How many ways can you say Narendra Damodardas Modi? According to his suit, countless times. Modi’s suit has almost overshadowed the Obama visit. The couture buzz was supposed to be about Michelle Obama’s dress but Narendra Modi has eclipsed the First Lady and turned the spotlight on himself by showing up in a bandhgala embroidered with his own name. His suit got international coverage but here are four reasons why he might have just let stripes remain stripes.
Narcissism Alert: Narendra Modi is nothing if not an astute brandmaster. He is media-savvy and can turn a snooze inducing state occasion into a PR-triumph. Teacher’s Day got a Modi makeover. His US visit turned into a Modi-rockstar welcome at Madison Square Garden. Gandhi’s birthday became all about the Modi-tagging game. Some critics complained Modi was trying to fashion everything in his own image. But Modi was smart enough not to go into sycophantic overkill as in discouraging the Modi-beats-the-crocodile story in school textbooks. Unfortunately this time he’s wearing his branding on his sleeve . The lettering might be subtle but the branding is heavy reinforcing the idea that everything in Modi’s India is about Modi. “The Nehru jacket has become the Modi jacket, now this suit might also be called the Modi suit,” says designer Raakesh Agarwal in The Telegraph.
What’s in a Name? Was Narendra Modi wearing that suit so that Barack Obama would not forget his name as he hugged him? Unlikely. But if he was so keen on stripes that spelled words he could have chosen something that was not about himself. A Vande Mataram perhaps spelled out over and over again could have been a good option and in keeping with his rhetoric. Or a Jai Hind. But instead by spelling his name out over and over again, Modi has turned Narendra Damodardas Modi into a mantra, a namabali in pinstripes. “It’s just a gimmick, isn’t it? It’s a name tag. What is he – a world leader or someone going to a photocopying conference in a Travelodge?” says Robert Johnston, style director at GQ Magazine.
Just a Simple Sewak: Narendra Modi has made a big deal during his campaign about his simple origins, his frugal lifestyle, his mother who takes a three-wheeler to cast her vote. While he is a natty and careful dresser and likes his Mont Blanc pens and Bulgari frames he has always ensured his wardrobe is not ostentatious. While these stripes are subtle and you cannot make out what they say until you come close, it’s suddenly generated huge press about how much such a suit costs. A Savile Row tailor estimates suits like these can cost over 15,000 pounds and even more if you use gold thread. Now sources tell The Telegraph the fabric was a gift from Italy (does Sonia Gandhi know?) and his Ahmedabad-based tailors Jade Blue stitched the suit for him. No word who footed the bill but it’s Made in India at least. Modi might say it sends the message anything Savile Row can do, Ahmedabad can do better but suddenly the PM who always reminds the voters he is a simple sevak is looking very regal. It clearly costs a lot to keep our PM simple.
Hosni Mubarak, the unlikely style guru: Narendra Modi likes to be a trendsetter but when it comes to a name in your pinstripe he’s not the pioneer. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt beat him to it though his tailor goofed it up by spelling it HOSNY. Now who knows what we should read into the fact that Narendra Modi, often accused of autocratic ways himself, might have chosen as his style guru a rather despotic Egyptian leader who had to stand trial for negligence in not halting the killing of peaceful protesters. But Modi can take comfort in the fact that according to The Guardian, he’s not just following in Mubarak’s pinstripes. Former Argentine president Carlos Menem and boxer Evander Holyfield also wore their names on the coats. Unfortunately they aren’t exactly guru material either. Menem was arrested in a weapons export scandal and found guilty of aggravated smuggling. Holyfield is best known for having his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson. Let’s hope that in this case the clothes do not make the man.
But all suits come with a pressing question. And for a suit like this one wonders whether Narendra Modi will ever wear it again or is this a gimmick that only works once? If so, that makes it a very expensive PR gambit and it’s not like it can work as a hand-me-down either. Aman Vadhera of the Savile Row-trained Vadhera tailors who made suits for Manmohan Singh told The Daily Telegraph the former PM who likes "subdued things" would never have worn anything so "flamboyant". But then we already knew that Narendra Modi is cut from a different cloth altogether.
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2015 15:59:05 IST