I have said this in the past and I will say it again — I have always perceived Raghavendra Rathore to be one of the most exclusive menswear designers in the country. And no, it is not because of his disarmingly elegant personality, nor his prohibitively expensive bandhgalas. I say this because of the fact that he has successfully woven a story around his creations and fiercely stuck to his commitment to luxury. To say that Rathore has raised the humble bandhgala to a state of fashionable immortality, would be stating the obvious. But this sartorialist par excellence, who himself embodies the regal collections that emerge from his ateliers, wears his royal lineage on his sleeve.
My rendez-vous with Raghavendra Rathore, on the eve of the Van Heusen + GQ Fashion Nights in Mumbai, turned out to be just what I was looking for — a reassurance that men’s fashion in India, does have a bright future, that different markets and segments can peacefully coexist and, most importantly, that the uber-luxe segment will always have takers, as long as the ethics and culture of bespoke tailoring remain fastidiously stringent. This is what Raghavendra Rathore – the Baron of Bandhgalas – exudes and embodies.
Raghavendra Rathore has chosen a rather opportune moment to showcase his label “Imperial India Company”, which is a “more affordable”, ready-to-wear offering by the designer. With this label, that exists in addition to his bespoke label “Raghavendra Rathore”, the designer seems to be targeting a younger, trendier client base. “It is a new label and is completely different from the Raghavendra Rathore bespoke line. The positioning of the two collections are different and the fits are different. It is an interesting experience for me because I am now competing in the space of designer wear. That is very different from bespoke wear and I want people to understand that. The aim is also to get people to look at the silhouette, which is very different from bespoke, and the finishing is different too.”
Two different lines, from the same designer, catering to different clientele — a successful formula that international names like Armani, Donna Karan and Versace have tried and tested. “The Raghavendra Rathore customer knows exactly what he wants and probably won’t find what he wants at the Imperial India Company,” says the designer.
From the looks of it, The Imperial India Company is forging on to create a niche for itself — it’s first store opened at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, the second store is in Juhu, while the third store is soon to open in Jaipur. The target for the next two years is 60 stores, the designer says.
The next obvious question to the designer was if the ubiquitous bandhgala still be at the centre of this more affordable line. “It is an important part. But lately, in Mumbai, I’ve noticed that the hero of the store is the waistcoat and the kurta. The bandhgala works better in Delhi and Jaipur because of the weather component. That said, I am happy to give people a wide spectrum of my offering at my new stores. Look at it this way, a guy who comes to Jodhpur or Jaipur for a one-day wedding, and has nowhere else to go. He can just pop into my store and pick up a nice waistcoat for about Rs. 7000-8000.”
We will see Rathore’s clothes in a more fashion forward light at his show for Van Heusen + GQ Fashion Nights. He explains, “I have always loved boots but I can never bring them up in the Raghavendra Rathore context because the boot is trendier and more fashion forward, it is not classic at all. I’ve added it to the collection to bring a rockstar influence.” So will Rathore’s clothes be toned down before sending them off to stores, to fit into the “Rathore” mould? “Of course, they will,” says the designer.
In closing, I couldn’t resist the temptation of asking Rathore a rather prickly question — Has menswear been treated as the stepsister of women’s fashion in India? “(laughs) It is step motherly treatment. You have to realise that men and women are different. Men don’t buy stuff at fashion weeks. The consumer definition has changed.”
What’s next for The Imperial India Company? “The British Raj is the primary inspiration and our clothes will continue to reflect that. In the future, we hope to go into products. Things like soaps, deodorants and the likes. This is an exciting time in the company.”
Could we possibly be buying Raghavendra Rathore bandhgalas online in the future? “You know, bespoke will always be bespoke and it’s all about the geography of it. It defeats the purpose if bandhgalas are suddenly available online. I think it is difficult to spend one lakh rupees online. People are very careful about that. Bespoke ensures that you can touch, feel and experience the process. You know who is handling your experience. Online, there is far less accountability.”
Indeed, bespoke will always be bespoke. It’s not meant to be inclusive. It is the very definition of exclusive. No one understands this better than Raghavendra Rathore.. .