It was a video that filled many Indians with a sense of enraged righteousness, of disgraced billionaire Nirav Modi jauntily hailing a cab in a tony part of London. This is after a series of Interpol notices and extradition requests have declared him the main accused in the Rs 13,500 crore Punjab National Bank scam. According to the expose by The Telegraph, Nirav Modi has set himself up very comfortably in the UK, trading in diamonds and luxury watches — he even has the temerity to take his dog for a walk every day. Sporting a disheveled look and a handlebar moustache reminiscent of India’s heroic pilot, Nirav dodged a reporter with a terse ‘no comment’ but not before the cameras had zoomed in on his 15,000 pound, grey blue, ostrich leather jacket.
The thing about wildly expensive leather is it either conjures up images of deviant fetishes a.k.a Fifty Shades of Grey or of female Hollywood stars toting their Hermes bags for the airport paparazzi. Nirav Modi’s uber cool bomber jacket looked, frankly, like it was better suited to someone with the personality and lifestyle of say, the movie star Ranveer Singh. Take for example, the grand wedding in Mumbai recently where the middle aged industrialist parents looked like overdressed caricatures in Sabyasachi’s resplendent designs. Because they ignored the most important rule of style, wear what works for you not what’s trendy. Similarly, on Nirav too, the ostrich skin seemed like a last ditch effort to flaunt notoriety’s exotic trappings while those watching were left contemplating — who’s to say what new, illegitimate, money should or shouldn’t buy?
If there’s one reason to mourn liberalisation in India, it’s what opening up of the economy has done to the wardrobes of the obscenely rich who seem to revel in displaying wealth, literally, on their sleeves. In Delhi and Mumbai there’s no avoiding women in Herve Leger bandage dresses and gowns, for which they don’t have either the figures or attitude. For the young and the aspirational, Cartier jewellery is prioritised over family heirlooms because they are blissfully unaware that ironically enough, Cartier has looked to royalty in India for inspiration. Perhaps one would have had more sympathy for Nirav if he had been accosted by the reporter in a bandhgala with buttons showing off his ill-gotten diamonds. At the risk of employing a horrible gender double standard and I apologise for perpetuating stereotypes, the question has to be asked, what kind of man moves around wearing ostrich skin?
Only an inherently dodgy one. That Nirav Modi is an anomaly even in his attire, is borne out by facts of the leather and fur industry. Sales of luxury skins in clothing and accessories for men represent less than 10 per cent of the market, which is dominated by womenswear. The reason, according to fashion insiders is, there is a widespread perception that a man embellishing himself in mink or possum is disreputable and cannot be trusted. Point to note, President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has just been convicted for tax fraud, had a large collection of exotic skins, among them an ostrich skin jacket and waistcoat. In the unforgettable mafia drama The Sopranos, the extras playing henchmen were always kitted out in sideburns and expensive leather. Contrary to what Shakespeare duly noted in Hamlet, when it comes to exotic skins, clothes un-maketh the man.
This is a small aside in the unraveling saga of Nirav Modi whose luck so far, hasn’t entirely run out. His fugitive lifestyle remains luxurious even as his life is falling apart. Just the act of dressing (how he thinks is with flair) requires a perverse sort of courage. An ostrich skin hardly serves as a cover for Nirav Modi’s, inevitable, downward spiral but it’s an admirably steely position to take, in a story that has a foregone conclusion.