Hello Charleston fashionistas. Have you been enjoying Charleston Fashion Week (CFW) so far? Today we got to pop behind the scenes to interview tonight’s runway designer, Bibhu Mohapatra.

Vogue wrote about Bibhu Mohapatra last month, discussing his Fall 2017 ready-to-wear collection (which he shows at CFW tonight). The article came right after a rough time for Mohapatra — he had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this past January. According to Vogue the current fashion market is all about streetwear, not ball gowns and “elegant ladylike embellishments” — the kind of stuff Mohapatra specializes in. Hence the bankruptcy.

But the designer hasn’t let his troubles bring him down; he recently launched a jewelry line with De Beers’ Forevermark.

Mohapatra says that his Fall 2017 line was inspired by David Ives’ play Venus in Fur, specifically the main character, Vanda. “She comes in being submissive, with the director being dominating,” he says. But as the play goes on Vanda becomes empowered, which is just how Mohapatra wants women to feel in his clothes.

“Women’s power is not defined by men,” he says. If it sounds like Mohapatra is getting a little bit political, he is. “I’m going there,” he says about his overt message of women’s empowerment. “It feels like we are back in the ages where women couldn’t vote.” So Mohapatra wants to change that, if only by making women feel confident.

One of those women is Michelle Obama, who Mohapatra has dressed on several occasions. “She pays attention,” says Mohapatra of the former first lady’s fashion sense, especially as it pertains to the kind of fashion that has a message.

“It’s about giving women the tools to express themselves. The clothes make people more of who they are,” he says. His fall line features a lot of bold colors and tailored silhouettes, with an overall feeling of, well, empowerment. The models start on the runway as they do in the play, demure, a little more covered up. Slowly their shoulders start to show; they become seductresses.

And what of the aforementioned bankruptcy? Well, Mohapatra views it as a positive thing. “It was planned,” he says. “We needed to make room for more investments.” One of those investments is his new jewelry line, which he says is inspired by Indian tradition, where mothers pass down jewelry to their daughters. “They’re not just decorations — they tell a story.”

“I’ve always been driven by strong, powerful women,” says Mohapatra. “We are made by women. It’s who we are.”