Quite contrary to the perception about high-headed people populating the glam business, fashion designer Raakesh Agarvwal is extremely grounded, humble and amiable. In no time, he has worked hard (he works 18 hours daily with no day offs!) to get his name in the list of Indian designers of repute. He adores his mentor Tarun Tahiliani and admires the work of Tom Ford and Elber Elbaz. He considers the Queen of Bizarre - Lady Gaga - as his design inspiration. Raakesh has come a long way in the fashion business and the fact that celebrities like Kareena Kapoor, Shruti Haasan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Chitrangda Singh, Sonakshi Sinha to name a few, have been wearing his “sexy glamorous” dresses, reasserts his achievements. During a candid conversation with Resham Sengar, the creative genius poured out details about his work life, the reality of fashion, what puts him off about the business, the people close to him and more.
Raakesh, what kept your clothing line away from the arc lights during the recently concluded Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2013 in New Delhi?
I was not well. The doctors had categorically told me not to take any extra work. In fact we had applied to be a part of the fashion week. We had given advance payment to the organisers for our stall but had to back out at the last minute.
Are you in favour of fashion weeks?
I am 100% in favour because without fashion weeks, there can’t be a designer. Fashion weeks get you the platform, they get you the PR. It is a stage where you get good business. It is another side of the same coin.
What does fashion mean to you?
Lifestyle, personality, fantasy
And what do you hate about the fashion world?
Fake attitude of the people who socialise here and also unprofessionalism.
What is a normal day in your life like?
I work from 8:30 am till past midnight. I read books on business expansion, do some research. Once in a fortnight, I go out and meet friends but generally 18 hours are reserved in my day for work.
How do you balance creativity with business?
I don’t have to balance it because it is already balanced in my head. I am a Marwari, so business is drilled in my head. I joined my family business when I was 14 years old and filed tax returns when I was 15. So I am trained. My family only talked about business at the dinner table. The creative part – I ran away from home, did NIFT, worked with Tarun. All that came into me. The two things automatically get balanced. I do respect designers like John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and the kind of things they make but their pieces are more like of museum. For me, if a piece does not sell, it means that I have not done my job. For me it is very, very important that my designs reach the markets and sell.
Where do you source the raw material from?
It can be from anywhere. It can be from Chandni Chowk. The last time, we got the material from Daryaganj. Last year, I made metal corsets for which the metal was sourced from somewhere else while the laser cut work was done at some other place. It all depends on my inspiration.
What was the first thing you made during your NIFT, Delhi days?
It was a module we were doing for which we were supposed to pick one international designer and make a product out of his sensibility. I created a bed side lamp inspired by Versace.
What does Raakesh Agarvwal’s designer label stand for?
For its sexy glamorous dresses.
Do you have to research before starting work on a new clothing line?
A lot, a lot! In the Autumn-Winter 2012 season, we did a research covering 2000 pages and shortlisted several things out of that. Art works, patterns – everything is researched by us. The research sources could be Style.com, Vogue.co.uk, and art nouveau. There was a lot of Lady Gaga inspiration in some of my previous collections and some of them were inspired from bar code and the Taj Mahal.
Who is your design muse?
Kylie Minogue and most importantly, Tom Ford - that’s the one and only name I remember.
What does designer Tarun Tahiliani mean to you?
Tarun means a lot to me – a father and teacher. He taught me a lot of things in life. I was completely raw when I joined him. I was 20 then and a dhak (dumb). He taught me how to design. He taught me how to shoot fashion projects, how to put together an advertisement and everything. Whatever I am today, a lot of credit goes to him as teacher.
How do you select models for your fashion shows?
When we do fashion shows, the models are provided by the fashion week organisers. So that’s not much in our hands. But given a choice, I would pick up models that are neither too skinny nor plump.
Which celebrity would you like to design for?
But why Lady Gaga? What do you like about her?
I like her madness! She is mad but she is glam and sexy. I would describe her in three words – sexy, glam and mad.
Since summers are approaching, any suggestions for men and women to look fresh and breathtaking any given day?
For women, I suggest buying a nice white lace/chiffon/cotton/silk fitted shirt, a pair of fitted blue jeans, killer stilettos, a slouchy dress (cue: Raakesh Agarvwal), a good watch and a nice perfume is a must have (cue: Calvin Klein – Euphoria). For men, I suggest buying a nice white shirt, blue jeans, sexy shoes, whiff of a nice perfume, a classic belt and a nice after shave.
In your perception, what are the main threats to the Indian fashion industry?
We don’t get enough support from the government. Even nowadays the fashion shows are considered as a mode of entertainment and we are supposed to pay an entertainment tax. Unpunctuality and unprofessionalism are other factors affecting the business because most of the embroiderers and craftsmen don’t understand the urgency to deliver a product within a certain deadline. Also, every locality has a ‘fashion designer’ these days. There is no regulation on that. If you want a dress designed by Raakesh Agarvwal, you can take it to a local tailor and get it stitched. This is a threat to our business. But you can’t do the same thing in the US or the UK because there is no tailor sitting in your backyard. Copying the dress demands the same price as buying the original designer piece. Therefore, people go and buy the real brand instead. If all this continues, I don’t know where we will be in the coming years.
Where do you find the most stylish women – Mumbai or Delhi?
I will rate Mumbai as the most stylish city while Delhi has a more fashionable crowd. Delhi women dress up in designer labels while Mumbai women are casual, chic, easy going and sexy.
Where do you hang out in Delhi in your free time?
At friends’ places or my office.