One of my favourite fashion quotes is from the iconic Hollywood costume designer Edith Head: “You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” The golden words ring truest for India’s newest prime minister, Narendra Modi. He may be a reluctant fashion icon — he may even scorn the very idea of it — but Mr Modi is suddenly Mr With-It.
As soon as he became BJP’s chosen one for the prime ministerial post, anything that concerned Modi — right from his chai-stall roots and favourite books to his hidden missus and multi-pasteled kurtas — began to assume newsworthiness. As soon as he had won the historical election, his charisma was being celebrated, and some of India’s leading fashion designers (Ritu Kumar, Mona-Pali and JJ Valaya) started sketching their ideas on dressing the man with the top job.
Mr Modi, Prime Minister Modi, knows the power of fashion all too well. One only needs to follow his professional trajectory for the past six months to arrive at this conclusion. He may have shunned the Muslim fez once, but Modi used his persona and personality to woo the Indian junta like bees to honey. It almost seems like he woke up every morning and read to himself Edith Head’s dress-the-part quote.
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Modi’s tailor, Bipin Chauhan, reportedly said to a newspaper: “Modi had once told me he cannot compromise on three things — his eyes, his voice and his clothes.” Modi’s oratorical hyperbole, his penchant for drama (or teary melodrama) and his signature look (his half-sleeve kurta) are now cultural legend.
Modi carefully matches his vests with his kurtas, often they are cleverly clashing colours like Gucci’s famous colour-blocking schemes. He has said somewhere that his ability to match colours is “god-gifted”, reminding me of Romantic poets who credited divine intervention for
Of course, like any proud Gujarati, Modi shows off his khadi and indigenous collections. Modi’s clothes are always crisp and well-ironed. He never looks jaded, sweaty or tired, even after 400-plus rallies, gainsaying his 63 years.
Those in the know give out little juicy leaks — he’s a treadmill addict (obviously, how else would he be so fit and energetic), he checks everything on his iPad (he is a Twitter behemoth), he’s taken his cook with him to Delhi. He wears a Movado watch and Bvlgari spectacles, both these choices reflect his natural good taste. And oh, it is rumoured he underwent a hair transplant during Gujarat’s 2007 Assembly elections.
Modi’s acceptance of his sartorial elegance is a rarity in itself. Most politicians would scoff at such piffle, preferring to dress in outdated safari suits or billowing white kurtas to blend in blindly. For that, and for hosting the most-well-heeled party as his swearing-in ceremony, Modi is such a man of the moment. Totally in vogue.
This story appeared in print under the headline Mr Modi, Fashion Icon