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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Royal Designs

Designer Raghavendra Rathore, whose great-grandfather was the ruler of Jodhpur, has been credited for making jodhpurs and the bandgala trendy again.
The Straits Times - August 17, 2012
By: Matthew Wee
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Royal Designs Mr Raghavendra Rathore considers being able to base his operations in his hometown of Jodhpur – instead of the bustling cosmopolitancity of Mumbai or New Delhi – one of his proudest accomplishments. He says: “If you have a good product, people will

It is tough being a designer in India, says Mr Raghavendra Rathore.

"Sometimes, it's like being alone in a room, screaming, and nobody can hear you," he laments.

"The appreciation for aesthetics in India has not reached a significant threshold yet. Most people don't think design finesse is important; they aren't really discerning yet," he adds.

Mr Rathore helms his own design house, called Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur, which specialises in sophisticated menswear. He also designs womenswear as well as products and interiors, although fashion remains the core of his business.

The 45-year-old was in town earlier this month for The Hindu Bridal Mantra exhibition, a bridal showcase that featured designs from Indian designers Shantanu & Nikhil, Nikasha, Falguni & Shane Peacock and MrRathore himself.

According to him, going into wedding wear is essential for any Indian designer.

"Every designer in India needs to do a bit of bridal wear, otherwise, there is no way you can survive. Sophisticated fashion is a very niche market, but the bridal market is very large."

And when it comes to wedding fashion in India, Mr Rathore says men have much to learn.

"Guys often make the mistake of trying to match their outfits with those of their brides. A man should look like a man."

He elaborates: "If the bride is in a pink outfit, just use a pink pocket scarf. There is no need to wear a completely pink outfit too."

He also notes that Indian men have a habit of tweaking everything, from their mobile phones to wedding outfits.

"Indian men love to experiment with their outfits. They enjoy adding unnecessary details but these are classics and less is usually more," he says.

Mr Rathore hails from Jodhpur, an Indian city in the state of Rajasthan, which was, most recently, one of the prime locations for the filming of the summer blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises.

As to why and how he became interested in design, he points, cryptically, to his exposure to the rural side of India during his childhood: "There is so much innovation and innate design over there, and I realised that I wanted to attempt to create a new paradigm in design."

After he graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1992, American fashion designer Donna Karan hired him as an assistant designer for her sportswear division DKNY, before he moved on to work in the high-end design atelier of Oscar de la Renta.

He returned to India in 1994 to set up his company. The decision to base his operations in his hometown of Jodhpur was questioned by some, who thought that the bustling cosmopolitan city of Mumbai or New Delhi would better suit his modern designs.

"People were asking me, 'Who's going to come to a small town like Jodhpur?' But I believed in the product, because I think if you have a good product, people will find you," explains Mr Rathore, who considers being able to work from Jodhpur one of his proudest accomplishments.

He adds: "The company doesn't need to be in a metropolis, it needs to be in a place where there is culture and life; where you can connect with and draw ideas from."

Creating a connection with Indian tradition and heritage is something which the father of two constantly strives to do with his company.

His design philosophy is a simple one: "My vision is to bring ideas from the past, make them contemporary, more manageable and accessible and, most importantly, enticing."

ETHNIC SPIN

His outfits, which boast sharp tailoring and sleek silhouettes, as well as subtle references to Indian heritage, have proven to be popular with MrRathore's young male clients. Many of them, he says, have a global mindset gained from an education abroad, which separates them from the average, less design-conscious Indian consumer.

"You have to maintain a little ethnic space because if you make very Western clothes, you'll get squeezed out by bigger, global brands like Zara."

This approach of combining heritage with modernity is best embodied in two classical Indian garments which he has made contemporary again - jodhpurs and the bandgala, both of which originated in Jodhpur more than a century ago.

Jodhpurs are pants traditionally used for horse-riding and the bandgala is a fitted jacket with a high collar.

They are now such a big component of his menswear line that his company has copyrighted the technical details of the garments.

Despite India's large counterfeit market, MrRathore says the purpose was not to claim rights to the original creation of the garments, but to preserve history so that people would know what authentic jodhpurs and bandgalas look like.

He would certainly know, as his great-grandfather was the ruler of Jodhpur and his royal ancestors were the first to sport jodhpurs and bandgalas.

Mr Rathore also wants to share his love of heritage and rural India with his two children - a son and daughter, aged nine and five respectively.

When he has some spare time and needs to refresh himself, he often visits Narlai with his kids, a rural area that is a three-hour drive from Jodhpur.

"It's a place with no television sets. I want my children to have the same kind of experience of the rural side of India as I did."

"But there is Wi-Fi though," he adds with a laugh.

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