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Kunal Rawal and wife Arpita Mehta, both acclaimed designers in their own right Image Credit: Supplied

Kunal Rawal has been known to create spectacular magic every time he launches a new collection. But at the recent India Couture Week 2023, he pushed up the style factor by several notches when he had none other than Bollywood heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor as the showstopper.

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Bollywood star Shahid Kapoor tied the knot in a Kunal sherwani

Titled Dhup Chao and reflecting the essence of Punjab what with bold, bright motifs in his silhouettes, Kunal reimagined shapes and textures to create styles unlike anything before.

In the designer’s words, he took ‘inspiration from our past while deep diving into the future of fashion’.

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Now, with the festive season upon us, Kunal’s festive collection is also going to take fashion lovers on a similar journey.

‘A big highlight of the festive collection was being able to dress our muse, Ranbir Kapoor for the Dhup Chao show,’ says Kunal in an exclusive interview with Friday.

‘Making him wear a lungi pant, and watching him push the trend so effortlessly was truly amazing, and inspiring. Menswear is supposed to be effortless, and easy. It does not need to be wrapped up neatly in a bow. It should be a means to express who you are and what you love. I think that is the USP of our festive collection: the way it embraces its wearer for any kind of mood or celebration.’

For Kunal, who has dressed the likes of Anil Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, Siddharth Malhotra, and Varun Dhawan, among others, the young Indian man is a big inspiration for this festive collection. ‘His needs, personality and preferences anchors all of our looks.’

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Kunal and Arpita

Kunal’s festive collection is also clearly inspired by the sights, sounds and scents of India. ‘Our festive collection reflects an endless sartorial journey through time, terrain and texture, inspired by the infinite expressions of India,’ says Kunal who believes Diwali is a time for nostalgia, tradition and indulgence. ‘Whether we are in the by lanes of Bombay or the markets of Delhi, the havelis of Punjab, the beaches of Goa, or attending our cultural celebrations around the world, there are sounds, flavours, textures, architecture, and personalities shining through at every corner that have serves as inspiration for this collection.’

Constantly pushing the boundaries of men’s fashion further with new silhouettes, textures, colours, embroideries and concepts, Kunal says he also saw the potential of brocade for menswear, not to mention adding layers of drape, and exploring new perspectives on hemlines.

‘Classic elements and silhouettes are reinterpreted in contemporary ways. Androgyny is approached from a fresh point of view,’ he says. ‘Importance is given to the concept of multi-functionality for the modern man. Intricate work done by hand is celebrated. The ideas are unconventional, yet relatable. They are steeped in tradition, yet resonate with the spirit of today.’

Is there a challenge integrating ethnic fashion with western design for the younger audience?

No, says Kunal, who has also designed the jerseys for IPL teams like Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore.

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‘I don’t see this as a challenge that Indian designers face– it usually depends on what your label’s voice is. For 15 years our voice has been about embracing a contemporary outlook on festive occasion wear. We didn’t diverge from our authentic beliefs and vision, and when we see other designers adapting to this aesthetic, and seeing how even womenswear designers are foraying into menswear, it makes us proud that we have been on this consistent journey for so long. So as long as you are authentic, and true to your aesthetic, I don’t think this is a challenge.’

Kunal believes his label is able to stay on top of the game ‘by staying excited and catering to the many personalities within our country’.

Calling themselves an extremely inclusive label, he underscores the fact that he celebrates diversity, different cultures and gets inspired by cross-cultural influences to craft festive menswear that resonates with Indian men all over the world.

Signature black bundi: A versatile piece for a casual get together or an evening dinner or event. Can be paired with a shirt or kurta, depending on how traditional or modern you want to dress. Wear it over denim or pair it with pants for a formal traditional look.
The linen bandhgala: A must for the festive season. I love it equally when worn as a full traditional set as well as when it is paired inside a bundi or casually layered over a vest or ganji. A great mehendi look when you wear it open over a kurta.
Ivory slim breech pants: Can be paired with different colours, and becomes a festive essential especially when you’re travelling for a destination wedding.
Pastel kurta shirt: Wear it under a bundi, jacket or over shirt.
Colours! I love black. But Diwali gives me an excuse to step out of my comfort zone and inject colour into my festive outfits.

‘It’s all about who, what, where, when and how men want to express their style every season. Even though menswear is a specialised corner of fashion, today it is expanding in ways that it never has before. The potential is enormous, and the possibilities endless,’ says Kunal, who has also collaborated with Salman Khan’s clothing brand ‘Being Human’ for their exclusive collection of garments.

How does he include the trends of slow fashion in his business model?

‘Almost all of our fabrics are made, developed, tweaked, treated or washed exclusively for us,’ he says. ‘So slow fashion has always been at the crux of our business. We are continuously looking for ways to innovate and be even more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.’

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Kunal Rawal has designed for several Bollywood celebs including Varun Dhawan
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So how is he planning to celebrate Diwali?

‘Diwali is a time full of nostalgia, tradition and indulgence. Whether that’s the feasts we enjoy together or the clothes we wear to make beautiful memories, the card parties we attend or the weddings we dance at– Diwali is a time of celebration, light, love and gratitude,’ says Kunal.

Then of course, there is the added element of style that goes with the festive celebrations.

‘Another aspect I love about the festive season is how I get to help my friends and family curate fun festive looks– something I do on the daily as a job– I get to do on a personal level for my loved ones, and it brings me so much joy.’

Function-forward mindsets: Functionality is the true sign of luxury. Menswear is more than just a visual attraction. It should boast comfort, innovative use and versatility, ensuring that the life of a garment transcends time, occasion and dress codes. One example is our deconstructed sherwanis.
Shorter the hem, the cooler: This silhouette is a festive essential in every man’s wardrobe. So whether it’s a kurta or jacket, I feel men will not opt for anything that falls below the knee. This also gives rise to the opportunity for men to really focus on the entire head-to-toe look, swapping the traditional churidar for a more versatile bottom — whether it is a pant or lungi-style pant.
Tone-on-tone thread work and textures: Perfect festive occasion wear for men. It exudes elegance and adds layers of luxury to the look.
Layers like second skin: When you have so many celebrations to attend — from Diwali card parties to a menu of wedding functions, pujas and more — layering gives you the opportunity to multitask with your wardrobe in a smart and stylish way.
Less is much more: Men don’t need to add [accessories] to a piece to make it stand out. The trend is to keep it clean and simple yet impactful with just the smart assembly of a look. We always try to suggest how to wear a single garment in 4 to 5 different ways. That trumps any extra accessories and comes across as much more authentic.