Does the world need another pretty cocktail dress? Bibhu Mohapatra's retailers think so. According to the designer, who presented his collection at Lincoln Center today, his decision to scale back on daywear this season was influenced by the feedback from his stores. They've been telling him that what their customers want from the brand is more exquisitely constructed, attentively embellished eveningwear. The designer's accommodation of that represents a weird kind of pragmatism, wherein the most realistic thing for him to do for his business is to make more clothes that—at least for those of us who aren't dodging trays of canapés on a nightly basis—are fundamentally unrealistic.
Four seasons in, Mohapatra has established a few signatures: beaded embellishment; a delicate hand-pleated bustline, from which fabric falls in a goddess drape; and a palimpsest effect, in which dresses reveal various layers of color and material and silhouette. The latter was seen most glamorously in a column gown of blue covered in clouds of black tulle—red carpet stylists, take note. In terms of the embellishment, Mohapatra created embroideries that looked like rope and sewed Indian cup sequins to mimic chain. His more minimal innovations came off better, notably the laser cutting applied to many garments, most winningly a plum-colored organza cocktail frock.
The collection wasn't entirely day-less. Mohapatra said he believes his customer is looking for day-to-night pieces, like his "date dress" of heavy print silk, nipped at the waist by elastic. There were smart separates in a glazed linen and versatile silk blouses in a half-sheer stripe. The designer also included a few truly practical items, like a cotton-twill safari jacket that would work great for the office. Mohapatra seems to be hungry to design more clothes like that: He cited the era of early feminism as an inspiration, and the strength, elegance, and verve of Faye Dunaway in the film The Thomas Crown Affair as a reference. Intriguing directions, both. In a way, it's too bad that he has such a talent for making girls look pretty.