The Pratap Factor

The Pratap Factor

On Thursday the 23rd August, the main show area at the ongoing Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) at St Regis in Mumbai saw a turnout that represented almost all cliques, tribes and territories of the Indian fashion industry. It was the last show of the Sustainable Fashion Day by Rajesh Pratap Singh, an extension of his second collaboration with Tencel titled “Welcome to the Jungle.” More than 30 captains of the Indian retail industry had been invited as special guests, there was a strong media representation, people from the world of design, textiles and many others from the Mumbai cognoscenti came wearing curiosity instead of look-at-me couture.

A star designer is known by the crowd he pulls. A star designer is known for the promises he makes and keeps. A star designer is known by the mood that the audience leaves a show with. There is of course a stricter economic interpretation. A star designer is known by the collaborations he attracts from across all over the world. Collaborations, that must eventually make business sense, wearable sense, archival sense for the home country.

“Welcome to the Jungle” made the forest greener on all these points but that’s hardly the point.

So let’s unspool the story in the way Pratap works on his collections.


The Enchanted Forest

The show started with a procession of white ensembles. The set had a central screen that split the stage and so the audience into two halves. Images on it expanded and shrunk Pratap’s interpretations of designs by British textile designer, poet and social activist William Morris associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. So if a Morris print is essentially about foliage and fantastical wilderness, Pratap had infused “jungle” creatures into it. As the screen roared with life and colour, you could see serpents, owls, monkeys, birds and tigers inflate Morris’s patterns.

First came Hindi cinema actor Rajkumar Rao, dressed in Pratap whites, quite befittingly. An artist first, star later, a man known for content instead of sho-sha. Quite like Pratap. Then models walked out in Pratap’s signature whites except that every outfit for the next many outfits was created from multiple explorations of Tencel which had been woven with Banarasi brocade, Chanderi, Jamdaani and Ikat. There were plain cottons, linens, velvets, tissue, diaphanous Chanderis, even crepes. Weaving and designing had been done from Pratap’s own looms at Neemrana in Haryana to block printing in Jaipur and tie dye work to infuse Tencel mixed yarn with leheriya. Every white had slim red selvedge. Every white was inspired from a jungle of ideas that had been given a wild run in Pratap’s head—costumes of Indian classical dances, biker sleeves, pin tucks, biker jackets, hoodie jackets, deconstructed pants, churidar-salwar mixes, flowing tunics, kediyas, poshaks and Angarkhas from Pratap’s beloved Rajasthan.

Artist duo Hari and Sukhmani who fuse folk music from Punjab with electronica electrified the show with their renditions as the collection progressed. From the transparent whites, Pratap’s show moved to subtle gold before opaques created by experiments with the Morris fantasyland of prints.

The multi-layered invention and imagination of weaving and creating one idea through half a dozen weaving clusters was also used for the Morris inspired part of the show. Jacquards, brocades, tonal prints, hand-painted shoes with animal motifs, hand-crafted buttons with semi-precious stones kept stretching the elastic imagination of the designer through this collection. There was only one sari in the show. A white and gold.


Mood board of tThe Enchanted Forest collection

The Tencel Collaboration

Tencel, the Lenzing company’s flagship fibre is the world’s most sustainable yarn in the world. In an era when green is the new black, Tencel is a highly valued fibre.

“Once Lenzing approached me for a two season collaboration, I sat down to think what else could I do with the yarn and what could give back to them that is worthwhile,” said a visibly charged, if mildly frenzied Pratap at his manufacturing unit in Faridabad last week. He appeared keyed up and enthusiastic, with adrenaline darting wildly to his eyes making them shine.

Dressed in Indigo-coloured cotton trousers and a handloom shirt, Pratap argued for the smartness, relevance, use and comfort of technical textiles saying the Tencel story needn’t just be about handlooms as it could lend itself equally to hi-tech fabrics. Asserting that “handloom was not holier than thou”, he was persuasive about experimentation than ideology. The man has never been an aimless raconteur, so he clearly means what he says.


The making of the collection

Pintucks of Indian Fashion and Pratap

Rajesh Pratap Singh, 49, who has had his fair share of low times both in fashion business and as an artist challenged by the disillusionments that blanch every designer in the country, has been reinventing himself in ways that perhaps are not even clear to him. He is currently on an inspired, highly ebullient streak. He is opening up both metaphorically and literally as a designer-artist. While almost all his work across his career of 20 years has been seriously noticed, highly regarded and appreciated. Labels like minimalist, master of pintucks, the maker of androgynous white shirts, a textile talent and a humble, almost self-deprecating person thrust on him, Pratap, dear reader is today an artist whose arc of work helps us understand where the Indian fashion industry stands in terms of experimentation and newness. Not revival.



Pratap has never been a revivalist, the space that has trapped and attracted many of his peers, senior and juniors. He has instead always been an original creator, a modernist in the true sense of the word.

I must admit despite my self-prescribed caution to not get carried away as a fashion journalist, I felt overwhelmed as he explained the depth and width of Welcome to the Jungle collection to me. There was genuine excitement in his eyes and a lightness in his body language. The sheer versatility of this collection—multiple silhouettes, the use of multiple weaving clusters, multiple inspirations, from the costumes of a Bharatanatyam dancer to William Morris prints, from churidar sleeves to biker jackets, from Banarasi jacquard to soft Chanderi, from crepe to velvet and the way they had been mixed, remixed and recalibrated with the Tencel collaboration in mind—opens a new-ish conversation in Indian fashion.

As a collection idea, this one also lends itself to product development feasibility in home décor, interior design and accessories beyond the hand-painted shoes that are currently a part of it. So let’s wait and watch. And as Pratap’s business head Sapna Mehra says, “everything is copyrighted. You copy anything, I will meet you in court.”

Incidentally, the word Pratap loosely translates to “majesty” in Hindi. Influence perhaps would be a closer call? What do you think?