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He also makes clothes

Calcutta’s loss is Hyderabad’s gain. A standalone store in the city was on designer Raghavendra Rathore’s mind for quite sometime. The store is happening — but in Hyderabad not Calcutta. The “numbers” indicate that it makes more business sense to be present in the cyber city. “I need a good partner, a franchisee… plus the business… somehow it’s not working out in Calcutta,” said Rathore, in a chat with t2 on Saturday afternoon. The designer from Jodhpur was in town to showcase at the Seagram’s Blenders Pride Fashion Tour 2010 at ITC Sonar.

You complete 25 years in the industry soon. How was it then and now?

Now is the golden era of Indian design. Whoever can get the engine running will benefit now. India is having its day internationally and the possibilities are endless. That time it was much harder.

You are opening many stores back to back…

Yeah, we just opened in Mumbai, soon we will be in Khan Market in Delhi and then Hyderabad. I am going into franchisee stores because by now my product is clear, there are no fluctuations, so the risk is not there. When you are buying a Rathore piece, especially a bandhgala jacket, it’s like buying a car… as standardised as that. You don’t even need to see the piece, you can see the photographs and order. I have a complete corporate approach to fashion, the paranoia of fashion is not there.

At my store in Khan Market you can get just about anything designed, not just clothes. So if you want me to design a tent for your farmhouse or a chandelier, you get it. Also, you can buy an old Rolls Royce. It’s more like a service. I am also designing wedding concepts but not getting into the implementation now.

A lot of designers think that they have to have stores in plush malls and localities. Many people ask me why I open stores where there are ugly-looking stores next to mine. But I just don’t care. Ugly-looking neighbours are the thorns in the rose that is India. You have to live with them. Stores in plush surroundings might be the Gucci and Armani idea, but India is a unique country…

Designing uniforms forms a major part of your portfolio…

That’s my top priority now. I have a whole factory dedicated to uniforms. We have done uniforms for many corporate houses, hotels, security agencies and a couple of schools. The idea everywhere is to evoke the vision of the company. Corporate houses are easy… very standardised; security agencies want a very masculine look and each hotel speaks a totally different language. For the Sheraton in Jaipur we have done a Rajput storyboard, ITC Agra has a Mughal, Akbar-inspired look but all these look contemporary as well.

We haven’t done too many schools, we’ve just done Amby Valley School and also Mayo College Girls but I don’t know whether that has been implemented. School uniforms are very neglected in our country. They see it as a cost, but they don’t realise that if the kid is wearing that kind of clothes all his school life, then he is growing up with poor aesthetics. Uniform is a part of basic character building… it blurs the divide between the rich and the poor.

The quality of our designs is as good as designer products but the volume makes realistic prices possible.

You just launched your second Zoya collection of jewellery in association with Tanishq…

While the first one was with stones, this one — The Gold of Naglai (picture top) — is purely in gold. The designs draw from ancient India and ancient Peru. The collection is doing well because India is most receptive to gold when it comes to jewellery. I have two more collections coming up in this label.

Any tech experiments, after the software and the iPhone…

My focus now is to put design to social use. I have asked my design team to come up with one idea a month so that we can do something for the poorer segment of society. I have designed an equipment that will benefit the poorest section. I am patenting it.

In many parts of India, like Rajasthan and even in Mumbai, where there is water scarcity, the biggest problem lies in storing water. Especially in Mumbai where people live in limited space, keeping huge buckets for water preservation takes up lot of space. I was amazed to see that an American NGO had given slum-dwellers inflatable water containers that can be just hung somewhere when you don’t need them. These are little things you can do with design. My mind is free today since I don’t have to concentrate on my fashion operations on a day-to-day basis. I have my different teams in place. So now I can concentrate on exploring the scope of design in different areas.

Coming back to fashion, do you think the fashion week confusion in Delhi has cleared up a bit?

In a way yes, because now everyone has come back to FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India), which was our aim always when we formed FDPC (Fashion Design Promotion Council). The idea was to bring all designers under one roof and to have one fashion week. FDCI is a strong body, we were all the founder members, somewhere we had a difference of opinion and moved away. But now everyone is back together.

What about the mushrooming regional fashion weeks?

They’re a celebration of the sponsors. They have money and hence can go ahead and do a fashion week. I am not saying regional fashion weeks are a bad idea, but I would advise designers to ask three questions before deciding to participate — who owns the property; whose money is behind it and what is the long-term plan. If the answers to all three are music to your ears, then go ahead.

What’s your look for fall-winter?

The whole Middle-Eastern thing has captured my imagination. The Moroccan influence will be strong, especially in menswear. A lot of beige...

Coming up…

A show for the Commonwealth Games. Sabya (Sabyasachi Mukherjee) is finishing it and Abu-Sandeep (Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla) are opening it.

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