At the fashion show | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Suits are everywhere at the ITC Gardenia in Bangalore, where the PN Rao Centenary Gala is taking place. They’re beautifully tailored, in a plethora of fabrics and colors: herringbone-patterned wool, checked tweed, shimmering silk, even a neon green. On the ramp displaying the brand’s Centenary collections are suits modeled by brooding-eyed men in sleek blazers, loose-fitting jackets and vibrant floral bandhgalas. There are also some female models. They walk with aplomb, wearing form-fitting suits, trench coats and sarees under long brocade jackets, offering a sneak peek at the brand’s latest offering, its new women’s range.
Business clothes at fashion show | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
The new women’s range consists of eight styles across four categories, two each in business wear, two each in smart casual, formal wear/tuxedo and ethnic wear, crafted from fine fabrics such as wool, brocade and polywool lycra. The brand’s latest offering will soon be available as a customized offering at PN Rao’s MG Road and Indiranagar showroom in Bangalore. “The women’s businesswear market is still maturing,” says Naveen Pishe, a partner at PN Rao, who currently runs the business with her cousin Ketan. He thinks he’ll get there in about five to seven years. “At that point, we hope to create a mind retreat for the womenswear segment of our brand.”
So what went into the design of this new offering? The cousins talk about crafting the designs, taking into account the women’s likes and dislikes, design preferences, and changing body structures, among other things. “The cuts we offer are very feminine,” says Ketan, adding that the brand will also offer bolder patterns and colors for its customers. “Women can wear a pink or green suit. A lot of men can’t,” he adds with a laugh.
The tuxedo/ceremonial collection | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
It seems the brand has come full circle with this foray into womenswear; it was what the late Pishe Narayan Rao, grandfather of Ketan and Naveen, started with when he entered the tailoring business exactly a century ago. “He started out as a tailor for British women, making dresses and camisoles for them,” says Ketan. “That was the beginning of the brand,” he says.
Looking back, planning ahead
Both nostalgia and dreams for the future were evident in this 100th anniversary celebrating both the 120thhe birthday of its founder, Pishe Narayan Rao, and the city where he started his business career. Interspersed with the fashion show and videos offering glimpses into the past, there were ceremonies honoring the people who made Bangalore famous, including writer Anita Nair, musician Ricky Kej, actor Arundhati Nag, the founder of Ranga Shankara, and Prem Koshy from the city’s iconic restaurant, Koshy, Among many others. “Honouring the eminent personalities of our city is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for their immeasurable contribution without which Bangalore would not be what it is today,” says Ketan.
Ethnic wear at fashion show | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
In the PN Rao Show | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Not surprisingly, the idea of legacy was a reigning leitmotif at the centenary gala as the Pishe family paid tribute to the man who started it all, in that little tailor shop on MG Road, then called South Parade, back in 1923. “My grandfather learned very young tailoring,” says Ketan, adding that the family comes from a community that has traditionally been associated with tailoring. He “was in his early 20s when he started.”
The next two decades saw the brand grow organically, gaining more business through referrals and even going on to dress British Garrison. But when India threw off its British yoke and emerged as an independent country in 1947, things had to change quickly as the brand’s clientele began to leave the country and return home. By then, Pishe Narayan Rao’s eldest son, PN Panduranga Rao, had joined the business, says Ketan. “So he learned the art of cutting men’s clothing,” he says. “That was our next big milestone.”
By the 1960s, they had introduced ready-to-wear garments, a move that certainly rocked the industry. “It was not easy since it was a new product. People thought it would negatively affect the tailoring business,” Naveen says, adding that the idea caught on because people no longer had to wait a month for their clothes.
Today, the brand offers tailored and ready-to-wear garments in its seven stores in two cities, five in Bangalore and two in Chennai, and is poised to expand further. They have plans to take their business to other cities, increase their manufacturing setup, and get more customers abroad. And yes, to focus more attention on the reintroduction of women’s fashion. The current offerings on the market, when it comes to women’s suits, are still quite inadequate, made up of low-quality fabrics, turned into mass products, says Naveen. He adds that the brand has been receiving requests from many women to make suits “given our long history of designing the best suits for men.” He says: “We believe there is a huge need in the market that needs to be filled. And if we can’t make a women’s suit, who can?