Rikesh Chauhan on chance, cigars and CALM
Based in London, Rikesh Chauhan has for the last few years carved himself a niche within the menswear and lifestyle world. He is, by all accounts, a Man About Town that spins many, many plates with interests that come from far and wide. He’s a photographer, writer and social media wizard, whilst also being an ambassador for CALM, a charity that supports men’s mental health, and recently became a first time parent. With an appreciative eye for detail and understanding of craftsmanship, he took our Braided belt in walnut brown for a stroll through the east end.
Hey Rikesh, thanks for taking part in this. How’s the start of 2022 been for you and what have you been up to?
It's been a surprisingly busy start to the New Year, which has also included a trip to Florence for Pitti Uomo, and to Milan and Biella to visit Vitale Barberis Canonico for a really special project I was working on with tailor Caroline Andrew. Considering I've travelled more this month than I have done in the past two years, it definitely feels like we're moving at 100mph at the moment!
So, you’re a menswear writer, photographer and social media consultant. How did you get into that line of work? Did this come around organically or did you have this planned?
Completely by fate. I actually studied commercial music at University, which led me to create my own music videos and content for myself and other artists. I fell out of love with video for a while, but didn't want all my gear to go to waste, so I started using my camera to take pictures of friends! It made me start to focus on things like composition and details. Around that time I started working for a social media agency as a creative, and my style of photography suited the fashion clients we had on board. After a few years doing that, I wanted to jump into the menswear industry head on, and eventually joined bespoke shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser as a social media manager and photographer. From there I worked at The Rake magazine and since September 2021 I've been freelancing! It's a hectic line of work, especially as there's quite a lot of variety rather than if I were doing solely one thing.
You clearly wear more hats than most people do, how do you balance all your different interests and projects. What’s your secret there?
Owning your time and managing it well. I like keeping busy, but I need to make sure I don't burn out. The decision to go freelance was partly driven by that. I wanted to make sure I could work as much as possible and still find some time to relax. Having built up several years worth of experience and network in my field, I finally got to the point where I felt comfortable enough to start my own thing. I think it's really important to feel stimulated and passionate about what you do for a living.
How would you describe your sense of style and has it changed in any way due to the pandemic?
I've never really been able to answer this question, as I think my style changes depending on the mood I'm in, or the situation. Naturally when I was based around Jermyn Street my port of call was smart tailoring – shirts, ties and all that. It's definitely become more relaxed and varied now, however. I still like to dress in tailoring, but I also need freedom of movement as a photographer. That for me could be softer shoulders, trainers instead of shoes, knitwear instead of shirts and ties. Since the pandemic I've been doing a lot of high-low mixing. One such example is this outfit: denim shirt, which I'd normally wear with a suit, but dressed down with a buttoned sweatshirt bomber, white jeans and shoes.
Seeing as cigars are one of your favourite indulgences, how would you pitch them to someone who’s never been interested?
It's the same as coffee or wine. There are so many layers to cigars that you learn to understand and develop over time. Whether it's the intensity of the cigar, the flavour profiles, smoke time, and what to pair them with. Some cigars go perfectly with an espresso whilst others are delightful post-dinner, for example. For someone that's never had a cigar before, I would always recommend going to an actual cigar lounge, and speaking to the sommelier there. Your first cigar should be a full experience, and one to be savoured. For a good introductory cigar, I would highly recommend a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2. Should you wish to learn more about cigars, egmcigars.com is a great source (as well as to purchase cigars online!)
Tell us about your work with CALM? What compelled you to work with them?
I was diagnosed with depression in my late teens, and it was a terribly isolated and lonely point in my life. I came across CALM entirely by chance, after learning the news that Gary Speed had committed suicide. CALM wrote an in-depth piece on him as well as the impact of suicide, and I ended up spending hours on their website. It was the first time I came across something dedicated to this, and dedicated to helping young men. Suicide was, and still is, the biggest killer of young men, and that blew my mind. I felt compelled to raise awareness, and so I joined them as an ambassador. Ten or so years on and I'm still working with them. It's been a hell of a journey, and I feel privileged to be part of a movement that is doing so much good.
Following on from that, what advice do you have for men who might be struggling at the moment?
The first hurdle to open up and talk is always the hardest, but it is so totally worth it. It feels like a weight is lifted, even if only momentarily. But you'll find it easier over time, and hopefully, it will allow you to understand yourself better. Whether that's things that can help you reset, or relax, or to calm down. Or even understanding when you're feeling a little more down than before. You'll always feel alone if you never speak to anyone. The moment you do, you'll find yourself surrounded by those that care — there's nothing better than that.
You’re a recent new parent. Tell us about what those first few months have been like and what’s surprised you most about being a father?
It's been incredible. Naturally with parenthood the highs and lows can be quite extreme, but it's unlike anything I've ever experienced. The amount of love you can have for a human is unfathomable. Visiting Italy was the first time I was away from her for more than a day and every spare moment I had, I found myself looking at pictures and videos of her! She's the cutest thing, and loves having her photo taken — definitely my child. Haha. Back to your question, though, I think the biggest surprise is that you can just get on with it, you know? Like, nappies need changing, babies need feeding at all hours, and sometimes she'll scream for no reason. You just get on with it. Every day is different, they grow up so quickly that there's almost no time to dwell on any of it.
Moving towards product. What does Made in England mean to you?
There's a certain authenticity and association of quality craftsmanship when it comes to the Made In England label. Naturally, the brands that showcase and promote this are proud of their heritage, and they are well within their rights to be.
What makes a product a good piece of design, in your opinion?
For me now, it's functionality. A good product needs to fit into your life, not the other way around. It needs to be functional, versatile, almost utilitarian. The best examples of this usually incorporate quality fabrics, materials and smart design.
How are you going to be styling your Awling belt going forward?
I really love this woven belt because, again, it's functional and versatile. I will wear this most often with white jeans, as the belt pops beautifully, but it'll work equally as well with black Levi's or my indigo denim jeans by Blackhorse Lane. Paired with a shirt and unstructured houndstooth sport jacket, or a merino wool crew neck and jacket. But honestly, it would work with pretty much everything I own.
Photography by @_kavya_
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