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Photograph by Leah Franchetti

Rabii and Bespoke Denim

One of the few bespoke denim designers in Europe, Robert Watson is set to conquer the market with his Glasgow-based Rabii Denim label.

Forever trendy and forever in demand, denims keep on proving they can survive any sort of fashion or financial crisis and economic downturn. Yet shopping for denims is not always the easiest thing to do: the choice when it comes to brands, designs and fits is so ample that buying the perfect pair of jeans often turns into a time-consuming effort. Besides, the quality of denims doesn’t always reflect their price and many end up buying a product they aren’t totally satisfied with. Enter Glasgow-based designer Robert Watson, a young man destined to give denim a new status.
Watson is the mind and soul behind Rabii, a menswear label specialising in perfectly tailored casual wear and bespoke denims. The inspiration to start his own label came to Robert from his childhood. “My mother made my clothes because we were poor,” he recounts while we sip a coffee at Che Camille, the Glasgow-based independent boutique-cum-design studios where Watson works and sells his designs. “Kids used to make fun of me at school because I wore the clothes made by my mother and, after I told her, she encouraged me to draw the garments I wanted.” Little by little Robert’s style improved and even won his schoolfellows’ admiration, but the design partnership with his mother came to an end when he turned 18. “She decided she wanted to retire and suggested for me to go and learn the basics from a tailor if I wanted to keep on designing my own clothes,” he says. Robert followed his mother’s advice and, after completing a tailoring course at a local college, he found himself a junior tailor’s job at a local company.

Torn between sound engineering and menswear design, Robert eventually settled on the latter after producing a perfect pair of denim trousers and realising he was rather good at it. So he focused on developing his own denim line, designed also a few jackets in wool and velvet and sold every item very quickly. While he developed his designs, he also came up with a logo, a circular badge portraying a little house, a tribute to the first Che Camille boutique, affectionately called “The Chateau” based in a derelict area of Glasgow where Robert first started selling his designs and also taught young people basic tailoring skills.

The secret to Robert’s success stands in the fact that he has no model but real men and, being trained as a tailor, he has learnt to design timeless garments not for a particular age group, but for each man. “I think menswear is missing choice at the moment in the cuts and the colours,” he claims. “The studio where I work is based on the 6th floor of a building overlooking Glasgow’s main street and I often go upstairs on the roof garden and look at the people walking around in disbelief as they all seem to be wearing the same clothes, a sort of boring uniform.”

Robert’s classic inky blue denims epitomise casual elegance and are made to the traditional standards and know-how of tailors, which means high quality, thick and untreated fabrics, assembly and finishing by hand. “Denims are difficult to make and a lot of designers don’t even try making them as the fabric is hard and there’s a lot of work involved, but I got so much experience by now that designing denims has become a natural thing for me,” he states, “at times I even feel I’m competing with big companies such as Levi’s.” Though most of Robert’s designs look rather minimal, they simultaneously have a few spot-on reinventions in the proportions, cut and fabric that show he’s a perfectionist who doesn’t leave any details to chance. “A few months ago I made a pair of jeans for myself to go to a music festival,” he recounts, “I wanted to make something different, so I started doing reverse panels and reverse details on the pockets. A lot of people I met asked me where I got them and six months later they all came knocking at my door asking for exactly the same pair of jeans.” Bespoke denims require just one fitting and the starting price is around £200, though they can easily reach £300 if there are a lot of details such as coloured stitching. “I always urge customers to go for the most basic models and warn them that the more elaborate the denims are, the worst they often look,” he explains.

But just how easy will it be to convert denim addicts to made-to-measure? Robert stands undaunted, “There is a strong shift into original looking denim at the moment and I’m sure I can innovate and improve denims by injecting into them my tailoring skills,” he replies, concluding, “besides, I simply love a challenge.”

Designs by Rabii Denim are available from Che Camille, Floor 6, Argyle Arcade, Glasgow, UK.