Luxury lifestyle designer Raghavendra Rathore sets the bar high with his diverse design ambit, growing synonymous with heritage clothing and modern timelessness.
By Nichola Marie
His selection to design the uniform for the Indian Border Security Force’s first-ever women contingent is the latest feather in the already distinguished cap of lifestyle designer Raghavendra Rathore. In a conversation with ‘Society Achievers’, he shares insights into his journey to becoming one of the leading fashion designers of our times, growing synonymous with heritage clothing and modern timelessness, his diverse design ambit and more…
Recently you had the honour of designing the uniform for the Border Security Force’s first-ever women contingent – the Mahila Praharis. Do take us through some of the special features of the design.
The design has been built keeping restraint, comfort and subtlety in mind. The idea was to ensure that men and women are seen from the same perspective; therefore, the focus was to continue the existing tradition of the BSF’s current uniforms and not diverge from it. The main design is inspired by the classic Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur bandhgala. However, the features that make up the design’s core have been chosen from vendors across the nation. Most of the trims were applied using zari and tagai techniques.
Hailing from the royal family of Jodhpur, what are some of your earliest memories of your heritage, and of design and fashion in particular?
My childhood was like any other kid growing up in Jodhpur, the difference perhaps was only that there were heaps of cultural experiences, ceremonies, sights and sounds that altered my aesthetics to pursue a more creative journey later in my life. My education was extremely broad-based from Greek mythology to robotics and then finally design, which I credit today as being the fundamentals of creating products for all luxury segments season after season.
Your study of Renaissance art, your education at the Parsons School of Design – New York, followed by stints with the prestigious design houses Donna Karan New York and Oscar de la Renta… in retrospect, how did these experiences impact you?
My journey from Mayo College, a boarding school in Ajmer, to Marlboro College, a liberal arts college in Vermont, to the design sanctum – the Parsons School of Design in New York, is a testament to an all-round understanding of the history of design, culture and more importantly, the universe of fashion. My experiences with stalwart brands in New York fuelled the urge and the hunger to build a brand which, after returning to India, I pursued diligently. Being from a small town, initially, it was extremely difficult to convince people to believe in the brand but in time, miraculously, it has become the go-to brand for the classic wardrobes that men seek today.
You are one of the earliest designers to have made a mark for yourself by promoting Indian heritage, culture and keeping “Make in India” at the very centre of your brand. How did this awareness dawn back when you were just starting out?
I was inspired by an artisan who I used to come across during my village trips as a child with my father, who used his sense of colour to create durries and rugs without referring to any books or electronic mediums. This very innate talent of the Indian artists and craftsmen has always been a part of the brand’s creations in some form or the other, ever since the first show at the Mehrangarh Fort. Whether it is the weaves, prints, embroideries, accessories, or simply the city of Jodhpur which is a constant in our moodboard, it is our endeavour to build a recall value for the rich arts, culture and heritage that India stands for.
Over the years, Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur has gone on to become synonymous with heritage clothing and modern timelessness. Has it been challenging to achieve this blend of traditional elegance with contemporary chic?
Classic never goes out of style and at Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur, we encourage our clients to invest in heirloom pieces that are timeless, whether clothes or customised fabrics or personalised jewellery pieces. Traditional pieces styled with the right colour palette, keeping the function or event in mind, are always in-style.
From a humble beginning in 1994 with a small store in New Delhi, to the present… what are some of the most fulfilling highlights in your journey to becoming one of the leading fashion designers of our times?
Setting a vision and milestones in the journey of our lives is an important roadmap that has helped me achieve most of the items on my wish list. From attaining global knowledge to being able to support oneself through a long-drawn education, mastering the art and the craft, learning and experiencing from the best in the industry, and finally coming to build an amalgamation of ideas and practices into a brand that has now become synonymous with the cultural aspect of our heritage of classic clothing, has been a fruitful journey.
You are considered the ultimate authority on classic men’s dressing, with even style icons like Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Shah Rukh Khan holding your opinion in high regard. How does it feel to be in this enviable position?
A humbling feeling but there is always more to learn from stalwarts whom we dress season after season. They are actually the real trendsetters that brands like ours cater to, and in the process learn how to enrich others with bespoke learnings through our product offering under the brand Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur.
The Jodhpur bandhgala lies at the heart of the Raghavendra Rathore brand. What do you believe is the USP of this piece of clothing, that has revolutionised Indian style within the country and internationally?
What makes the bandhgala so unique is its ability to lend itself to one’s personality for any occasion depending on how one constructs the overall look. Formally worn, it qualifies as a formal suit; by opening two buttons, it slowly emerges as a casual ascension; and if paired with denim jeans, it completely changes the context of one’s personality to a super casual feel, yet keeping it trendy.
You even have a bandhgala range for women! How did that come about?
Tailoring a bandhgala for a man or a woman requires the same skills and techniques, making it extremely palatable for people who prefer the tailored look. The ability of the bespoke experiences offered by the brand makes it possible for people to adapt the complete look for their charmed personalities with details only possible in the bespoke genre.
What’s the secret behind your tailoring and trademark ‘cut’, which is famous for giving a trim and upright look to practically every body type?
The cut is inspired by the hundreds of years of Jodhpur tailoring legacy. Initially, it is challenging for first-time clients, as the fit is compact but once you wear it, it changes the way your personality looks completely, as per your body type.
How much of a role do accessories play in adding vibrancy and an element of fun into sober, classic dressing?
The design is equally shared by the outfit and the way people put the accessories together. A smart belt that matches the shoes or the pocket scarf that picks up the colour of the shirt can completely alter the aesthetics, giving one the lead in a group of people who might be struggling with the same. In other words, you’re bound to stand out if you know how to carefully combine all aspects of accessories that can work with a particular look.
Your ready-to-wear label, RR Blue, is a line of contemporary and festive aesthetics. How challenging is it to design for the millennial individual?
The accessibility of the RRB brand caters to a whole different aesthetic; it opens up the market for a bespoke brand to explore the retail hemisphere.
Your multifaceted designing capabilities have gone beyond bespoke clothing to include jewellery, interiors and more recently, multimedia. Do shed more light on your diverse design ambit.
The brand oscillates in the luxury lifestyle bandwidth, exploring projects for private clients. Whether it is interiors or a custom product, we have excellent design capabilities to tackle any challenge in the bespoke. Recently, uniforms for large corporates have become an important and integral part of our offering, from institutions, including Jio Centre, top five-star hotels, ITC, Imperial Hotel, Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur, and Claridges. We offer one of the most efficient solutions and uniform design services in the world today.
Does Rajasthan, and Jodhpur in particular, still spark inspiration?
The essence of the brand is a derivative of the Jodhpur vision. The richness of culture and the appetite in preserving heritage clothing has been the prime focus of the brand.
What’s a day in the life of Raghavendra Rathore like?
Ideation, jungles near the Ranakpur region, outdoor experiences in the country, and time well-spent with people who you love.
· Celebrities whose style you admire: Timothee Chalamet
· The last film you enjoyed: Dune
· Favourite holiday destinations: Rawla Narlai, which is a boutique property two hours’ drive from Jodhpur or Udaipur
· Comfort meal: Indian
· Instant mood-lifter: No Filter
The Design behind the Uniform of the BSF Camel Contingent Mahila Praharis
In 2023, the famed BSF Camel Contingent, which has been a part of the Republic Day celebrations since 1976, witnessed the BSF’s first-ever women contingent riding beside their male counterparts.
World-renowned designer Raghavendra Rathore, who has made a mark for himself by promoting Indian heritage, culture and keeping “Make in India” at the very centre of his brand, has been the name behind designing the uniforms for the Mahila Praharis. While the uniform has been assembled in-house at the Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur atelier, the uniform is unique as it has many elements from treasured craft forms across India.
The uniform of Mahila Praharis for the BSF Camel Contingent incorporates sartorial and cultural elements of India’s history through a proud representation of what the BSF offers to the country by guarding its borders. While designing the outfit for these uniforms, the functionality and practicality of outfits was of utmost priority. For the women who don this uniform, it is an honour and privilege, and an equally proud and humble experience for the designer to serve the nation by resonating the ethos of the iconic Raghavendra Rathore Jodhpur Bandhgala that is stately and classic.
The base fabric has a texture which has been highlighted with various trims of hand-crafted zardosi work, especially created in Benaras with the age-old danka technique that adds a touch of elegance to the uniforms. To complement and complete the look, the headgear is a striking pagh (turban) inspired by the age-old Pagh of the Mewar region of Rajasthan. It is an essential element highlighting cultural significance, honour and valour. In totality, the uniform for the Mahila Praharis is a perfect amalgamation of sense and sensibility.