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Modi's style speaks volumes

UNIQUE GARMENT: There is an e-commerce site devoted to getting the Modi look.


    Jun 06, 2014

    Modi's style speaks volumes

    EVEN by the standards of a world that has seen blogs devoted to United States First Lady Michelle Obama's dress sense, the image-craft of India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been something of a case study.

    After all, not only has he worn a unique garment so often that it is now officially named after him (the Modi Kurta, a revisionist version of the classic Indian tunic shirt with half-length sleeves), but the tailor who worked with him to create said garment, Bipin Chauhan of the clothing chain Jade Blue, has trademarked the style and is taking it to Britain, the US and South-east Asia.

    It has its own Twitter hashtag (#ModiKurta) and there is an e-commerce site devoted to getting the Modi look (

    It all speaks to Mr Modi's success in associating his personal style with his political platform, to the benefit of both. Objectively speaking, the Modi Kurta itself does not exactly represent an extraordinary aesthetic advance; rather, it symbolises a set of values. And therein lies its allure.

    According to Priya Tanna, the editor of Vogue India, "never before has there been such a strong convergence between what a politician in India stands for and his clothing".

    Tanna can tick it off on two hands.


    Mr Modi's choice of a kurta underscores a cultural image that is "100 per cent India".


    It is democratic - anyone can dress in the same way.


    It supports local industry.


    It differentiates him from his political rival, Rahul Gandhi, who favours simple white shirts to counter his family's status as members of India's elite.


    This in turn underscores Mr Modi's humble beginnings (he was the son of a tea seller), as he does not need to pretend to be humble; he can embody upward mobility.


    The fact that his kurta is always crisp and neat, and often colourful, provides a clear contrast to what India Today called "the era of unkempt, paan-chewing (politicians) with pot bellies, crumpled dhotis and discoloured kurtas". It suggests a clear embrace of professionalism and business.


    The fact that Mr Modi's kurtas are made from materials that include organic cottons and silks, combined with his unabashed fondness for nice watches (he has a Movado) and sunglasses (Bulgari), shows a sort of aspirational dressing that mirrors the vision he has for his country and its industries.

    The question now is whether his style and message will change since he assumed power.

    Either way, the sheer fact of the conversation means he has firmly established the idea that his clothing has meaning worth parsing, which - whether or not Mr Modi will, as Tanna believes, create more fads a la Sonia Gandhi and her cotton saris (which became a "cool" work look for many women) - is perhaps the real trend worth watching.