Fashioning gender neutral clothes

Wajahat Rather is a beautiful young man. He reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s description of his character Dorian gray in the book ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ And so do his edgy yet simple aesthetics which take reference from Kashmiri roots of arts and crafts for fashioning gender neutral clothing. I was lucky to have visited Paiwand’s studio and serendipitously rediscover Raffughar’s SS19 as they share their workspace in Noida, U.P. That day itself, I reconnected with him in a desperate need to celebrate Eid donning a truly sublime young conscious label. From thereon we began exchanging emails to get a lowdown on his work and life.ARP_1865

MD: Tell us of your design, art or fashion environs during childhood.

WR: I belong to Kashmir and lived amidst a lot of crafts. Yet as a designer now, I see them in a new light. Amongst many, painting has always been my true calling. Growing up, all that mattered to me was how well could I paint. I would wait all day for my father to get me colours. I painted Bollywood posters which were well-liked.

My life was different from other kids’. I learnt calligraphy, bookbinding and how to make gulkand from my grandfather. In high school, I knew I was not going to do things conventionally. I studied fine arts from Institute of Fine Arts, Jammu University and did a post-graduation in design from National Institute of Design, Ahemdabad. It was not an easy decision for I had my own apprehensions since (back in kashmir) design is not thought of as a serious profession, even today. The dominant perception is that you’re just another struggler. For me it boiled down to staying motivated despite these issues. But follow-your-heart too is a phrase which is overly romanticized. It’s easier said than done!

I was inclined towards both philosophy and a scientific approach towards design. My dad had a carpet (Kaleen) workshop which fascinated me as a kid, pondering how a Taleem (script for kaleen design) sung was translated into motifs and forms. Unfortunately, due to decline in the sales of crafts he could not continue weaving so shifted to a government job.

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MD: What does fashion mean to you?

WR: I’m a curious person. That keeps you motivated to make new things, and explore beyond the norm since there is a lot to discover in the world, at any given age. I always have a project going on, something new — so I guess wonderment pulled me towards design.

After painting I progressed to design. While painting that I felt the objects lacking function. It could be due to my inquisitiveness and a multicultural background. An interest in behavioural science led me to observing people think differently depending on their place of origin, noting their dialogues. This coexistence of a multitude of cultures definitely opened my mind. Moreover it gives me immense happiness when I see people wearing the clothes I design.

MD: Tell us the key elements to look for in Raffughar’s SS19.

WR: The craft of Khatamband inspires my latest collection.  It involves making ceilings by fitting small pieces of wood into each other, in geometrical patterns. This is done by hand without using any adhesive or nails. Khatam is a Persian word which means “to seal” and “no absolute or reach to an end’.  It represents an ‘enclosure’ or ‘full circle’. The collection celebrates uniting and becoming whole by an invisible bond like in Khatamband. We’re integrating this unique craftsmanship through hand pleating wherein the fabric neither cut or patched. It adds a dimension to the textile like on the ceiling.

Our label’s ideology revolves around studying traditional silhouettes and translating them into contemporary clothing. In this collection, we’ve included silhouettes inspired by Pheran – commonly worn in Kashmir during winters. It is a zero waste, one size, androgynous piece of clothing.

The collection is named – TarakhMaal, which means a starry night. And the colors used are Charcol Black, Thunder Gray, Ivory and Pale Aubergine.

MD: You describe your fashion as minimal. Would you always like to keep it that way? And why?

WR: Raffughar truly believes in paying attention to details. Being ethical we focus on our production model and environmentally conscious designs; also doing away with fabric waste by producing only small batches.

In the future we see ourselves as a sustainable brand practicing fair-trade, carving a niche for itself in the ‘gender-equality’ market, not just for clients but also as a means of providing sustenance to people irrespective of their gender or orientation.

MD: Who are the fashion designers you appreciate for their work? And why?

WR: IsseyMiyake never fails to inspire me. Every season he comes up with something fresh and innovative. I also feel a striking similarity in his initial approach to work wherein he did a contemporary interpretation of the traditional Japanese wear – kimono. I have also started with the Kashmiri traditional wear – pheran, as an initial form.

Hussein Chalyan has also been another great inspiration as I relate to the narrative of his work; taking inspiration from demographics and anthropology to discover new realms of design.

And Iris van Harpen for finding life in non-material and exploring the exhaustive possibilities of turning forms of art into fashion.



MD: What keeps you creatively sane or inspired?

WR: I’m interested in culture, anthropology and how our today is affected by history. So my projects become a means to understand poetic redemption or a sketch to re-propose. It’s a combination of proposing and re-proposing of what I see and know of my culture and its journey.

In true sense, its the essence of  things rather than their tangible or visible attributes that attract me e.g. ‘how do you translate the quiditty of the first snowfall when it touches your skin and gives you  goosebumps’?

Follow him on the links given below

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