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Updated: August 7, 2010 15:35 IST

Affluenza: Why buy Raghavendra Rathore?

Hindol Sengupta
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Designer Raghavendra Rathore. Photo: Bhagya Prakash
Designer Raghavendra Rathore. Photo: Bhagya Prakash

Many of Rathore’s big ideas have not worked. What has, however, worked for him is that he understood the market well…

My lasting memory of Raghavendra Rathore, prince of the erstwhile royal family of Jodhpur and elegant designer, is him sitting on an inflated football beanbag and talking about brand building.

The space is an empty, air-conditioned, though derelict studio, in the way only film school studios can be empty, air-conditioned and derelict, and Rathore — then, as now, one of India’s brightest, most erudite designers — was in a documentary film I was making on fashion. Memorably, he came in a taxi (his car had gone elsewhere) and made the all-women crew swoon. “Brand, brand, brand,” he said, “it is all about brand building.”

Five years later, when you go to buy Raghavendra Rathore, what do you think? Pretty subtle clothes. Are the clothes terribly exciting? No. They are wearable, genteel, charming clothes. Do they reek brand? Not yet. And here’s why not.

Raghavendra Rathore is sublimely talented. He is an artist who read among other things philosophy and modern American fiction in college. He took one of the first breakthrough steps in Indian fashion whether to tie-up with external production alliances (Orient Craft), mass market retailers (Shopper’s Stop) orproduct diversification (dark chocolate).

Before his time

But most of his ideas were before his time. The Indian fashion industry, unfortunately, still does not, and certainly did not when Rathore was trying his ideas, have the kind of linkages that enables cross-connections, co-branding and capacity building with scale. This meant that many of Rathore’s big ideas have not worked. What has, however, worked for him is that he understood the market well. Most Indians are not experimentative dressers.

As one of the readers of this column from Indore, Pooja Maloo, wrote to me, many of the people she knows and sees around in her city are people who are happy to buy from their local boutiques and have little brand affiliation.

So many Indians instinctively, when choosing designers, go for the elegance and simplicity (not so though in bridal wear) in everyday clothes.

Rathore whose sensibilities, as he sometimes says, are more Hermes than McQueen, is a great choice. His ideas of woodsy, old-worldish, efficient clothes make charming everyday and special occasion buys. He worked hard to revive the authentic jodhpurs and the bandhgalas and has shown them in fitted, flawless silhouettes with tender touch tweaking season after season. His clothes are bankable, no-nonsense, never-say-die clothes that work more in the genre of feel-good, slice of luxury rather than the look-at-me merriment.

This means that he does not generate the press ecstasy that some his counterparts do but what he does is cater to his clientele unfailingly season after season. I do dare say that he could make his shows a little more exciting but his derivative of his regal legacy seems to remain ensconced in quietitude. But perhaps he does not care. He is after all a sharply witty, but quiet, man.

What he has done — or rather what the press has forced him to do — is use himself, to a degree, as his main brand pitch.

Here is a man who has the touch of royalty, which is always a great story in luxury. He is also a man who is natty and refreshingly understated and so good looking that he was once voted one of India’s most eligible bachelors.

In a funny sort of a way, this has driven a lot of his press. Fashion press in India and elsewhere is usually populated by women and most of them find Rathore quite dreamy.

The best prop

So in a quirk of fate, the man who has pushed the barriers of brand building the most, gets written about rather a lot because of his good looks and charm. This is not what he really wants to highlight but because so many of his ideas are premature for the market, he ends up using the best prop for his brand. Himself.

Also, Rathore’s works have faced some problem of distribution and for a long time and many of my friends still miss a standalone store from him in Bombay, but that has been another of Rathore’s quirks. He has kept the business fairly close-knit, in a sense small and with fine quality control.

The point is that Rathore has operated a bit, once again this theme, of a brand that wants to be a design hub and not really an all expansive, multi-store behemoth.

Therefore there is everything from jewellery design to chocolate, his website even mentions tent design (as in luxury tents in the desert), but there isn’t a huge move to raise money and really push the retail part of the business across the board.

His big idea he has told me is that he wants to, Hermes-style, patent a whole host of prints which will be used in everything from clothes to bags and luggage and home décor and jewellery — everything.

That will be the basis of his expansion and quick growth in the design hub idea of his business.

So what are you really looking for when you buy Raghavendra Rathore?

First, the idea of royalty and the extension of the idea of royalty that reaches out and touch your life. That in itself can be a stunning feeling.

Then of course the fact that he makes some of the most becoming clothes India. They are never overstated, never loud, never drawing attention to themselves.

Rathore has hunted for a sense of class in his work all his life. His clothes have come to define that ethereal sense of class. If only his shows were more exciting.

Where to get

Emporio Mall, (DLF Place, No. 4, Vasant Kunj, Phase II), New Delhi. +91 11 46 04 07 09

R a t h o r e J o d h p u r, Ground Floor C – 80 Shivalik Main Road Near Malviya Nagar New Delhi - 17

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