Two days before Yogesh Chaudhary and Manas Barve’s 2010 WOW entry was due to be posted, it all fell apart in their hands.
The Indian student designers had made Loops, their felted merino wool creation, without any stitching at all, its seams knotted together by a complex structure of interlocking keyholes. But after they got their garment back from the laser cutter, the fabric reeked of burning hair. At a loss as to how to remove the smell, the pair decided to get it dry-cleaned. But when they picked it up, the garment was destroyed, the delicate fibres a mess and the tiny loops falling off, leaving nothing but tufts behind.
‘It was heartbreaking for both of us,’ Manas says, ‘because we both worked so hard on it. We were clueless. We were just sitting in one corner thinking: What to do?’
They wondered if they should recreate Loops in leather, because it was so difficult to get their hands on the fine, felted Australian merino wool. They wondered if they should enter at all. They railed to their friends and appealed to their school faculty. But eventually, their answer came from an auto-rickshaw driver who had noticed their distress.
With just 48 hours until their garment was due in Delhi, and with the laser-cutting factory several hours away, the driver offered to leave in the early hours of the morning to make it to the factory in time for its 7 a.m. opening. Manas and Yogesh, inspired by a glimmer of hope, got to work on a box in which to ship their creation.
The factory manager put all of the other work on hold so Loops could be recreated from the computer file, and the driver was soon speeding back to Manas and Yogesh, reaching them by 11 a.m. Lunchtime saw the pair hurriedly reassembling the body, headpiece and boots of their creation, opening the thousands of tiny felted loops and pulling them through each other, creating seams and patterns as they went.
This time, instead of washing it, they hung their garment in the sun to remove the smell, and Yogesh drove it to Delhi himself. Loops went on to win first the Open Section, and then the Supreme Award at WOW.
That was five years ago now. The pair have long since graduated, and Manas is a product designer for Foley Designs in Bangalore, India, a highly regarded studio that has turned out designs for many of the best known companies in India. Some of its work includes trophies for the 2012 and 2013 Formula One Indian Grand Prix Cup, Foster’s beer packaging, and the Indian 2010 Commonwealth Games baton. Yogesh has his own fashion label Surendri, and is based in Delhi.
Both men grew up with an inbuilt desire for making things, though design and art weren’t big parts of their childhood educations. Yogesh recalls making boats out of foil chocolate wrappers, and Manas was obsessed with origami.
‘I used to fold all the paper in my notebooks and my mum used to scold me every day after coming back from school – “What have you done!” she’d say, because all my notebooks were used for creating something.’
The pair met at India’s National Institute of Design, where they were both studying master’s degrees: Manas in product design and Yogesh in fashion design. Manas had proven himself skilled at hard materials – metal and wood – but struggled with soft, until his teacher demanded he design something made of fabric or leather.
Dutifully, he started experimenting, but found it impossible – until he picked up some felt.
‘I found it a very interesting material,’ he says. ‘Then, since I was afraid of stitching, I thought of designing something without stitches. I came up with this idea called loops.’
His design used small loops that pulled through each other to create a sturdy fastening point. He made some cushion covers with it, and friends commented on how beautiful the technique was, urging him to enter the invention in some competitions. One of those friends was Yogesh, who told him they should enter New Zealand’s World of WearableArt.
Yogesh had heard about WOW when he was in his second year of college in 2007, and had been following it for several years as friends participated. ‘At that time I used to feel very intimidated looking at what WOW was all about,’ he says.
‘We had watched these videos on YouTube but the show really took everybody’s breath away. The garments were so avant-garde and it was so out of the box; it was something that really got my attention at that time but I did not participate because I just didn’t know what to do.’
After three years, he told himself he’d have a go, and he thought Manas’ loop technique would be perfect. Yogesh had focused on knitwear for his graduate degree, but Manas knew nothing of fashion and was more interested in techniques and products. It was a good match.
Yogesh designed the silhouette of the garment, keeping it very simple to highlight the construction. They kept it a natural colour to make sure it stood out onstage.
‘When we were making it, I started looking at the other entries and there were a lot of colours in the Avant Garde Section, a lot of details and beautiful garments,’ Manas says. ‘I thought either you spend a lot of time on it to get something like this, or you do something really smart and very minimal but you stand out between all of these.’ They were confident that a simple, minimalistic design and colour would best enhance their technique.
They practised a lot with paper and fabric before settling on felt, and worked on their project most nights after dinner until the early hours of the morning, before getting up and going to school again. Then came the dry-cleaners, the auto-rickshaw driver, the days of frantic reconstruction, and then the WOW stage in New Zealand, where they saw their garment beat 191 other garments to take the top prize.
It was exhilarating. ‘It was more than the Oscars for me,’ Manas says. ‘The way they present that show, the way they treat your garment, the choreography; it’s beautiful, it’s a pleasure to watch that, even if your entry’s not there. We were enjoying each and every beat of music, each and every step of those models and it was beautiful.’
When they saw how well Loops stood out onstage, Manas recalls ‘something in [his] heart’ told him that they had done well – but not quite as well as they did.
‘I thought at least we would win the student award or something,’ he says. ‘I never thought of the Supreme Award at all. Never.’
So when they announced the winner of the Open Section as Loops, Manas says they were shattered. ‘We went on the stage, they declared the prize money and we were very happy. We came back, we sat in our chairs, and I had no idea there was something like the Supreme Award, the best entry out of 191.’
- Written by Naomi Arnold, featured in World of WearableArt: 30 Designers tell their stories
- Photo credits: World of WearableArt, Yogesh Chaudhary & Manas Barve