The new Ravi Bajaj

At 43, India’s coolest menswear designer is reinventing himself and his work. What’s making this pioneering Indian designer change his stripes after 20 years? We ask the man himself.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay        Print Edition: June 29, 2008

Ravi Bajaj hates being predictable. He also hates being less than fantastic. That explains why, when most other Indian designers pander to what the market wants, this man walks his own course— making the finest suits, shirts and trousers for the best-dressed Indians. But now, Ravi Bajaj is changing.

 
Ravi Bajaj
Indians need to lighten up and dress smart without being loud: Ravi Bajaj
“I am bored,” he says, as we catch up with him on a hot May afternoon in Delhi. “I just can’t bring myself to do just the same stuff any more. The problem is, in India there is no such thing as a trend as far as men are concerned. Indians do not change their fashion for years, let alone every season. I know many stylish men who travel to Paris and Milan every month but who have never changed their glasses, shaved their moustache or even tried to experiment with footwear. I think it’s time to transform things and I’m going to try and do just that,” he says matter of factly, sitting at the cafeteria he started on the rooftop of his four-storied showroom in New Delhi’s plush GK-1 N Block market.

The “change” is already showing in the choice of clothes he sports. Known to be a conservative dresser, Bajaj appears for our photo shoot clad in a green suit, green shirt, a pair of white trousers, green socks and white shoes. “This is just an indication of what I plan to do. Indians need to lighten up and dress smart without being loud,” he says.

It’s 7 in the evening and we are at his home in Greater Kailash. Bajaj opens a bottle of 1999 Sauvignon Blanc and changes into a white shirt, a smart pair of white trousers and red shoes. Red shoes? “Yeah. What’s wrong with it? Trust me, in a few years time, we will be going to office wearing red shoes. It will take time, but it will happen,” he says.

At Work: Bajaj explains his bold new concepts
Bajaj explains his concepts
Orange pants as well? “Well, not quite that crazy. I’m all for being bold but not completely wild,” he laughs, something rare for this guy who seldom flashes his pearly whites. “I hate my teeth unless I am several champagnes down,” he reveals. So, how did the son of a man who, according to Bajaj, sells “nuts and bolts” for a living, come to design clothes? “I always wanted to be a designer, for as long as I can remember,” he says. Even at 14, as a Class IX student, he remembers buying linen for Rs 14 a metre from a local trader, sketching a design and telling his darzi exactly how to stitch the shirt. “I used to hit the party scene wearing my own creations. Shiny linens were big those days and went well with the disco scene,” he remembers.

At 19, he realised that making clothes was all he wanted to do. He enrolled at the American College of Applied Arts in London, “mainly because there were not too many fashion designing courses in India back in 1985”.

Espresso Time: Bajaj at his cafe in GK-1
Bajaj at his cafe in GK-1
Returning to India in 1987, the young Bajaj, unsure of where to start, nervously walked into a cloth merchant’s shop at Delhi’s Chandni Chowk to source materials. “I bought some silk. When the man asked the name of the firm buying the clothes, I was caught unawares.

I didn’t have a business to begin with! So, I just said ‘Ravi Bajaj Company’. The name has stuck ever since.” In many ways, Bajaj admits that being the “first off the block” made life easier.

 
 “Trust me, in a few years time, we will be going to office wearing red shoes. It will take time, but it will happen”
“When I opened, the only readymade stuff you could buy were CD and Zodiac. I found myself this corner plot in GK-I, bought the darkest carpets I could find and managed to source two old air-conditioners— all for Rs 50,000. I had it relatively easy since there weren’t many designers around. I remember my entire first collection was from one variety of silk, though I did manage to get hold of a few different colours,” he smiles.

Ravi Bajaj doesn’t need to tell merchants who he is any longer, nor does he depend on “one variety of silk” to create a new line. Today, he is probably the biggest name in men’s formal wear in India, along with the likes of Arjun Khanna and Tarun Tahiliani. His suits are almost legendary for their perfect cuts—tailored in the finest Italian tradition.

“Ravi was the first designer I ever went to, in 2001. I loved the way his suits fitted me and the care he took,” recalls Ashwin Deo, MD of Moet Hennessy and a regular client. “His cuts are brilliant and the inside linings are so well done,” agrees Amit Burman, VC of Dabur and another longtime Bajaj fan.

What would they do if Bajaj keeps his tryst with destiny and redefines men’s formal wear with bolder suits in red stripes or floral pink formal shirts? “I am looking forward to the change. If Ravi is doing something, it has to be great,” says Burman. Deo laughs, adding: “I’m a conservative dresser. But I’m game for bold colours. And yes, I do own a pair of red shoes.”

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