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Kunal Rawal combining traditional sensibilites with an edgy modern touch for the 21st century man

Indian Designer Kunal Rawal

WWD caught up with the ace designer to know more about his new collection Bennie and Clyde which he believes, translates into his persona and his journey into menswear

Men’s fashion in terms of creativity is moving in the right direction and is heading for a revolution. There is a lot more experimentation when it comes to surface textures, colours, and silhouettes. The designer Kunal Rawal has made news for making his debut as a Gen Next designer at Lakme Fashion Week. He has a unique way of combining traditional sensibilites with an edgy modern touch for the 21st century man. Here he shares his insights about menswear and his newly launched collection. Keep reading to know everything about him.

What prompted you to venture into menswear?
My love for fashion started a long time ago. My father was engaged in the textile business and as children, my sister and I used to play this game where we’d go to the garment room, shut our eyes and try to figure out which fabric it was. I have always been fascinated by fabrics and fashion. After I finished my schooling and my college in London, I came back and discovered that I couldn’t find anything that matched my aesthetic, and that, when it came to men’s fashion, the options were very limited.

It was then that I realized what a huge gap there was in the market in terms of menswear that I felt the need to fill. I must admit that there is also a selfish motive involved, since I’ve always wanted to dress myself a certain way, and returning home made me realize how there is very little in terms of aesthetics when it comes to menswear. So, I decided to make some pieces for myself, and then some for friends. The work I did received a positive response, and that’s how I gained confidence and proof of concept to carry on and make a profession out of it. 

Who’s the Kunal Rawal man? Name someone from the industry who is a suitable fit?
The Kunal Rawal Man is someone who dresses according to their mood, whose fashion speaks volumes about their inner feelings, and uses what they wear as a means of communication. To them, fashion is a language and a true form of self-expression. The Kunal Rawal Man is also someone who is appreciative of smart design-work and functionality. All the young actors in the industry are the right examples; they enjoy what they wear, they’re creative when it comes to fashion, and use it as the powerful tool that it really is. Our thought processes and approaches to fashion are along the same lines as we have grown up in same India and that’s why I would say that they exemplify what the brand stands for.

Kunal Rawal – Bennie & Clyde collection

The Indian menswear space has been by far synonymous with occasional pieces. Are Indian men ready to embrace new silhouettes?
Oh absolutely. We have been putting out new silhouettes season after season and one of the fundamental pillars of the label is to create versatile individual garments and play around with them, mixing and matching to create unique shapes and silhouettes. We put out these silhouettes because we believe that the market is ready for them and is in fact looking for them.

Menswear has always been very restricted. However, now it’s become far more lucrative. It’s the classic chicken or egg case; if the market is ready, the industry puts out more stuff that’s fun and unconventional; and if the industry puts out unconventional stuff, the market will be more willing to experiment.

These days men have gotten more creative with what they wear and have started having fun with their fashion choices and are definitely experimenting more than ever.  

You’ve been at the forefront of developing and upcycling new textiles. Is Surface the future of fashion? Is fashion done with silhouettes?
It’s definitely a huge part of the future, but not the future itself. Fashion is a lot about the surface and there is a lot of innovation happening in the domain of fabrics and surfaces, whether through technology or handwork, or a combination of both. It’s the same when it comes to silhouettes, especially when you’re in a market that’s evolving as rapidly as India is. Whenever we put out something it’s a combination of what we as a label wish to convey along with the wearability or the end-goal of the garment; where it is going to be worn, at what kind of gatherings and by whom.

There has to be an evolution in the way people dress, whether it’s fabrics or silhouettes. The way we construct is completely different from 20 years ago. If you compare Shahid Kapoor’s wedding look with that of the most recent Bollywood actor who got married, you will see that significant change which shows that the aesthetic and fit has evolved. Every single detail: the cut, the lining, the head, is absolutely different.

Your recent collection is a mix of modern and traditional silhouettes and work. Tell us more about your new collection and vision behind it. Which piece is your favourite out of them?
Our new collection is for people who are on the move, people who are on the lookout for versatile looks and want to get more than just one look from what they buy.  While people today are looking for intricate detailing, they always want multiple ways to wear it and style it. They want to create more from that, especially in today’s age when everything is up for public consumption on social media sites, where things have to look beautiful but at the same time different from the rest. So, this collection has a lot to offer on that front, and a wonderful amalgamation of the modern and the traditional. We believe that our work is not bound or restricted in terms of utility and can be worn to a wide range of occasions, from modern luxury to deep-rooted tradition. Our collection is extremely fluid that can be worn in any scenario, across the board.

My favourite would have to be the Olive Deconstructed Sherwani, because it’s one of my favourite colours and getting to do occasionwear in that colour has been really exciting since the market has become more open to wearing military colours.

What makes a Kunal Rawal groomswear different from others?
A lot of factors I’d say. The construction, the texture, and of course, the complete look, which I would say is as important as the garment since we believe very deeply in the concept of customization. One of my favourite things about the work I do is catering to the finer details of the groom’s special day and playing a role in bringing their dream alive and being part of their vision. I really do love customizing; we incorporate the wedding date into the embroidery, we take special care to make sure that our groom is comfortable. Our jackets and kurtas come with a sweat-absorbent lining, our patterns are made so as to enable increased mobility, whether it’s a classic sherwani or a more modern deconstructed look- they are made to allow for comfort in movement and increased activity that is characteristic of weddings today.

We also toy around with the proportions and make the groom look the way he wants to, whether it’s broader or slimmer. We believe our aesthetic and cuts and hems are well-prepped to provide the most comfortable garment. We believe so much in customizing since the memories last longer than the event, and we want to make the whole look memorable and suited according to how the groom wants it. Post the function, on customer request we also repurpose the embroidery absolutely free of cost. A deconstructed sherwani can become a Bandi set with a new set of pants and a different kurta. The outfit becomes more apt for someone else’s wedding or for a special occasion.

What is that one current trend that we see today on the ramp, that has the potential of making it big among common, regular people in the future?
I think comfort is the biggest trend, especially given the pandemic and its impact. Comfort has become the number one fashion trend, across the globe, because of how everyone has become accustomed to wearing fabrics that are comfortable and breathable.

How has pandemic changed the wedding industry and the fashion trends?
I can say with certainty that there is a lot more thought and meaning that goes into every purchase, whether it is a design or knowing the piece that you’re wearing, the construction of it, whether it’s ethically made, or not.

Weddings are a lot smaller than before, so there’s more attention to detail and more emphasis on the finer aspects. People are looking for outfits that have higher repeatability; that is, they’re looking to get more than they give in terms of how they can wear the particular outfit and how versatile it is; for example, someone that can serve well both as modern luxury as well proper traditional wear.

What are the new approaches after the pandemic that you have undertaken for your brand?
We have understood the importance of having multiple plans to fall back on and formulating multiple approaches to a situation. That is definitely a major change that we’re incorporating. It’s important to have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. It is something people hear in their business meetings internally with your finance meetings. But it’s not given so much priority. But people will after the pandemic. My dad keeps telling me “what’s your doomsday plan?” And I used to look at him and think “who thinks like that? You have got to be optimistic; you have to think of growth.” But his words are loud and clear to me now.

The pandemic has definitely brought about a change in the way we apply our creative processes, and also in the way we reach out to and communicate with people. The market has changed, while people are looking for occasionwear they are also looking for versatility in those pieces, something that adapts to the diverse interactions we have in a day. That is an aspect that we have to adapt to. But you can expect a lot of new collections from our label this year, for sure.

How big of an impact has e-commerce or online shopping made in high fashion?
It has had a massive impact that is honestly astounding. We believe that our collection is not geographically bound, it’s an aesthetic-based connection. We feel like men don’t have the luxury of having multiple options when it comes to fashion choices, and that is something that we are trying to offer. Our label lends itself to a number of markets by providing an array of choices to pick from. It makes a lot more sense for us to open up to different markets especially since our label caters to a range of different occasions, and e-commerce has made that so much easier for us.

Ecommerce has solved the problem of distance, and people can just buy whatever they need online, and that includes high fashion as well. It has also been very helpful for offline sales, as the customers can do their research and enquiry online or via call and come to the actual store to make the final purchase. The distribution and retail have become an omnichannel instead of online and offline being two separate modes.

What is that one trend in men’s fashion that you don’t like, or don’t agree with?
Sheer, translucent clothes. Sheer does work, but only with layering. I’m not a big fan of bare torsos in public, or the netted banians from the 90s.

How do you think the industry as a whole is in dealing with this issue of sustainable and “eco-friendly” fashion?
When the market changes, everybody inadvertently has to follow suit. The customer has changed today and is asking the right questions; whether your material and packing is ethically sourced and produced if it’s upcycled, what is the wastage outflow, whether the pieces are made by hand or machine; I think these are very relevant questions and they have made the entire industry conscious of the ecosystem. We too are trying to make an effort towards being sustainable; we follow a zero-waste method of pattern cutting, our aesthetic is such that it makes it easier for us to upcycle, all our industrial washing is done in a way that ensures no water wastage. The conversation around sustainability has always been relevant and talked about in the industry but the pandemic has brought a lot more attention and fast-tracked the process.

Tell us something about your creative process. How do you come up with themes, motifs and images for your creations?
It always starts with a feeling or a mood. It depends on what we as a label want to put out there and what we think is the feeling and the voice of the label for the season. The inspiration then goes into mood boarding followed by the thought. The process varies from collection to collection, but it always starts with an emotion. This is followed by a lot of sampling and trial and error because I believe nothing truly beautiful comes out without a fair amount of trial and error. It’s a very organic process.

Where do you think men’s fashion in India is heading?
Men’s fashion in terms of creativity is moving in the right direction and is heading for a revolution. There is a lot more experimentation when it comes to surface textures, colours, and silhouettes. Young India is a lot more progressive than the youth of the strongest first world country, and that reflects in the direction that menswear is headed. There are no rigid mindsets, there is a clear aesthetic shift that breaks away from the traditional Indian mould which existed for so many years, and it has a lot to do with the way India is changing. I think that’s the reason why there is more fluidity, and norms aren’t really adhered to. Menswear is moving in a great direction in India. It is still the stepbrother of womenswear and certainly has a lot of catching up to do in terms of scale, but I think it is only a matter of time. In the world of gender neutrality and gender equality, I think menswear will catch up soon enough. 

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