, and he never restricted himself geographically and made damn sure that he was always relevant.
The Beginning of The End
Arora founded his label with Deepak Bhagwani, who looked after the finances of the business. In 2005, he made his international debut in London, became creative director of Paco Rabanne 6 years later, moved into a fitting apartment with a hot pink bathtub and neon furnishings, in Paris a year later.
He partnered with various brands like Nespresso, Swarovski, Swatch and Reebok which helped solidify and grow his business.
So it came as no surprise when in late 2020, Arora announced a large-scale collaboration with Amazon India, along with three other Indian designers (JJ Valaya, Ashish Soni and Suneet Varma.) Just a few days prior, he had announced a pop-up restaurant in Paris, for the occasion of Holi. None of this sounds very unexpected for the first Indian designer to make it big in Paris, especially to someone who is familiar with the trajectory of his work. However, these partnerships and attention mongering activities were unfortunate attempts at salvaging what was left of his sinking ship.
Earlier this year, Arora, parted ways with Bhagwani. At its peak, Manish Arora was sold by retailers like Printemps, Saks Fifth Avenue, Selfridges, Neiman Marcus and Galeries Lafayette, but now its available products are massively discounted, from past seasons and on sale via small, independent boutiques in the Middle East and Asia. The Manish Arora store in Paris has closed down, and as per The New York Times, employees who asked the label about unpaid wages were told none would be forthcoming because the company was now in liquidation.
How Did Manish Arora Let This Happen?
Manish Arora’s downfall began three years ago, long before the COVID hit. In the typical fashion of mishaps in the fashion industry, Arora’s brand was replete with bad business deals, unpaid wages, lawsuits, and just generally bad decisions and poor planning.
Arora was always about the extravagant and large-scale show of things. The exterior of his business seemed to have his undivided attention, and the backstage aspects of his business were very much unloved and thirsty for attention. Instead of prioritising the infrastructure that keeps a business alive, he chose to chase personal profits, fancy parties and the glitz of the industry.
Unfortunately, the brunt of this downfall fell upon those that had no part in this fabulous mess. A whole bunch of middle-class professionals were left without jobs and overdue wages.
While the business appeared to thrive internationally, it struggled within India. In 2012, Biba took a 51% stake in order to help Arora expand Indian by Manish Arora, which housed a neon palette couture bridal collection, for the domestic market. It seemed as though Arora had no regard for his target audience in India, and did not feel the need to play to their taste. Former employees said that the move towards wedding collections, with a different type of clientele and lower price points, failed to excite Arora.
By mid-2017, Indian by Manish Arora had shut down. According to one of Arora’s leather workers and a former accounting and marketing employees, this was the year everything started falling apart. Partnerships began to dissolve, salaries were getting tardy and the future began to look glum. By the end of the year, employees were working 18-hour shifts and hadn’t been paid in months. One of these employees later went on to sue Arora for unpaid wages. According to his suit, he “sent numerous reminders to the operational debtor and visited them personally at their office for settlement of outstanding dues.”
A former employee reports that before any salaries were paid, Arora would have money transferred to his personal account to pay for his vacations, additional to his salary and the cost of his apartment and extravagant living expenses.
According to a karigar, he also had them create up to a dozen elaborate outfits for him to wear to Burning Man at a time when they were still owed considerable amounts for their regular work.
In early 2018, the company stopped depositing money into the Provident Fund accounts of at least a dozen employees. Ten recently laid-off production workers said they were owed several months’ wages, and have not had funds deposited in their Provident Accounts for two years, despite sending a signed notice to the Indian government asking for an investigation.
The Bottom Line:
A business can never survive simply on the creative genius of an individual. There is a lot of support systems that need to work in tandem with one another in order for a business to stay afloat and succeed. Arora was a creative genius with a taste for flamboyance, but perhaps he lacked a skillset geared for business and finance. Whether he had the skills or not, his disregard for the backend work of the business was surely a major factor in his downfall.
When you sense something go wrong, it is always a good idea to set aside some time, money and resources to help fix the issue rather than just cover it up with hot glue and glitter. Manish Arora could perhaps have been salvaged if only adequate measures were taken way back in 2017 when things began to go awry. It is almost always better to downsize and humble oneself in order to continue growing, rather than ignore issues and have a blast with a definite impending closure of a company. And of course, planning and forethought are absolutely pivotal to the success of a business. Plan your finances, predict your losses, account for possible failures, and most importantly keep track of your business!
Though I have no personal insight into the working of Arora’s mind, I presume he cared very little about really selling his designs. But if we are to learn from this, playing to the taste of your audience is absolutely essential! Had Arora’s designs been appealing to his audience, his fame would have made sure that his collections flew off the shelves. And perhaps his downfall could have been prevented.