Making strong waves in the world of design, Kunal Rawal merges the lines between age-old techniques and handicraft with new technology and conceptual ideas.
By Nichola Marie
As a young and leading fashion designer in today’s exciting times, what is your reading of the current fashion scene in India?
Fashion is in a constant state of evolution. For us, as a brand, and for me, as a designer, it is important to keep in tune with what men want, and what we can do to give them even more. The idea is to always push the boundaries with everything we do. Being aware of the tremendous possibilities within menswear is what keeps it exciting for us. The way we can incorporate technology in our fabrics, garments and construction is significant. Our glow-in-the-dark sherwani is an excellent example of the power of technology. We developed the concept for grooms during the pandemic, where grooms could enjoy the neutral ivory look for a day-time wedding, and by night, under UV lights, be transported in style with the glow-in-the-dark embroidery. Creating elements of surprise and wonder is ingrained in our DNA. Having said this, we love heritage and classics too. Staying true to our roots is important. But with a future-forward perspective.
Founder of the eponymous Indian luxury menswear brand Kunal Rawal, do tell us about your journey in fashion design and how it led to the founding of the brand?
It has been 17 years, but sometimes it feels just like yesterday when I began this journey in Indian menswear. I have always been a very creative person, and fashion has always inspired me to be my own individual. In fact, my fascination with textiles and the infinite possibilities embedded within them is what got me into this line of work in the first place.
For me, inspiration was everywhere. From the bylanes in my city to my family and friends, from travels around the world to Bollywood and its drama, from the celebrations and festivals so unique to the many cultures within our country to the sheer scale of the great big Indian wedding — everything propelled me in this direction towards fashion. Most importantly, it’s the way I saw the industry when I started, and the way men approached fashion. I really wanted to give them options, unlike what they have experienced before. In our 17 years, we have designed almost every kind of menswear garment – from an athletic jersey to luxury couture. And we want to continue to do that.
How challenging was it to break into the fashion industry, make your mark and grow the brand?
The fashion industry comes with its challenges that are common to any designer who is in this space. What we consider a challenge that motivates us to step outside of the box is having our signature statement come through in everything we do. It’s easy to keep creating similar lines with a signature. But to create diverse pieces and have your signature stand out in each one of them, that’s what we always endeavour towards.
The Kunal Rawal design aesthetic “intermingles the contemporary with the classic, always with a forward-looking spirit”. How does this philosophy resonate with you?
This statement is the foundation of what we do with our occasion wear. We love the past. We take inspiration from it in every way. From how the maharajas wore Indian wear to how architecture was crafted and how cultures celebrated festivals and weddings — we appreciate our history and country deeply. At the same time, we also are excited by the spirit of young India. We want to dress the man of today based on his discerning needs. We want to merge the lines between age-old techniques and handicraft with new technology and conceptual ideas.
Your designs are known to challenge preconceived notions about fashion. Can you share with us instances where you introduced elements of surprise and experimented with boundary-pushing designs?
Besides our glow-in-the-dark line, and our solar range which gave our textiles the power to harness energy from the sun, and thereby change in colour when exposed to the sun, with every collection we try to introduce something new and riveting.
Our latest collection explores new techniques, textures and innovative architectural shapes that really set a new tone to the mix. From intricate thread-dipped pieces and embroidery to surface embellishments in the form of 3-dimensional motifs and the creation of our own signature fabrics – the latest collection is thoughtfully crafted to create an immersive tactile experience. Our key piece this time would be our new lungi pants — it’s an experimental silhouette that we’re really excited about.
Celebrities such as Shahid Kapoor and Varun Dhawan have chosen to be dressed in Kunal Rawal for their weddings. Does designing for stars come with an added responsibility?
For me, whether it is a client or a celebrity, it’s all the same. Because their wedding day is the most important day of their life — that’s the responsibility I take on when it comes to designing for anyone. I want them to be comfortable and ecstatic about what they’re going to wear for their celebrations. I want it to be a reflection of who they are and the added bonus be our aesthetic and craftsmanship. If there’s any added responsibility when it comes to designing for the stars, it’s that they are some of my closest friends, so I might feel a little more pressured, but in a great way always, haha!
Fashion-forward stars like Ranbir Kapoor and Kartik Aaryan are seen wearing the Kunal Rawal exclusive range of bandhgala kurtas. What about the designs resonates with them, in your opinion?
With stars like Ranbir, Kartik or any other guy in Bollywood, one thing that we know is that they’re always on the move, making appearances, attending events, walking the red carpet — so comfort mixed with versatility is key. It can sometimes be a lot of pressure for a celebrity to always “look stylish” or be the “best-dressed” person in the room. That’s why when we craft menswear, we do it with the intention of making style effortless — in look and feel — and extremely wearable, unique and multi-functional. Our bandhgala kurtas, in my opinion, have those qualities and therefore resonate with them.
You also offer deconstructed sets, footwear and a boys/kids range. What are their USPs?
Our deconstructed sets offer its wearer options — it gives the garment more life. The ensemble can be broken down, and worn as separates, and in so many different ways. Men get the opportunity to use their own individual creativity to create numerous looks that satisfy many occasions, moods and celebrations.
When it comes to footwear, we love leaning towards traditional options like mojaris and kolhapuris but with a twist of modern style. We rework the classics to give the modern global groom something contemporary, a cleaner and more unique piece. Examples include our sneaker mojari, vegan leather lace-ups and oxfords, and even our sneaker boots. These are comfortable, cool, and unique.
Our kids’ range is all about making them feel like young, stylish men and really be able to wear their cool and unique personalities on their sleeves. The idea is the same for all of our clients, regardless of age.
What is your preference for the Indian groom this upcoming wedding season?
The Indian groom this wedding season should definitely inject his own individual style into his final look. We love offering that little subtle customisation to our clients, to ensure their personality is woven in, and a memory is established. We encourage our grooms to mix and match and buy separates instead of a pre-set ensemble that you see on mannequins. So, my preference is always: Stay true to yourself. …And pick comfort over everything!
Tell us a little about your personal style, and future goals.
Comfort is key for me. You will never see me wearing something that makes me feel out of sorts. Having your own sense of style is important.
My future goal is to continue accomplishing every present-day goal and keep forging ahead.