Menswear designer Kunal Rawal's body of work reflects his eye for visually-arresting details and clever styling techniques. Having dressed several Bollywood actors, from Shahid Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor, Rawal's label has celebrated the idea of multi-functional, wearable couture. Mock layering, where you put on just one piece but it manipulates the eye into thinking you’re wearing three complete layers, is one of his key styling insignias. From proposing a new and edited variant of the classic bandi jacket to casting non-models in his digital presentations, there's always a sense of street energy and bespoke refinement in his work.
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In an interview with Lounge, the designer talks about his upcoming collection at the FDCI-led India Couture Week and more. Edited excerpts:
With the label turning 15, how much has changed and what has remained the same?
Our core aesthetic hasn't changed. We have been pushing our core design vocabulary in occasion wear for men since inception. You can’t imagine how many people told me this won’t work, but it’s a really good feeling to know that we stuck to our guns.
The thought of giving men the luxury of options is something we continue to do. In every collection, we design to make sure every man with his own unique lifestyles and needs can find things he likes or loves. Now here I won’t lie, sometimes I feel like the creative thoughts are not business friendly, but you have to stand your ground. Also, our idea of offering customisation and personalisation has not changed. Today, every occasion is personalised, theme-driven and uber-unique; no two celebrations are alike. So that has to reflect in the garments, and we continue to do that year after year, collection after collection. My love for texture play, tonal play is the same. The focus on comfort and “give more for less” is the same. The feeling of trying to create a tectonic shift in the menswear industry is still the same. The care for diversity and gender-neutrality is the same. Honestly, the market you cater to decides what you put out there, it’s a big part of my inspiration. Every season, I use the sheer scale of diversity in India to guide and inspire me.
I’m very clear about having a signature coming through a vast range of collections that cater to different moods, body types and personalities. That’s the challenge and excitement as a designer.
I've got to admit that there were collections that were too expensive to retail or too non-wearable in terms of aesthetics. Honestly, I got a lot of valuable learnings in this journey.
How important is Bollywood for your brand?
To me, Bollywood is very important because of its vast impact on the country. My goal has always been to influence the way India dresses. Whether I did sports collaborations, designed merchandise, or worked with the biggest menswear retailers or e-tailers, everything was about achieving this. But I feel that costume designing for Bollywood was the strongest and most effective way to actually affect this change. Actors today are such trend drivers, they all have distinct personalities or what people call the ‘x’ factor. Even internationally, the trend is now moving solidly towards casting celebrities as showstoppers in fashion shows. So yes, Bollywood is a big part of me and my identity.
If there's one designer you'd love to work under, who would it be and why?
Without a doubt, it would have to be Rick Owens. I love his design language, his storytelling, products. He is somebody who understands classic design with a twist. For me, he’s one of the first few respected designers, who had an unique take on couture and storytelling. He was a bright minimalist light in the world of maximalist couture that pervaded the fashion scene when he started out, and that to me, is phenomenal.
I also really love Ravi Bajaj and Rajesh Pratap Singh. They were the stalwarts of the scene when I was growing up, and really influenced the way I consume and create fashion.
Why does Indian men's couture stop at ‘bandhgala’ and ‘sherwani’?
It’s a lot to do with the market. Indian couture is all about wedding wear and that is how it has been for a long time. Couture in India is really the way it is because of the formal and solemn settings we wear it in. While it may seem like we are stuck on bundis and sherwanis, there has also been a lot of evolution in the past 15 years.
When you do couture for a global fashion luxury buyer, it’s very different from the Indian buyers. Indians want clothes that range from modern luxury to deep-rooted traditions. Our country is so diverse that it reflects in our opinions as well. Every few kilometres you will find a new dress or a different detail. We have a lot of rich craftsmanship and a massive bank of shapes and silhouettes, but their interpretation has not really moved too much from the classical traditional styles. You will mostly find either maximalist versions of couture for men, or absolutely plain ones.
While embroidery is great, no one ever pushes the envelope in proposing a new silhouette…
A lot can be done in silhouettes, but we haven’t seen a lot of experimentation yet. You can see a lot of people now beginning to introduce new cuts and shapes, but slow and steady is the name of the game.
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