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AFFLUENZA

An ethos of elegance

HINDOL SENGUPTA

He’s famously reticent but Rajesh Pratap Singh’s label is all about clothes.


People who buy his clothes are not Buying a designer label as such. They are buying an evolved sense of refinement and luxury feel.

Photos: R.V. Moorthy and Rajeev Bhatt

Dreaming big: Rajesh Pratap Singh’s work (top and left) is a triumph for Indian textiles.

In the winter of 2004, I went in an auto rickshaw to the home-workshop-design studio of Rajesh Pratap Singh. I was then writing my first book on fashion and I had sent an e-mail to Pratap (or Raju as everyone calls him) and had got a prompt response.

I had heard stories about this famously reticent designer. He hardly attends phone calls (correct). He is distant and cold (incorrect). The mail had promised that he would speak to me about my book. When I met him, the first thing he told me was that he couldn’t possibly give me his photograph. Why not? Because he does not like his photographs. Because he does not like being photographed. Because he does not like publicity.

Over the years, this is the kind of reticence I have come to expect from Rajesh Pratap Singh. He is the man who had dreamt of a label without a designer. A label that would be all about clothes, not about the man, not about the celebrity.

Rare designer

In fact, he had once dreamt that no one will ever know who the designer is; they would only know the brand. They would just enjoy the clothes. In some strange way, this is the way his brand has been built. Very few people recall the face of Rajesh Pratap Singh. He is rarely in Page Three (or for the matter any other page). He has remained shrouded in a bit of a mystery.

He is that rare designer in the world of fashion who does not seek publicity. So he will do a Parisian opera, making clothes for the sounds, lights and oeuvre of Sanjay Leela Bhansali but you would never find him smiling in glossies, never the kind of drunk merriment photographs that you have seen of almost every designer. In parties, they call this the Mystery of the Missing Designer.

My argument in this column is that when you buy Rajesh Pratap Singh you are perhaps not buying designer clothes at all. If we were to take an international example — are you buying “designer wear” when you buy Maison Martin Margiela? Perhaps not. You are buying artistic work of a shockingly reticent craftsman in a photo-shoot crazy world. The same could be argued for Pratap.

In a conversation last year, he argued with me that he perhaps needed publicity of a very different kind, that clients sought his clothes for the tiny, integrated cleverness of his clothes; the sort of comfort and quiet cleverness that you can discover only if you wear his clothes. He said the point is that people who buy his clothes are not buying a designer label as such. They are buying an evolved sense of refinement and luxury feel that is more important on the skin than in the eyes of the beholder.

Forever Rajesh Pratap Singh has created near-perfect, razor-sharp clothes — suits and jackets and bandhgalas and trousers, which have made him a mark because their entire skill is in being dexterous, in being the sort of austere, heightened sense of style that perhaps is part of a Zen idea of luxury.

For years, we believed that he made the best white shirts in the country. In fact, the first people who told me that they swore by his white shirts were top buyers from Selfridges. They wanted right-fitting, subtle white shirts with just some work on the surface that would help it stand out. Rajesh Pratap Singh did just that.

Sheer craftsmanship

Most of his work has been in the reworking of surfaces, of twisting and turning and collaborating with different textile and stitch skills to create surface textures that make a mark like that motorcycle made of scissors that once adorned his runway.

The discovery of Rajesh Pratap Singh has been the discovery of Indian craftsmanship in the restrained, focused way that appeals to the most evolved lovers of clothes. That he only peek-a-boos at the audience in each of his shows, never walking down, only gets him more accolades.

When you buy Rajesh Pratap Singh it is important to understand that you are feeding into an understanding and ethos of elegance and nuance that few in fashion, at least Indian fashion, ever get.

Is this the best of Indian fashion? A few years ago, I would have said yes but then fashion also has myriad hues and ideas and restraint is not always the best theme. So we must appreciate the vibrancy of Manish Arora as we do the contemplative styles of Rajesh Pratap Singh.

When you buy him, remember you are saying that you choose to like what is on your body than perhaps anything else. In a sense when you buy him, you are shunning the idea of a brand and what a brand stands for in flashing neon light.


Roots

Whether working on khadi or with shepherds in Ladakh to create super fine cashmere, Rajesh Pratap Singh is the idea of delving into the quiet roots of India. Does it help his brand? Yes and no. He, I believe, must do more for his brand. At the moment, it remains mainly loved outside India and, even within the country, his work could and should get an all-pervasive fan-following. It cannot get this unless he pushes the brand much further than where it is today.

But the fact that the work of Rajesh Pratap Singh exists and gets noticed is a great triumph for Indian textiles and its creativity. As for me getting his photograph — well, I did not and my first book was published with a blank space next to his name just like he wanted.


Where to buy

9, Lodhi Colony, Main Market,

New Delhi.

9, The Garden Village, Garden of Five Senses, East Gate (rear entry), Saidulajaib, New Delhi.

12, Santushti Shopping Complex, New Delhi.

409, Emporio Mall, Nelson Mandela Marg, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.

11, The Courtyard, 41/44, Minoo Desai Marg, Mumbai – 400005

Shop 5, D 7 Turning Point Building, Junction of 1st and 16th Road, Khar Danda Road, Khar West, Mumbai.

14, VM Road, Mezzanine Floor, Atmosphere Building, 14, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore.

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