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A couple of years ago, Bibhu Mohapatra traveled across the Atlantic by boat. While shuffling around the library during the seven-day trip, he stumbled upon the biography of writer, activist, and shipping heiress Nancy Cunard. (It was, indeed, a Cunard ship.)

Mohapatra was enthralled. “She had such a compassionate heart and creative mind,” he said at a preview the week before his Spring show. “She broke barriers and stood for her beliefs.” (The British-born aristocrat was known for many things, but one of them was her battles against racism and Fascism.) While Cunard’s personal style was well documented—in her most famous photo, she’s wearing a tough leather jacket and a stack of African wooden bangles, which were quite avant-garde for the time—Mohapatra mainly chose to let her spirit inform his work.

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