Sure, there has to be a constant evolution of how we dress. The Jodhpur pants, when invented by Sir Pratap in 1890, were considered revolutionary. Working on an already existing Churidar, Sir P got himself a pair of trousers tailored to mimic the fit - tight around the calves and loose on the hips, allowing the wearer a degree of comfort while riding a horse. These trousers became so synonymous with a regal lifestyle that today grooms wear them at their weddings; they’re paired with bandhgalas and worn at formal events, Raghavendra Rathore sells them at his store for upwards of Rs 20,000 a pair. The trousers eventually became an integral part of the British Raj and symbolized an Eastern accessory that the English adopted in their wardrobes, much like the Safari shirt or the Pith helmet. One hundred and thirty years after their creation, the Jodhpurs still exist. In the 1890s though, they must surely have been considered different, not so much part of the current fashion, but seen more for their practicality and usability.
How is it then that some trends last, while others fade away a season later? What makes something fashionable, and what makes something stylish? The answer to that probably needs several hours of dissection and debate from industry leaders and influencers, but one thing is plainly obvious – the eventual goal of a carefully curated wardrobe is to reflect the personality and innate degree of style of its wearer. Fashion has always been a fickle mistress to those following it. Forced by a need to be original and come out with collections four times a year, a lot of what the fashion industry produces can be considered ‘wastage,’ in the grand scheme of things. Having witnessed several A-list Bollywood actresses getting prepped for their photoshoots, I can safely say there’s very little to do with ‘class’ or ‘style’ when our so-called glamazons are being put together. Think vanity vans, with faulty air conditioning, make-up and hairdressers applying fondue-like layers of ooze on a lady’s face, wardrobe racks overflowing with designer-wear, shoes thrown around with red soles and shiny crystals all over them. It is in this blatant construction of a ‘fashionable’ image that one can discern there is no attempt or effort being made to celebrate the wearer’s personality. Instead, what is being done is far more basic. Curves are being accentuated, flaws minimized, fat tucked away or airbrushed in photoshop, and a silhouette being propped up on stilettos. Fashion screams “look at me!” And offers to its followers a chance to purchase an identity, instead of letting that reflect organically.
When one considers ‘style’ on the other hand, the images that come to mind are very different – Rajmata Gayatri Devi, Jacqueline Kennedy, Prince Michael of Kent, Princess Esra Jah, Gianni Agnelli, The Aga Khan! What these men and women had in abundance was an ability to take just a few items of clothing and accessories and turn them into the armour one wears in society, brandishing a singular message – ‘I have it and I know it’. It was probably their upbringing and surroundings that imparted to them the lesson that ‘less is more,’ a phrase coined by the once-famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
One of the most stylish men I have encountered over the years had been the late Capt Nair of Leela Hotels. On an interview and photoshoot with him at his home in Mumbai, I met the man who was in the twilight of his life. Round tortoise-shell glasses hid behind them a blazing set of eyes that were as energetic as a teenager. He wore a simple beige suit that he told me he’d gotten tailored from the LA designer Bijan Pakzad, this he paired with a canary yellow tie, that famously reflected the fashion house’s most preferred colour. When it came time to take his picture, we propped Capt Nair in the foreground of his majestic garden. A blue Rolls-Royce Corniche stood behind him, on the hood of which Nair very nonchalantly placed his hand for support. When I complimented the hotel-industry-veteran on his set of wheels, he guided me a few steps away and pointed at a matching canary yellow Tata Nano. “That’s what I like going in nowadays. I take my wife Leela for a drive in it every Sunday,” he proudly proclaimed.
Incidents like these helped form an understanding of what innate style and class truly is. Images of the late Gayatri Devi at her home in London, with a small tear in the side of her white shirt, Princess Esra Jah in a white salwar-kameez at lunch in Chowmahalla Palace, completely unconscious of the way they looked or had dressed, brought home the point to me that style is something that one is born with and builds on over a lifetime. It can’t be bought, it’s just a reflection of the life one’s led. You be the judge of which trumps which for you, fashion or style. - Vishwaveer