Step inside the Row-G designer's new space, Hotel QSL on 44
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Chisanga Mubanga
As a student at the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Toronto, Canada, Rahim Rawjee acquired his formal training by day, and at night would safety pin entire outfits together and party at underground clubs.
Inspired by Tom Ford’s debut Gucci collection, Yves Saint Laurent, and Jean Paul Gaultier – whose signature skirts he wore to those same clubs – Rahim was drawn to fashion specifically, despite taking an interest in design at large. This was his focus when he returned to the place of his birth in the 90s.
Like those of a lot of designers at the time, Rahim’s Row-G women’s ready-to-wear debut at SA Fashion Week in 2000 was highly conceptual, with architectural construction that drew comparisons to the Antwerp Six. High praise doesn’t necessarily pay the bills though, and Rahim quickly learned that from a business point of view his brand didn’t make sense.
So Rahim joined his family’s diverse business, which ranges from fashion to mining to education to hospitality, schooling himself in the numerous functions that would make his next creative endeavour financially viable.
After researching factories in Turkey and Germany, interrogating operations in Connecticut, sourcing trimmings from Italy and cloth from the finest mills in Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom, not forgetting worshipping at the altar of Savile Row, in 2007 Rahim returned with the knowledge, conviction and necessary relationships to launch his luxury made-to-measure luxury menswear brand. The second iteration of Row-G.
“It wasn’t really a transition. Menswear wasn’t new to me. I was always making my own clothes and that’s really what the Row-G menswear line was born out of – me making clothes I’d want to wear.”
With brother Shaheed as Row-G’s CEO, Rahim’s previous training as technician, researcher, dreamer, doer, tailor, maker, designer and marketer allowed the pair to take the brand to the next level. But only after every garment passed one hundred and forty quality control checks.
As a man with a highly refined aesthetic, who even tailors his Hanes T-shirts, for Rahim it's about fit above everything.
“The Row-G Jacket One took 18 months to perfect, going through more than 120 iterations before it found its final form. The sleeves alone were redone 27 times. There are 92 pieces in that jacket. But to get them all working together it took thousands of hours of painstaking, hands-on work. Millimeters became yardsticks. Combinations were exhausted... then reconfigured. Hours of research and consultation determined that nine different types of thread were needed to make the jacket work.”
And that’s just one jacket.
No surprise, then, that the brand’s first brick-and-mortar followed the same painstaking attention to detail. Almost a year behind schedule and way over budget, Row-G's luxury retail space launched in 2012 and was again an exercise in Rahim flexing his creativity.
Rahim’s latest coup is steeped in craftmanship, personalisation and luxury, and the Row-G experience now includes a monument to affordable luxury in Joburg’s inner city, Hotel QSL on 44.
Accommodation ranges between 1100 and 1800 per night, including breakfast, and allows guests to take advantage of a customisable mini bar, customised mattresses, free wine between 5pm and 6pm each night, breakfast in bed, a Kindle service, a pillow order, suit pressing... and if guests require more, they’re within strolling distance from restaurants, bistros, bakeries, speciality lifestyle stores, galleries, bars, and other entertainment.
The décor is stark, masculine, with a sense of spaciousness. Highly polished concrete allows for the curated furnishings to really stand out, these visually interesting pieces an authentic example of Rahim’s taste level.
From edgy womenswear to men’s suiting that can count Obama as a client, a gorgeous flagship store, and now an exciting new hotel, Rahim’s left his distinct fingerprint on everything he’s laid a hand on. So what’s left for the man who's made luxury his living?
“Me doing things that I love and make me happy? That’s probably the most common thread throughout, and I think it’s the most important. I’m only interested in work that I can find meaning in. Financial success is not my aim anymore it’s a by-product. So where to from here? I don’t know, I’ll carry on doing what I do until it stops serving me. I’ve always wanted to be a bartender in a straw hut bar on some remote beach. You never know.”