Talk of any Bollywood wedding and you are bound to see a Kunal Rawal bandhgala on our celebrity grooms. Designer Kunal Rawal has become every groom's go-to designer for weddings or pre-wedding festivities. The designer has deconstructed the bandhgala and showed men that they too can have fun with their looks on their D-day. The 36-year-old has now come up with his new glow-in-the-dark bandhgala. The work and design done on the bandhgala glows and shines in dark or in radium light. In an interview with The Times Of India, the designer talks about his brand philosophy and what made him reinvent bandhgalas in the quirkiest possible way.
You have redefined the traditional bandhgala with your interesting cuts and techniques, what inspires you every time?
Bandhgala is such a strong Indian silhouette to me. One that has been modified so excitingly, globally. I love playing around with the bandhgalas – by deconstructing its silhouette, styling it in interesting ways to create new shapes and silhouettes for occasion-wear. We have also experimented with open bandhgalas with kurtas, cutaway bottoms, one with front plackets or back plackets. I don’t see bandhgalas as something geographically bound to India. I see it as an aesthetic product that can be worn by anybody and everybody and it totally follows the global trend of cross-cultural influences.
A big part of my inspiration is young India – the people who are wearing it, the lifestyle we lead in India today. The changing market, the changing environment when it comes to menswear especially is what drives me. See, fashion is very impulsive. It’s a bit more about a feeling and that feeling is driven by your environment, your lifestyle, where you live, the weather conditions, how you think, your moods, what you do – a lot of this comes together to make one’s aesthetic and I feel that forms a big part of my inspiration. To me, it’s very important to be you and cater to yourself. The only opinion that should matter is yours, so, for me, catering to such individualistic opinions is what inspires me. I always look forward to communicating unique stories via clothes – whether it is with surface textures, unique materials or functional designs. Fashion is supposed to be fun and I like to ensure that people who are wearing my clothes are having fun. Therefore, we focus on micro motifs so as to make pieces more versatile. This ensures that the wearer is able to wear it multiple times and is having fun styling it each time.”
What are the new styles that are trending in bandhgala this wedding season?
This wedding season is all about fun bandhgalas, especially from us. My suggestion is bandhgala is anyway such a versatile silhouette, make sure that the work on it, and the piece in itself a bit more versatile because you will be able to do a lot more with it. Newer styles like cut away bandhgalas, or styling open bandhgala jackets in newer ways, bandhgalas in unqiue fabrics – washedout bandhgalas in linen, for example is what we are doing this season. We are also playing and tweaking the construction of the bandhgala with lightweight linings and casual unlined pieces. We, at Kunal Rawal, are experimenting with the bandhgalas, for example, you know, for summer we are doing linen unlined bandhgala, I’m very kicked about the construction. It’s very easy to wear, it sits and falls closer to the body especially when it comes to the shoulders and the arms, it’s got a kurta cuff. To top it off, we offer 3 ways to wear it – you can wear the bandhgala as is with chinos or beach pants, you could wear it with a bandi on top, I think that makes for a very unique and contemporary traditional look. And you know when worn over a kurta and the cuffs both fold together, it makes for a beautiful mehendi day occasion-wear look or mehendi-engagement look.
Tell us about the shades which men usually pick for weddings and what shade would you recommend the groom to wear for his D-day?
I am a big sucker for neutrals and classics for the wedding day. Because you know that is the one function that you will have a lot of imagery from and you’d want it to be a little more timeless with the look. you don’t want to see it 30 years later and see like ‘oh, it was in the 2000s since this was a trend’. You know trendy garments are perfectly suited for all the other functions that come with the wedding, but the wedding according to me should be a little bit more classic and timeless. So, I would say go for more neutral tones like beige, ivory, cream, vanilla, champagnes, biscuit – I think these tones work very-very well for grooms and give it a bit more of a timeless look. And how often do boys get to wear an ivory sherwani with a safa or a cream sherwani with a safa, I think that with beautiful really rich tone on tone threadwork or tone on tone highlighting makes for a very beautiful modern and beautiful contemporary but uber traditional look for your wedding day. The colors absolutely have to match your style and something that is purely representative of you because you are going to be wearing it, you want to feel good, it is a very important day for you. So, factors like– your comfort, the look you like, the details, should be taken into account for your big day. Today, it’s a bit more about the understated style and understated luxury rather than maximalism. It’s about being the prince who does not want to show his baubles. That is the look I would suggest, however, whitish pastels also work very well for grooms and for evening weddings I would yet suggest neutrals because white for the night is a big trend but if you want to choose a darker color, I think shades of deep vermillion and deep wine is a very good color for evenings and darker tones to get married in. Also, blues – You know blue is not the new black but blue has always been the Indian black. So, that is something I absolutely recommend. But play with tones that suit you, suit your body type, suit your skin tone. Another big myth is that this color does not suit me and brown does not suit me, a lot of Indian men have a problem with brown but if you ask me, it’s about choosing the right tone of a color.
With fashion becoming more gender-fluid men are freer to experiment with newer cuts and silhouettes. Is brand Kunal Rawal also moving towards gender agnostic style?
I don’t know if we are moving towards that because we have always been there, always believed in gender fluidity and we have had that storytelling come through in all our shows right from the start whether it’s the casting we have – female models wearing our menswear or whether it is the versatility of how a piece could be styled in multiple ways and in each and every one of them – one way to wear it is an androgenous way to wear it and androgyny is not about only gender biases, it’s about wearing something that is not meant for you in the traditional sense. And it’s one of the pillars of the brand today because from the beginning I have always believed that why should you choose from only a small rack that has been given to you, that is one of the strongest pillars for me to start the label – was men didn’t ever have an option to choose from and men always had a rack of 5 pieces to choose from, in a sea of womenswear. Menswear is not only for men, menswear is something that is consumed by everybody globally and that’s what I’m trying to do here. We do a good number of androgyny pieces that are for our clients, and people know that any piece we make can be customized for a body type and the thickness of the fabric and the surface texture, and anything that we make can be customized to kids-wear, to androgyny.
It is definitely more visible today because the conversation is more visible today. It is something that I have had such a serious problem with for a while so it is good that it is happening now. Better late than never. Today, I feel fashion is a lot about – in the media you will see it a lot about representation and that’s totally cool because its still bringing attention to the correct points, the correct kind of storytelling that needs to be told. Specially in India, fashion was very boxed up. You know, and that as a creative person and as a designer also it was very-very restrictive and not exciting. And specially with menswear, there were so many boxes that it’s so refreshing and it’s so exciting to be a young designer in India today because again it is not only about representing all genders, gender types, we have been doing that for very-very long, it’s also about representing uniqueness, whether it’s having models of all different sort of looks, sizes, shapes, skin tones, heights. You know we’ve always had models that were 4feet10inches or 4feet11inches, 5’2”, because fashion is not only for a specific section, that is something I have very strongly believed in from the beginning. And can I tell you something? It also makes crazy business sense because people want to see how a garment will look on them. You know for me; I have been in different shapes and sizes in my working life and I would always want to see how a garment looks on a similar body type. So, it comes from a very strong belief and it also makes so much business sense so the entrepreneur in me does not also see why people are doing it. The reason why you don’t see a lot of designers doing it is because it’s definitely a lot more effort when it comes to casting when it comes to building your community but if you are a designer that is in it for the right reasons, I am sure you will start building your community from day 1.
Tell us about your new glow-in-the-dark bandhgala?
Glow in the dark is such an important concept for me because from the very beginning menswear was never seen as fun and especially when it comes to occasion-wear and indo-western wear for the lack of a better word. Again, talking about one of the other driving forces for me through starting this label and sort of pushing our storytelling through our menswear has been about men having fun and men being involved with what they wear. And glow-in-the-dark is another process in the journey for making menswear more exciting for the guys. This is the kind of product that I would want to wear – a bandhgala or a beautifully constructed formal garments like sherwani, with beautiful handwork done on them, perfect to wear for your own wedding, for a wedding in the family and then, it goes into a party at night where you have hidden messages and hidden designs coming through glow-in-the-dark, which shows only in darkness and radium light. So, it is something that you don’t ever see in the lighting that you usually would have but when enhanced with a radium light and in darkness for the after-parties, it is something that gives you a completely different outfit and it is something that can be perceived as something completely different so that’s the excitement for me. It is almost like getting two outfits at the price of one and it came to me as a thought during covid where a lot of the weddings were getting from a 5 event or 6 event celebrations to almost a 1-day celebration where people were celebrating at home, with home weddings, smaller and intimate wedding celebrations – celebrating with immediate friends and family and doing drinks and a party to celebrate right after the wedding. So, the requirement was 1 outfit but what you needed the outfit to do was more than just make you look good at your wedding so that is how it came by. This is a concept we have been playing with for over 2 years, you know where we play with the pigments and we dip our threads into it and do our hand embroidery with it or we mix it in our print bases and our print mixes and our kharis, to make sure we adjust the balance of certain elements shining out, certain elements not shining out and then embroidering on it. So I think it’s a very beautiful layered process and I am really-really enjoying this new aspect of design in young occasion-wear.
What's the plan ahead for brand Kunal Rawal?
The plan ahead, well, there is just so much to do! And with every season – doing more and being accepted more and more. And the menswear market changing the way it has, you know till 5 years back we weren’t commercial. Our aesthetic was very subdued for the big fat Indian wedding and that is completely changed and I’m so happy for that. With every season that goes by, we get more and more accepted, I feel there is more responsibility on the brand and the aesthetic because we strongly believe that our product is an aesthetic based product, it is not bound geographically so it empowers us to push the aesthetic a bit more and have more fun with it. That being said, we have not even scratched the surface of what we want to do when it comes to design, aesthetic, you know the moving direction of menswear in context to Indian design today, the arts and crafts that we want to use. I remember when I was much younger, I used to get the chart of traditional menswear from all the different regions and all the different states and parts of India where you will have a Punjabi couple, a Gujarati couple, a Marwari couple, a Sikh couple, a South Indian couple. All of them had such traditional and unique garments, I realized that very-very early on that this is what I want to do and where else will you have such rich inspiration. Even when I was in school, I remember I always wanted to take all these different silhouettes and work towards contemporizing it - make all these silhouettes wearable and relevant to the times we live in today. The traditional silhouettes are traditional because they have so much value, so much history from where they come, it represents a time, it represents a space. But I am a firm believer that this time India is going through also needs representation in Indian craft and Indian design and that aesthetic needs to be taken ahead to take the Indian design to the global world and to evolve Indian design in the next few decades and generations to come. Similarly, I don’t think we are even scratching the surface of the market we are reaching. We want to be available to all the people in our country, reach to all the south Asian communities, reaching out to people outside of the community and reaching the mainstream fashion world with this aesthetic. Reaching as many people as we can and trying to build our community and trying to find our community of people that connect and appreciate this aesthetic. I mean there is too much to do, right? I have wanted to extend my aesthetic to different product ranges in garment, in fashion, in apparel, getting into extending the brand aesthetic into space, extending brand into jewelry. There is so much that is on the cards, it is too exciting for me to pin-point and get into specifics but on the whole, taking what we have created so painstakingly over the last 15 years through the next 15 years. And of course, the global expansion is something we are majorly excited for in the coming years.