P is for Pratap

Even though many favourites in the roster of Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week are missing (Rohit Bal, Varun Bahl, Manish Arora, Malini Ramani), the organisers have scored a ton with inviting Rajesh Pratap Singh as their finale designer.

Pratap (as the world knows him) or Raju (as his friends call him) is arguably the finest clothes-maker on Indian soils. His reach is both iconic and yet understated. He is adored by fashion worshippers and also by anonymous Indians — ordinary folk leading ordinary lives who have no idea about who or what is in style, but just an innate sense of quality and good taste.

These are few of many contradictions surrounding Pratap. He is a recluse but his friends swear by his mad wit and quicksilver tongue. He is intrinsically a family man — his wife and her sister work with him and his kids accompany him to his factories — but his obsession with darkness, morbidity and death make him quite the dark knight. (His prêt line is called RIP, he once made a collection inspired by the crematory ghats of Benares and another where skulls were so finely embroidered, you would swear they were printed on).

He is probably the most non-commercial designer around (I asked him once and he honestly said he didn't have the talent to make lehengas, or was that his tongue sticking out of his cheek?), but he's built his factories promoting the pin-tuck, his signature. His fashion shows are always eclectic and inspirin — last season he had artists, designers and musicians Subodh Gupta, Chintan Upadhay, Manish Arora, Gaurav Gupta and Karsh Kale instead of beefcake models walking for him. In Paris, where they think he's the best thing out of India after zero, he first showed at a whitewashed warehouse in Marais that is the favourite location for designer Helmut Lang too.

A Pratap garment stands out because of its simplicity, and a touch of kookiness that's so small you need a crooked eye to notice. In many ways, the Pratap label is like Prad — it's too cool to be in fashion, it's above and beyond the caprices of style.

Rajesh Pratap Singh understood it very early on that the toughest thing in the world is to keep it simple. Top that with his annoying shyness and you have here a recipe for professional hara-kiri. (It is well known he doesn't come on stage to take a bow, if a journalist wants to his picture he has to beg his way backstage. Pratap's temper is similar to Maison

Martin Margiela's, the famous and avant-garde Belgian designer who doesn't stick a label on to his clothes but has numbers instead, and has never been photographed or interviewed.)

And yet, I still have to meet one person who claims to be a detractor of his work. He has the respect of each person in the fashion industry, whether they have worked with him or not, is a friend or a nodding acquaintance.

A fashion zine's editor says his clothes speak volumes in their silence and his tailoring is so elegant, it respects the craft. A close pal and colleague of his says his clothes are as pure and refined as his mind is. And another acquaintance and celebrated designer says he is inspired by the man.

So yes, he is the fashion world's Sachin, Shah Rukh and Superman. And right now, I'm begging for a front-row seat. (namratanow@gmail.com)

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