Raghavendra Rathore’s quiet RTW brand

Why RR Blue, the newest men’s label launched by the Rajasthani designer and backed by Reliance, decided to go low-key

Amid the many new fashion labels launched or announced in the recent past — with established designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Ritu Kumar, Anamika Khanna, Masaba, Shantanu and Nikhil Mehra, and others getting corporate backing — none has been as quiet, almost secretive, as designer Raghavendra Rathore’s new ready-to-wear brand, RR Blue. Backed by Reliance — Rathore’s brand received joint funding from Ermenegildo Zegna and Reliance in 2018 (one of the first in the country) — RR Blue is an accessible men’s label that’s aimed at bringing the Rathore aesthetic to a wider audience. But that’s where the similarities between it and, say, a brand like Tarun Tahiliani’s newly-launched Tasva, end.

A full six months after it started retailing online, I chanced upon its Instagram handle by sheer coincidence. At first, I thought it was a lookalike brand, a copy. But when I found it retailing on Rathore’s own website, I reached out to the designer. “The blueprint for RR Blue came into being almost four years ago when Reliance came into the picture,” he said over the phone from a jungle retreat. “We were waiting for the right time… and seeing the rise of online retail over the course of the pandemic, it seemed like the ideal moment to test the waters.” The Rajasthani designer, known for his bespoke bandhgalas and jodhpurs, is quick to point out that he did not want a big launch.

Trying a new strategy

According to Rathore, the RR Blue brand is aesthetically an extension of his bespoke fashion label, and a big launch would lead to overlaps in design that could possibly muddy the waters. This is a new sentiment to encounter in a rapidly expanding market space where established designers are almost too ready to capitalise on their style signatures. And why shouldn’t they? Designs from labels like SN by Shantanu and Nikhil and Tasva by Tarun Tahiliani are, if anything, an entry point into a design universe for a new, and arguably larger, segment of shoppers who may not have the pockets for couture, but have the taste and desire for well-designed RTW from the same venerated houses.

Not so for Rathore. “We wanted to avoid overlapping the looks, silhouettes, and storyboards that we build for our premium brand,” he said, and added that he sees the RR Blue brand as providing everyday fashion for those who already wear Rathore. The collections so far feature cotton, silk, and blended fabrics, and are not marketed on their textiles particularly. The prints, developed in-house, are patterned and easy to pair with a variety of separates and lowers. “It’s more about giving Rathore wearers their staples so their existing wardrobe can get regular updates. This is why we aren’t looking at doing hyper-seasonal collections. We’re concentrating on smaller drops of easier shirts, kurtas, and pants…we’re doing prints and including simpler cuts so that the clothes can fit in with bespoke Rathore pieces.”

And when online gets loud?

Being retailed exclusively online, though, this reasoning may seem counter-productive. After all, online availability opens the brand up to all shoppers, and many may not have bespoke Rathore designs to begin with. And by Rathore’s own account, even without the blowout of a full-scale fashion launch, the response to RR Blue’s online retail has seen unexpected growth within these few months. “It’s been a very pleasant surprise,” he said. With kurtas beginning at ₹5,999 and the more design-forward achkans going up to ₹59,999, this isn’t news. But the very presence of the brand online would — should — hint at an aspiration for larger retail numbers. It’s something that the Reliance behemoth could easily step into in terms of production, just like the Aditya Birla group does for SN by Shantanu and Nikhil as well as TT’s Tasva.

RR Blue though, differs in this aspect. Rathore’s own studio and production facilities — owned or contracted — take on the onus of production and supply. And keeping his control on production brings Rathore a number of benefits as well. As does not having any plan to open physical stores yet. Smaller production quantities are easier to manage, while also allowing his design team to introduce newer styles more frequently. It gives the designers and merchandisers the time, and with it, the data, to understand their market and what works for it. The online retail format itself requires a smaller investment than opening multiple stores, and pares down the necessity for ready stock that could pose a risk.

What would be truly interesting to see, though, would be how Rathore and Reliance engage with RR Blue’s growth trajectory. In lay terms, deliberately and slowly is not how Reliance usually does things. I am eager to see whether this cautious approach, unique right now for RR Blue being the only corporate-backed brand that’s practising it, leads to building a label that’s both exclusive in its designs and accessible in its price points… without evolving the business plan to include more points of sale.

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