Emperor Of Luxuries: Raghavendra Rathore
Almost 26 years ago, a small studio in a house started tailoring bandhgala jackets. No one knew back then that this formal silhouette will become an important part of what India brings to the fashion platforms across the world. This was fashion designer Raghavendra Rathore’s small start of the Jodhpur bandhgala, which 26 years later, stands to be one of the most universally appealing suits in global fashion. Rathore, who has worked at Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan before launching his label, is one of the most respectable names in luxury and bespoke menswear. A bandhgala, as much as it might be readily available in the market, is all about the fit and the customisation, and Rathore has been instrumental in bringing it to the country’s notice. Celebrities like Saif Ali Khan (and his little one) have worn the designer’s outfits among others. In 2018, the designer launched a collaboration with Italian menswear label Ermenegildo Zegna and Reliance Brands Ltd (RBL). Going places, yet retaining his classics, is a path Rathore has smoothly taken. He gives an insight on his ideas and his journey, and vouches for slow fashion.
You completed 25 years in the fashion industry last year, and over time, the menswear aesthetic has gone through a complete change. How has your design aesthetic evolved in keeping with the times?
Twenty-five years ago, it wasn’t elementary to imagine that the world is going to rush to a sustainable direction, one that is subtle, slow pace, relies significantly on reusability and encourages going back to nature. In the 80s, this was quite the opposite and in the 90s, opulence ruled. So, it would be incorrect to say that one had the foresight to see the prominent paradigms shift. But as a designer, what I found amusing was localisation. Honing on skills, crafts and heritage of our past did catch my attention, and I started to work on modifying the ancient dye of design, to readapt it to the modern consumer, with a contemporary edge. In other words, my journey has not only been my story, but also a story of the evolution of society’s love for supporting our rich heritage and everything that is customised.
You are the reason why the bandhgala has become known as a quintessential Indian silhouette. What about the bandhgala makes it so special?
Every brand communicates an individual message to the people that follow it and takes pride in sharing the vision through its products. The bandhgala’s story is that of permanence, one that is present regardless of the perils of the changing fashion world, with its tenacity and global appeal. And that’s the brand story of Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur too. It’s classic.
As a designer, you are known for your concentration on the design than on the overall ‘show’ of an outfit. How important is it to focus on intricacies to enhance the overall look of a costume?
In menswear, especially today, subtlety is key. Also, the customer is changing, and so does the details of the product, in keeping with the customer’s access to trend information on the screen of a mobile. As a Emperor Of Luxuries designer, your product has to be relevant, especially in luxury products. Every detail connects to create the experience that a modern shopper considers to be the reason why they are engaging with the product.
What’s the most inspirational thing about being a designer from India, with so much heritage and history to work with?
The 1,200 years of Indian legacy & culture is embedded in our design code. What sets us apart from global brands is the unique bandwidth of origins we have. Festivals, rituals and the cultural diversity of India preserves a special place on a global stage for homegrown brands when they are exposed internationally. For brands that are catering to the vast demand in India, the same aesthetics work beautifully to create our ecosystem of fashion, which is hardly governed by what trends are accessible on the international runways. What I’d like to see change in the Indian fashion scene, though, would be more high streets, retail environments, both brick-and-mortar, as well as online.
What are the biggest roadblocks you’ve faced as a designer?
Every challenge is an experience for achieving new standards for excellence. On an average, most brands take about 25 to 30 years to be well accepted socially, and become known for something that they excel in. The most challenging thing for most designers is to be able to put the finger on what the customer wants from you. The challenges of understanding consumer preferences takes time and that’s generally the root of complex hurdles most designer brands go through.
Do you think Indian silhouettes have kept up with the changing times and evolving aesthetics?
Yes. The world has become seamless, and the impact of an idea in one corner of the globe impacts across. Designers across the globe thrive on the inspiration that the community conjures up, culturally, socially and other fashion aesthetics. In fact, the relevance of Indian design aesthetics has profound impact on global fashion
According to you, what is the most advantageous point of designing menswear today, when there’s a bigger market for menswear? And what’s the most disadvantageous point?
Well, we started as a womenswear brand but took a U-turn a decade ago, pre-empting and foreseeing the impact of the menswear on the India retail market. With confidence, I can say that it was the right decision, even though the perils are not being as cyclic, broad-based product-wise, as womenswear.
A-listers from Bollywood swear by your designs. Even little Taimur Ali Khan has worn a RR outfit. As a country that tends to follow trends set by celebrities, what’s your take on the relationship between Bollywood and fashion in India?
Different segments cater to a diverse audience. In the overall luxury segment, the impact of Bollywood is minor. Still, as you move down the chain, there is no doubt that India thrives on inspiration from the silver screen. So our attempt in all the projects that we have done with Bollywood is to inspire classic clothing on the big picture so that it has an impact on people in the country. The brand has oscillated its design sensibilities, basis stories, the plot and the character sketch that the directors work with the team on. It’s an interesting connect.
Despite what might have changed, you’ve stayed true to your signature style. How did you do that and why?
My brand, Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur, is synonymous with the look that is inspired by the bandhgala suit, so we keep away from what would not only confuse the customer but also would give the brand a meaningless existence. It’s simple, as a designer and as a brand, the attempt is and will be to provide the most comfortable bespoke experience in creating a world-class wardrobe that is suitable for everyone in any geography.
What’s it like to be one of the most prominent designers at a time when lines between what’s menswear and what’s womenswear are blurring, making fashion more accessible and more of a personal choice?
The key to anything today is customisation, that’s what the customer takes inspiration from. Both menswear and womenswear are heading into a paradigm that is dictated by the customer. Convenience, comfort, semi-trendy are the key words. People from the luxury segment would prefer to wear clothes clothes that are personalised for their character, but for people at the bottom of the pyramid, fast fashion still rules. There’s more possibility of blurring the lines in the fast fashion sense, the blurring is in fact very high, but I don’t feel that’s the case for the people who are at the top of the pyramid, in that sense.
A buzzword the fashion industry is swearing by, is sustainability. How sustainable do you think the Indian fashion industry is at present, and is sustainability more than just a buzzword?
We need to understand that responsible fashion is the need of the hour. And everyone plays a part in it. For our part, as a brand we believe in staying away from synthetic and fast fashion and keeping the design aesthetic as ethical and meaningful as possible. The idea is to design and manufacture bespoke clothes in a way that benefits weavers and artisans without impacting the climate and environment.