Next Stop, Wonderland
In his Paris pied-à-terre, Manish Arora—the fashion world’s color-happy provocateur—follows his heart to create an over-the-top oasis
The first time Manish Arora set eyes on his future home in Paris’s bohemian Canal Saint-Martin neighborhood, he knew he had to have it—and destroy it. “I thought, this is it,” he says. “And my next thought was: I need to break as many walls as possible.” This impulse to level the place—save for a load-bearing wall and the moldings and carved marble fireplaces so typical of Parisian prewar apartments—wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction of someone with an outsize creative complex, but simply a yearning to flood the space with natural light. “I cannot live in the dark,” the New Delhi–born fashion designer says.
For those familiar with Arora’s aesthetic, that will hardly come as a surprise. This is, after all, the man who took the fashion industry by storm with his conceptual, rainbow-spectrum ready-to-wear when he made his debut at London Fashion Week in 2005, and became the first designer of Indian descent to present a collection at Paris Fashion Week in 2007. His company encompasses three in-house labels: the couture-leaning Manish Arora Paris, the culturally traditional Indian by Manish Arora, and the sportier Fish Fry. Pairing intricate beading and handmade artisanal techniques from his native country with the immaculate tailoring and avant-garde silhouettes of his adopted France, Arora quickly won critical raves and high-profile fans including Kate Moss, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. Phrases such as “sugar rush” and “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” are used to describe his runway shows, which reference everything from Art Deco to K-Pop to Burning Man, all seen through a Bollywood lens. So it was clear from the start that his home was never going to be of the minimal, moody variety. Instead, it’s a shrine to the interplay of color, the transformative properties of light, and the juxtaposition of palatial fixtures with worldly tchotchkes. Or to put it another way, as Arora says, “I’m scared of too much white.”
The sensory assault begins at the door, thanks to a freewheeling mural comprising fish-scale patterns, cartoon hearts, and a bubbly typographic treatment by Parisian street artist Rude, with whom Arora collaborated on the set design of his Fall 2012 show. “When I enter my house, I need to see a blast of color,” Arora explains. “I need to say, O-KAY! I’m back.”
The graffitied corridor funnels into the open-plan living and dining room, where midcentury pieces the designer found in flea markets in Brussels are arranged on the white-painted herringbone parquet floor in the manner of a high-art fun house. A 1960s wood-topped dining table appears to float in midair thanks to its Perspex legs, while an undulating mirrored chair exudes a surreal aura. “I try to avoid bulky furniture,” Arora says. “Everything is see-through or lean and thin so that light is reflected in as many places as possible.”
The walls are color-blocked with rectangular swaths of bold hues (it took six coats of Ressource house paint to achieve Arora’s desired saturation) and finished with contrasting fluorescent trim. “It was difficult to explain to my French architect, Antoine [Pradels], that I wanted orange walls with pink on top; or green, blue, and yellow in one room. It was not normal for him,” Arora says. “But this is how I live. It’s an extension of my work.”
Much like Arora’s fashion sensibility, the apartment overflows with theatrical touches. The bedroom evokes Sunset Boulevard, with an entire wall devoted to 1930s-style gold mosaic mirrors picked up at an antiques shop on Paris’s Boulevard de Strasbourg. “I planned it in such a way that the sun hits the wall in the morning and flashes the whole room,” the designer says, clearly delighted by his Midas-touch craftiness. “It’s all gold light when I wake up.”
The bathroom is even more exuberant: a rosy pink claw-foot tub faces a fireplace and sits on inlaid cement tiles from Parisian home store Petit Pan, while a glass wall composed of colored-glass panels painted and etched in India offers patchy privacy. “If you’re in my house you can see me having a bath, but I kind of like that idea of someone watching!” he says in a way that reveals not so much a sly exhibitionist, as a spotlight-loving ham.
Surprisingly for a self-professed “people person,” the apartment doesn’t feature a guest room (“I don’t like [long-term] guests,” Arora says). But the layout was conceived to maximize space for his frequent social gatherings, during which a regular crew of creative friends drops by to hang out and cook in his streamlined, custom-fitted kitchen. Arora holds court in the lounge amid his ever-expanding array of Japanese and Russian figurines, a collection of kitschy plastic food scored at a market in Tokyo, and his prized artwork, a wondrous oversize sticker mosaic by Chinese artist Ye Hongxing. This museum of sorts is a work in progress, steadily updated with souvenirs from Arora’s travels and providing constant inspiration for a man who thrives on visual companionship: “I feel comfortable in the clutter. I feel strange and scared in an empty space.”
If the mood calls for it, he’ll cue up a movie on his projector—but, as with everything, the choice of entertainment needs to complement his environs and play well in “Manish Arora’s World,” a planet the designer references often. “I would never watch a movie like 12 Years a Slave—even if it is the best film of the year. I like gripping, trippy, zippy, but not depressing or sad,” he says. “Everything for me is happy. Everything.”