Kunal Rawal on his latest collection ‘Bennie and Clyde’, and how he envisions the fashion industry post-pandemic
There is a quick suffix that follows menswear designer Kunal Rawal’s name every time he is mentioned- “redefining Indian menswear”. And it is for the right reasons. His functional, non-conformist, and pared-down approach to Indian traditional menswear has been pivotal in making Indian occasion wear global. With his latest collection Bennie and Clyde, inspired by the popular American criminal couple Bonnie and Clyde, the designer has taken the notch even higher by incorporating the brand’s signature philosophies of comfort and functionality while deftly channelizing his observation of market changes during the pandemic. Following are excerpts from my conversation with him about the collection, shifts in the fashion industry, and what 2021 has in store for the brand.
- Can you tell us what made you turn to Bonnie and Clyde for inspiration for this collection?
It’s more of a slang sort of an inspiration because it’s a collection for people on the move, people who are looking for versatile pieces and who are continuously hustling, that’s where the connection to Bonnie and Clyde came. The collection features pieces that could cater to that sort of lifestyle. So it connects to the attributes of people on the move and who get a bunch done through the day.
- How have you channelized its essence in the collection?
What I’d like to believe we have done with these pieces is that there’s a whole lot of versatility in the looks we have put out. There are a whole bunch of separates that you can play around with and use to create beautiful shapes, silhouettes and looks. So even if you see the all-ivory looks which are meant to be a bit more one-piece only and things like that. So it’s pretty interesting to have this take on all sorts of occasion wear.
- Your collections are known to be heavy on the details and karigari. What have you incorporated in this collection?
You’ll see more of the same and a whole bunch of more additions. We have bombed up a bit more to metallic highlights, you’ll see our love for geometrics and fun combinations that I myself didn’t think I’d buy into because this is the first time we’re putting out lemon as pastel, and we’ve played with some geometric uptakes with olive and lemon. You’ll see a lot of tone on tone thread work and knotwork, and tone on tone thread work specifically which is the most important factor when it comes to versatility. My wardrobe is full of pieces that are not super junk but very beautifully and intricately detailed that you could play around a lot more with, something you wear a couple of days back and in the Instagram generation, doesn’t come across as a repeat.
- Occasionwear has been pushed at the back of our closets, thanks to the pandemic. Was there any hesitancy while designing this collection during such a climate?
Actually, no. Because I believe the clothes we make are more aesthetic based. They are not bound by geography and region, and I like to believe that it covers the gamut. The clothes we make cater to occasions as diverse as modern luxury when it comes to maybe red carpets, business meetings, dinner dates, at the same time serving as traditional wear. You could break it up and dress the way you like and honestly, dress the way I do.
- Would you say the pandemic has brought about any change in your creative process?
I wouldn’t say it’s brought a change in the creative process but most definitely in the application of it, in the whole process that we go through to make a thought into a garment; a lot of that definitely has changed because we are catering to a different market, we are catering to a new world, a post-pandemic world. There definitely are a whole bunch of changes in the way we reach and communicate today with people. It is different than what it used to be since the market has changed. You have people who are still looking for occasion wear but also looking at ways to wear it for different sorts of outings and that’s something we have to incorporate. We are no exception to the rule. We are going through this exact same thing ourselves and are all looking for pieces that travel with us. In the morning when things keep popping up, you want something that you can be equipped with for three different interactions you have planned for the day.
- How is 2021 looking for the brand, and what are you looking forward to?
2021 looks very exciting. 2020 has been quite the dud. So looking forward to living in this no pandemic, no lockdown world. I think that has a lot to do with people’s emotions, and how everyone is feeling. Even though we are slowly getting out and going about, it’s always a bit of a bummer at the back of our mind, with the amount of stuff that has been going down. I keep saying it’s such an advantage being a creative because you could channel all your emotions, whether it is positive or negative, into creating something beautiful. The pandemic was no different; we’ve all lived life 360 degrees. So a lot of that going into 2021. You’ll see a lot more because we got a lot more time. When I was younger, I’ve always wanted to take some time off, put a collection together, move to Goa for a month, that wishful thinking kind of life. But what happens in real life is that in a day at work, you get to put in a few hours in design and creativity, and then you get pulled into multiple different conversations, meetings. This is something we didn’t have, we had the luxury of time during the pandemic. It allowed us to take a bird’s eye view of your life and rewiring bits and pieces of it.
So you’ll hopefully see that come through a bit clearer in our aesthetic because we usually like to do a lot. We like doing massive collections of 100-120 pieces. But I don’t think that’s going to be happening anymore. I think the new year is going to be about shorter and more frequent capsules. Our entry-level price points have gone lower, you will see an addition of four new product lines from us this season. We have started our e-comm. It takes its time but it’s such a beautiful way to reach different markets. You know, I was telling you how I feel that the brand is more aesthetic-based, it is not just traditional wear or bound geographically. I think it’s something that has a market globally. It has become so much easier due to e-comm to reach new markets and new people globally who are aligned to our aesthetic. So there’s a whole lot of stuff coming through the year, but keeping it slow and steady and not jumping the gun.
Another thing that’s important is having 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.
- You’ve seen the industry go through many changes. What were your observations of the same during the pandemic?
I think you end up seeing a lot more post the lockdown because thoughts are becoming actions now. There’s a lot more value. When the designers and creators want to change something, it’s never a barrage. It’s not everybody moving together. But when the market changes, everybody has to follow suit. Because that’s where your customer is, that’s where you are going to be selling. So that’s what is happening during the pandemic. Everybody is pivoting to cater to this guy. This guy today is now far more conscious of what they are buying, I think there is a lot more thought into every purchase. I think it’s absolutely amazing. There is a lot of conversation happening in fashion in the last few years, completely in the right direction, but it all just gained speed during the pandemic. Talking about me and our label, there were some pillars for us, reasons why I started out the label, and a couple of those pillars have gotten so much more prominent during this time. Comfort and functionality have been a big part of our design because that’s what I was looking at as a wearer or a customer. I believe that’s where menswear will move, especially occasion wear because, for long, guys weren’t very involved. People were involved with western wear and their international labels. But when it comes to traditional wear and Indian silhouettes, people used to shy away due to lack of interest or perhaps, lack of knowledge. But I think we can pique people’s interest in Indian wear through comfort which I think will be a huge trend going forward. We’ve all become used to wearing comfortable fabrics and silhouettes.
- How do you think the Indian market has changed during the last few months?
I think the market is now looking at pieces that are beautiful, handmade, made ethically but at the same time, since everyone wants value out of their money, you want a piece that you can multitask with and create more out of. That’s another aspect that everybody is focusing on and I see now everybody catering to this market will also be focusing on.