Rav Matharu is the CEO & Creative Director behind the menswear brand clothsurgeon, the first ever bespoke streetwear store on Savile Row.
The brand combines high end tailoring with a streetwear aesthetic and has earned a global following that includes Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Drake; sports stars like Formula One world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton and has included collaborations with Coca-Cola, Nike and Selfridges.
Matharu is also the first South Asian designer to have a store on Savile Row.
Born in Leeds with South Asian heritage, Matharu had an early career as a professional footballer, signing pro with Leeds United at the age of seventeen. Rav studied BA (Hons) Fashion at Leeds College of Art (now Leeds Arts University) and graduated in 2009 with First Class Honours, he moved to London after graduating, founding clothsurgeon in 2012. In 2022 he was awarded an honorary MA from Leeds Arts University.
In recent years the brand has gone from strength to strength with the clothsurgeon Savile Row store opening in April 2022. Here Rav tells us about his journey from footballer to designer:
Image: clothsurgeon, CocaCola, Autumn Winter 2020. A collaboration featuring a jacket made from an umbrella from the 1920s.
Image: clothsurgeon, Autumn Winter collection 2020.
You came up with the name clothsurgeon for your brand while studying at Leeds Arts University, how did that come about?
I came up with the name in the second year of my degree. I would always cut patterns with a scalpel and one day the tutor said “ahh you’re like a surgeon…”, it stuck, and I set up a website almost instantly.
Image: Rav Matharu, photograph James North.
What was your biggest challenge in setting up clothsurgeon?
I had been working at a small bespoke brand for 3 years and on the side started developing my own brand, clothsurgeon. A$AP Rocky came in before a show and loved the 8 piece collection, in particular a leather sleeve jumper… he wore the piece and instantly became a hit and we sold quite a few! With that I invested it into making a collection and setting up a site…. The power of social media helped propel the brand quite quickly.
The challenge has always been how to scale such a business, whilst trying to perfect the product and also the bespoke service. These things take time, and I feel now 10 years later we are at that point of global expansion and really growing the business with the right people.
How did you transition from football to fashion?
I signed pro at 17 after playing for Leeds United since the age of 10, I was set on playing as a professional for Leeds United, but such was the competition at the time that it was difficult to break into the first team. I then went and trialled at various clubs up and down the country, the rejection and lack of security being offered short contracts made me really fall out of love with playing, so I decided to leave the beautiful game and go back into studies. I went to do a foundation degree art Loughborough School of Art & Design as they also had a great sports programme. I have always been creative and loved to draw so seemed like an organic move.
I finished with my foundation and was offered a place at Central Saint Martins & London College of Fashion, I opted for the latter but with the cost of living in London I dropped out after two weeks. I moved back to my home town of Leeds. After working retail for some time, I returned to my studies (at Leeds Arts University). Graduating with a 1st class BA honours in Fashion Design & Technology. I then moved to London to pursue a career in the fashion industry, not a penny to my name but I did have an incredible collection of sneakers that were sold off to keep me going.
What is your most memorable collaboration?
A very difficult question to answer, we have luckily worked with so many amazing individuals and brands. I guess, Eric Cantona was a real personal milestone, he was my hero growing up, so for him to be a fan and love my work was quite overwhelming, we also had a little kick about. An incredible person, with a huge love for the arts.
What one piece of advice would you give to students studying BA (Hons) Fashion?
I think in any field the biggest advice I can give anyone is believe in what you do and work relentlessly, while constantly learning from your mistakes, because if there are no mistakes then there is no progression. Never give up on your vision.