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The maverick prince of Indian fashion

Best known for his work with the regal form of the bandhgala and Jodhpuri breeches, Raghavendra Rathore is more than what meets the eye. The couturier speaks about his iconic designs and fashion legacy.

Anshu Khanna

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(Above) Raghavendra Rathore. (Other photos) Displaying Rathore’s trademark bandhgala fashion.

Discovering a new path is tough, but redefining an existing idiom of design without losing its classical essence is tougher. Yet, Raghavendra Rathore, a heritage aficionado, design maverick and a protagonist of classic forms, chose the latter, making his name synonymous with the legendary bandhgala. Historically worn by Indian royals like himself, it is now essential for every stylish man to own one in his eclectic wardrobe.

 In fact, Rathore will easily find a name in the contemporary fashion history of India for being instrumental in rediscovering the bandhgala as a style statement for the 21st century man and flagging off the journey of Jodhpurs from the polo field to an ornate wedding. He is a Parsons graduate, a city slicker, a Maharaja, an educationist, an interior designer, a hotelier, and also the one to understand the gracious coexistence of the lyrical past with an edgy present. But Raghavendra Rathore is first and foremost India’s leading menswear heritage brand that bridges the two worlds with great élan.

No wedding, be it for the Ambanis, the Birlas or the Bhartias, is possible unless the groom wears a Raghavendra Rathore bandhgala or achkan. It was this unique brand positioning in fashion and his fetish for finish that caught the attention of the global brand, Zegna, which invested in his fashion business, along with the Reliance Industries in 2018, with the vision to grow it to fresher pastures: Cities, countries and clientele. 

Grandson of Maharaj Sir Ajit Singh, the younger brother of Jodhpur ruler Maharaja Umaid Singh — Raghavendra, along with his brother, has converted his home, the Ajit Bhavan Palace, into a luxurious heritage hotel, infusing each nook and cranny with his understated design. 

Amongst the many feathers in his sumptuous hat, the one he actually invests his soul in today, is the Gurukul School of Design, a haven of education that he and his statuesque wife, Kavita Rathore, have created in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Himself a graduate from Parsons, he takes design education to the realm of real freedom. The sprawling campus, tastefully designed, is infused with the angelic guidance of experts and has enough technology to allow students to move freely from  lab to lab, subject to subject, till they find their heart’s voice resonate in one.

In a chat with The Daily Guardian, the couturier speaks on the journey of the bandhgala and how it is linked to his career.

Q. Can you trace the origins of the heritage of the bandhgala?

 A. The bandhgala originated in the Jodhpur state and dates back to the mid-19th-20th century. It is commonly known as the “Jodhpur suit”. The purpose and utility of it was purely for formal occasions, worn by military or aristocratic men in the bygone days. The synonymous bandhgala is the quintessential product that spans over 1,200 years of family history. The classiness of the bandhgala is embedded in the RR design philosophy, enthused by the rich past, but with a slick contemporary edge making it an authentic product offering by the brand.

 Q. The silhouette is also used by global couturiers. Do you think their interpretation takes away from the classic form?

A. The bandhgala has been reinvented by many brands globally and the many interpretations have broken away from the classic form. However, the silhouette appeal is such that it has a recall value and can still be distinctly identified in spite of the many re-adaptations of it. Be it runway shows, movie costumes or uniforms, the bandhgala has been a universal inspiration for many and has a certain aesthetic about it that makes it a versatile product that is not restricted to a particular ethnicity.

Q. How was it dressing stars in a dress form patronised by the Rajputs?

 A. It has been an exciting and innovative journey to be able to dress various personalities in the bandhgala. While the silhouette is the common thread, the detailing and textures have been played with. A range of woven fabrics and wool blends have been used and styled impeccably to emulate a fresh appeal.

Q. Are you open to evolving the format?

A. It has been a constant endeavour since our inception, to evolve, re-imagine, reinvent and redefine this signature product offering, thereby, making it a quintessential product by the brand.

  Q. From going to Parsons to living in the distant Jodhpur and playing the role of an India royal, how did you blend the two?

 A. The skill set and knowledge I gathered from Parsons was readapted back at home in Jodhpur to create a brand that had global sensibilities while the intrinsic values of my Indian roots blended beautifully to create a unique combination that epitomises what the RR brand stands for today.

Q. Educated at an acclaimed school and now a founder of GSD, how relevant would you say is design education for designers?

A. Design education is the stepping stone of all learning and unlearning before one decides to take the plunge into the professional industry or if they choose to become design entrepreneurs. It is crucial to educate yourself and take a 360-degree approach towards design education

Q. The current design education scenario versus GSD – what is the difference?

A. In a world where change is the only constant, I strongly believe that the designers of tomorrow need the opportunity to absorb an all-inclusive education. While other design schools propel the idea of focusing on one discipline, the GSD curriculum is truly multidimensional, combining Fashion, Textiles, Visual Communication and Lifestyle Product Design with management and the business of design, while staying close to the self through a series of courses on well-being and self-management, all under one program.

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