Cuff-links and bracelets with horse-head trims, equestrian-themed buckles on sandals and ballerinas, handbags and clutches with horse-prints… everything about Rinaldi, accessories designer Rinaa Shah’s label, screams her obsession with horses. Only to be expected perhaps given that Shah is India’s leading woman polo player and owner of the Rinaldi Polo Team, which has the likes of Padmanabha Singh, the erstwhile maharaja of Jaipur, and Samir Suhag, one of only two polo players to get an Arjuna Award, playing for it.
Polo, a game traditionally played/patronised by the maharajas, has always had a connection with luxury and design (remember the Polo T-shirt and the Ralph Lauren logo of a polo player?), but Shah is perhaps the only designer in India who specialises in equestrian fashion. And to think that Shah only got into polo six years ago when she went to a match and fell in love with the sport. “At 38, I sat on a horse for the first time,” she says laughing.
She kept at it, going to train in Argentina and Britain where polo has a wider following. Such is her dedication that she travels to Jaipur for three-four days every fortnight to check on and train with horses. Even two fractures and an injury requiring seven stitches have not deterred her from the sport.
In 2011, Shah launched the Rinaldi Polo label, which comprises a range of fashion wear and accessories, along with a range of specialised gear for polo players, made to exacting specifications so that they can withstand the rough handling during a game. The Dolfino Polo Boots are entirely handmade, the heels constructed layer by layer to hold the foot more securely, and also give a firmer grip on the stirrup. But the USP of Rinaldi’s collection are her hand-bags made of old equestrian scarves. Shah says she buys them at online auctions or from vintage stores in India and abroad and works them into clutches and tote bags.
The Rinaldi equestrian line, which sells largely through its online platform thereby giving access to markets overseas, is now getting ready to hit the Indian markets with an innovative offering in the shoes space. Shah, who has trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and was among the first shoe designers to set up shop in India back in 1999, says she is in discussion with investors to set up “shoe studios” where customers can go and “make their own shoes”.
“We can get them in the colour they want, the style they want, and the kind of heel they want. They would be offered bespoke shoes of international quality, but not at those inflated prices.”