Suits are everywhere at the ITC Gardenia in Bengaluru where the Centennial Gala of PN Rao is taking place. They are beautifully tailored, in a plethora of fabrics and colours: herringbone-patterned wool, checked tweed, gleaming silk, even a neon-green one. On the ramp where the brand’s Centennial collections are displayed, there are suits being modelled by broody-eyed men in natty blazers, slouchy shackets and vibrant floral bandhgalas. There are a few female models too. They stride with aplomb, wearing power suits, trenches and saris under long, brocade jackets, offering a sneak peek into the brand’s latest offering, their new women’s range.
The new women’s range consists of eight styles across four categories — two each in business wear, smart casuals, ceremonial attire/tuxedos and ethnic wear — crafted out of fine fabrics like wool, brocade and poly-wool lycra. The brand’s latest offering will soon be available as a bespoke offering in PN Rao’s M G Road and Indiranagar showroom in Bengaluru. “The market for women’s business wear is still maturing,” says Naveen Pishe, partner PN Rao, who currently runs the business with his cousin Ketan. He thinks it will get there in about five to seven years. “By which time, we hope to create a top-of-mind recall for our brand’s women’s wear segment.”
So, what went into designing this new offering? The cousins talk about crafting the designs, taking into account women’s likes, 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 colours for its female clients. “Women can wear a pink or green suit. Many men can’t,” he adds, with a laugh.
It feels like the brand has come full circle with this foray into women’s wear; it was what the late Pishe Narayan Rao, Ketan and Naveen’s grandfather, started with when he got into the tailoring business, exactly a century ago. “He started 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 at this 100-year anniversary celebrating both the 120th birthday of its founder, Pishe Narayan Rao, and the city where he began his entrepreneurial journey. Interspersing the fashion show and videos offering glimpses into the past, were ceremonies honouring the people who had brought name and fame to Bengaluru, such as writer Anita Nair, musician Ricky Kej, thespian Arundhati Nag, the founder of Ranga Shankara, and Prem Koshy of the city’s iconic restaurant, Koshy’s, among many others. “Honouring the eminent personalities from our city is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for their immeasurable contribution without whom Bengaluru wouldn’t be what it is today,” says Ketan.
Not surprisingly, the idea of legacy was a reigning leitmotif at the centennial gala as the Pishe family paid homage to the man who began it all, in that small tailoring shop on MG Road, then called South Parade, back in 1923. “My grandfather learnt tailoring very young,” says Ketan, adding that the family comes from a community that has been traditionally associated with tailoring. “He was around 20-years-old when he started.”
The next two decades saw the brand grow organically, garnering more business through referrals, and even going on to clothe 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 leaving the country and returning home. By then, Pishe Narayan Rao’s eldest son, PN Panduranga Rao had joined the business, says Ketan. “So, he learnt the art of cutting men’s wear,” he says. “That was our next big milestone.”
By the 1960s, they had introduced ready-to-wear garments, a move that admittedly shook up the industry. “It wasn’t easy since it was a new product. People thought that it would adversely affect the tailoring business,” says Naveen, adding that the idea became popular as people no longer had to wait a month to receive their clothes.
Today, the brand offers both bespoke and ready-to-wear in its seven stores across two cities — five in Bengaluru and two in Chennai — and is all set to expand further. They have plans to take their business to other cities, grow their manufacturing setup and garner more clients abroad. And yes, to focus more attention on reintroducing women’s wear. The current offerings in the market, when it comes to women’s suits are still rather inadequate, composed of low-quality fabrics, churned into mass products, says Naveen He adds that the brand has been receiving requests from many women for crafting suits “given our long-standing history of designing the finest men’s suits.” He says, “We feel that there is a huge need in the market that has to be met. And if we can’t do a women’s suit, who can?”