Most people know Raghavendra Rathore as the flag-bearer of Indian royalty and classic fashion, who single-handedly put the bandhgala on the fashion map of the world. And while his quintessential good looks and disarmingly gentle demeanour make him immensely popular, the most striking thing about Raghu, as he is fondly called, is his ability to think on multiple levels.
One thought that has always consumed him is the idea of creating future creative capital for the country—and his unshakeable belief that design capability will fuel the India of tomorrow. Starting a design school seemed like a natural extension of this thought process.
Hallway of the school
There were two major influences that helped shape this idea. The first was his father, who instilled in him a need to give back to society. “Being a member of the legislative assembly, my father’s time was mostly spent in the villages around Jodhpur. His true passion was to uplift the underprivileged, and the underlying takeaway was to give without counting,” he says. The second was his father’s friend, the businessman Robert Valtz, an elderly gentleman who had impeccable taste and a large heart. Valtz proved to be a generous mentor and guide to the young Raghu as he pursued design education at Parsons, New York. An indebted Raghu promised Valtz to share his passion for design, and help others garner quality education in the future. Gurukul School of Design (GSD) is a befitting tribute to the values that these two pillars in his life stood for.
An installation dedicated to sustainable fashion
“The world should look to India to source the best in design talent—GSD is committed to nurturing the design leaders of the future. Our students first need to unlearn whatever their peers or the superficiality of modern living has taught them, and then be open to relearning through the lens of innocence and sheer creativity.” He adds: “It will be a differentiated and dynamic pedagogy, which, over a period of four years, will provide a comprehensive perspective called ‘Design 360’. It involves understanding the creation of products and learning the nuances of business, from an entrepreneur’s perspective.
A student practising garment construction
A motif being created from wire
”The curriculum at GSD combines courses on textile, fashion and communication, with an emphasis on management and the business of fashion. This opens up career prospects beyond just fashion design; styling, fashion entrepreneurship, product design, film-making, visual arts and even fashion journalism all become accessible to students. “The key to the success of the programme lies in its personalisation of instruction—GSD is committed to keeping the size of each class small,” he says.
A student sketches a design for an outfit
Raghu seems to have evolved an interesting model—all graduating students will be offered an opportunity to intern with his company and work on real-time projects, which they will nurture and lead. The school, which is well into its first year of operation and gearing up for its second round of student admissions, is gaining a momentum of its own. Its recent partnership with Tarang Arora (of Amrapali Jewels, which has invested in the school) promises to be a coming together of not only two legendary design houses, but also that of a shared vision. “Raghu and I are bound together by our rich heritage. We understand the aesthetic potential of the land, and want to bring the world to India,” he says.
A student sketches an illustration based on Roman mythology
GSD’s evolving campus is a study in simplicity. Located on the outskirts of Jaipur, its unassuming architecture is complemented by thoughtful features such as high ceilings and large doorways. And the Rathore stamp of style comes alive through elements such as concealed mood lighting and multifunctional room layouts. While much is said about Raghu and his very fine eye—which he attributes to his upbringing at Jodhpur’s Ajit Bhawan Palace—it would be incomplete without mention of his wife Kavita, the force who provides wings to his vision. Together, they have built the Raghavendra Rathore brand into one of the most coveted menswear luxury brands in Asia, on the twin platforms of rich tradition and craft. And with the recent prestigious investment by Ermenegildo Zegna and Reliance Brands, it is poised to become a global player in the bespoke and luxury segment.
For now, business expansion is imminent, the school has begun to gain momentum, and the Raghavendra Rathore Foundation set up in 2015 is spreading its work…and yet, Raghu’s mind is already exploring new frontiers. As he provides finishing touches to a large canvas at his farmhouse studio just outside of Jodhpur, he talks about his next dream: the Bandhgala Hotel, an exclusive property that will bring together inimitable Indian hospitality and the immense depth of Indian craft and design.
I marvel at his dreams, for they are fantastical flights into the future, powered by a purity of purpose and a deep-seated passion for his roots.
Featured photograph: Bikramjit Bose