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REDEFINING INDIAN FASHION:  Raghavendra Rathore is on a mission to reinvent traditional designs
REDEFINING INDIAN FASHION:Raghavendra Rathore is on a mission to reinvent traditional designs

State swimmer, vintage car restorer, lifestyle merchant and fashion designer Raghavendra Rathore, who comes from royal lineage, might just be the most interesting man in the world. Find out how he's reviving Jodhpuri fashion for the modern Indian man

By Rohit Nair

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Published: Fri 22 Jul 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 22 Jul 2016, 2:00 AM

When you're the head of the foremost luxury brand for men's fashion out of India, you would think that a 'prince' suffixed to your name would be the ticket to worldwide fame. But Raghavendra Rathore - son of Maharaj Shri Swaroop Singh and Rani Usha Singh Rathore - would rather have another title - that of the most interesting man in the world. "Titles, especially the royal ones, apply to one single person who is a direct descendant and not to those who are brothers or cousins, in the line of succession," says Raghavendra, who is a cousin of Maharaja Gaj Singh of Jodhpur. "Moreover, times are changing, and I would much rather carve a niche for myself, while still retaining my family heritage and legacy."

DRESSED TO IMPRESS: Models showcase Raghavendra Rathore's stylish collection which is putting Jodhpuri fashion, including the bandhgala jacket (seen right in the image above), on the global map
Raghavendra has been carving that niche for himself ever since he was a child. His parents, he says, wanted him to be grounded and he never felt like he was a rich spoilt kid. In fact, when he was about eight years old, his school in Jodhpur was bombed by Pakistani forces, and though some of his friends perished, young Raghavendra managed to get away with his life. "The bombing of my school left an impact. It taught me that certainty and permanence are all merely part of an effort to create security in life. It eventually is up to the individual to choose how they want to coexist in society. It made me realise that there are no guarantees in life." Armed with this lesson so early in life, Raghavendra was soon shipped off to boarding school in Ajmer, where he went on to swim his way into the state championships. From there, it was on to the States.

THE CREATION PROCESS: (top to bottom)Raghavendra overseeing the production of his designs; A glimpse into one of his stores; the brand is hailed for its attention to detail
"My education in the US helped me expand my palette for diverse, modern tastes. This, combined with my Rajasthani heritage, made my inspirations limitless," says the designer. Maharaja Sawi Man Singh, who happened to be his grandmother's brother, was an international polo player who had, at one point, befriended European nobility and aristocracy from across the globe. "But his sister, my grandmother, was a humble family-loving matriarch, who obsessively spent most of the time with her grandchildren. She was always surrounded by socialites, and they would always have an audience of the best perfumers, bangle makers and Banaras silk merchants," he explains. "This unique world was alien to me, but looking back, I now know that my destiny was clearly defined at a very early age." And that destiny was to come back to Jodhpur and make Jodhpuri fashion go global.
After his first year of college in the US, his parents decided it was time Raghavendra understood the value of hard work and learning to fend for himself going foward. As a result, he had to fund his own education. "I went on to Marlboro College in Vermont, where I studied arts and philosophy," he says - a complete change from the anthropology and robotics that he was studying at Amherst College. He was also scraping paint off old buildings in the neighbourhood, earning five bucks a pop, and paying his way through college through side projects like fixing and restoring vintage cars. Thanks to the skills he picked up, he can now confidently put down welder, carpenter, vintage car restorer/mechanic on his résumé. In fact, that is exactly what he was doing - building a formidable résumé that would make even James Bond do a double take.
But Raghavendra's big break was yet to come. While at an internship with Donna Karan of DKNY, Raghavendra, who was now a graduate of Parsons School of Design in New York, had a chance encounter with the famous designer Oscar de la Renta in an elevator. This encounter eventually led him  to land a job with the global fashion house and hone his skills. "My education and career, though completely different, have both complemented each other. Electronics and robotics teaches you logic, whereas the arts accentuate the idea of creativity. Collectively, they emphasise the use of the right and left sides of the brain. Creative ideas that come into my head are given direction and analysed logically, giving a strong commercial viability to my creativity," he explains. But it was in Jodhpur, while he was still working for Oscar de la Renta, that his destiny was finally realised. "I noticed that there were very few design houses offering specialised tailoring to the ever-growing market of stylish Indians. I realised the importance of heritage clothing and embarked on reviving Indian design." He is still enamoured by de la Renta, who passed away in 2014. "He is my role model and not only because he is one of the most renowned fashion designers but because of the knowledge he imparted to me. His learning and philosophy of fashion is what I will cherish the most."
The real inspiration for his way of life, says Raghavendra, is his grandfather's elder brother - the late Maharaja of Jodhpur, Sir Umaid Singh. "I was fascinated by him for the visionary that he was. After all, he built the first international airport in Jodhpur as well as the largest lived-in palace in the world. It was then that I realised I wanted to be a 'lifestyle merchant', imbibing the qualities of regal Rajasthan."
Raghavendra's mission of reviving Indian designs and classic patterns started with the traditional Jodhpuri suit known as the bandhgala. "Evolving the bandhgala and focusing on using it as an inspiration for the entire line of clothing is an instrumental strategy at the core of our brand. The bandhgala jacket keeps reappearing in a different avatar season after season and is my favourite. It is the most versatile jacket in the world, going from black-tie to super casual in minutes by simply readjusting the permutations and combinations of one's wardrobe!" explains Raghavendra.
Travelling has the wonderful positive of helping him gain new perspectives, he says. But, in the end, his roots are very important to him. "Heritage and designs that were once celebrated in the classic space are a precious connect to our origins... The rich cultures of various communities globally inspire the classic sensibilities that I am always on the lookout for," he adds.
Speaking of travel, where does the man who has everything and is arguably the most interesting in the world go? "A magical place called Narlai. It's the place I visit often to recharge my soul, and take time to recuperate with fresh and new ideas for the various projects that are always ongoing with my design team."

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