Indian fashion designer Prince Raghavendra Rathore on reviving heritage clothing

One of Bollywood's favourite designers, Rathore is part of the Jodhpur royal family and is credited with repopularising the majestic bandhgala coat.

Raghavendra Rathore has dressed the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Ranbir Kapoor. Courtesy Raghavendra Rathore
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A Bollywood superstar like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Saif Ali Khan is expected to portray a certain image on the red carpet. Not only does he need to play the part of dapper A-list actor, but he also has an unspoken responsibility to represent his country, which often means supporting home-grown Indian labels. And these actors, deemed to be Indian film royalty, are frequently dressed by a luxury fashion label that has ties to actual royalty: Raghavendra Rathore. The founder and creative director of the brand, Prince Raghavendra Rathore of Jodhpur, describes his work with these legendary actors, both off- and on-screen, as stemming from “a four-decade relationship”.

From dressing Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor for fundraiser appearances to providing costumes for Pakistani actor Fawad Khan for his film Khoobsurat, Rathore is a seasoned celebrity designer. "With the frequency of opportunities for them to dress increasing year by year, our atelier has mastered the art of complete customisation of small capsule wardrobes that are updated every season," Rathore tells me. While the label once dabbled in jewellery and womenswear, it now focuses solely on menswear, and places emphasis on creating bespoke designs, tailored to each client's needs.

“The new appetite for customised clothing and building a lifestyle around one’s character is an interesting idea that is fuelling the new desire for bespoke services in India,” he says. Rathore’s ready-to-wear designs, along with his by-appointment-only bespoke offerings, are currently available in India, but the designer is ready to make his Middle East debut. “The brand is on the way to the UAE,” he says. “The Middle East is a part of my expansion strategy, and the UAE is one of the most fashionable and least forgiving markets, with discerning customers who understand the value of luxury and expect nothing less of us in comparison to other global brands.”

Rathore was born into the royal family of Jodhpur, a city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. He attended university in the United States, where he took courses in anthropology, robotics and philosophy. These acted as the unexpected foundation for his future career as a designer. “Electronics and robotics teach you logic, whereas the arts accentuate the idea of creativity,” Rathore explains.

In 1992, he enrolled at Parsons School of Design in New York. Upon graduating, he worked as an assistant to both Donna Karan and Oscar de la Renta, before returning to India to launch his eponymous fashion label. “While working under Mr Oscar de la Renta, I realised that there were very few design houses offering specialised tailoring to the ever-growing market of stylish Indians,” he says. “I realised the importance of heritage clothing and embarked on reviving Indian design.”

Rathore set out to bring elements of traditional Indian attire back in fashion, repackaged to appeal to a globalised client. Today, he’s credited with repopularising the bandhgala coat – a tailored suit jacket or vest with a high collar. “I wanted to revive one Indian relic at a time, starting with the bandhgala – it keeps reappearing in a different avatar season after season,” Rathore says. “It’s 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.”

Rathore is adamant that the bandhgala is a timeless piece, and wearable across different cultures and lifestyles. “An incarnation of Indian nobility, it has evolved to be a part of a modern, stylish man’s wardrobe. It can be worn anywhere from Mumbai to Manhattan,” he claims.

But globalisation is a double-edged sword. Just as Indian designers are seeing their creations worn by clients all over the world, designers in the West are increasingly taking inspiration from Eastern style elements – from Karl Lagerfeld’s pre-fall 2012 show for Chanel, which incorporated elaborate Indian-inspired head jewellery, to Elie Saab’s recent spring 2016 couture collection, which paid tribute to traditional South Asian bridal outfits.

“Ideas from the East have recently found a larger share of space on mood boards at the helm of top international fashion ateliers across the globe,” Rathore acknowledges, noting that draping techniques and design elements, such as embroidery, are quick to be adopted by brands in the West. “Trends from India and the Middle East now get processed by brilliant designers; they have the power and understanding of repackaging luxury products that have a sense of Eastern familiarity, and at the same time a high [degree] of European sophistication,” he says.

Rathore, however, doesn’t rely on fleeting trends or tricks to stay afloat. To come up with his design concepts, he delves deep into the heritage and history of Jodhpur, where his royal lineage is rooted. “Ideas generally seep in on my many travels, especially to communities deep in the interiors of Rajasthan,” he says. “Once a concept is formulated, a volley of sketches clears the path for the final design.”

Read this and related stories in Luxury magazine, out with The National on Thursday, October 6.