Suits maketh the man

Famous natty dressers tell Priyanka Sharma what they look for in a perfect suit

At the Canali store in New Delhi, a young man tries on a business suit as two attendants hover around, brushing the lapel of his jacket to remove traces of lint, ensuring that the jacket sleeves fall at the junction of the thumb and wrist, and checking whether the shoulder pads end precisely at the shoulder — all marks of a well-fitted suit. After all, with patrons such as Shah Rukh Khan, Leander Paes and Navjot Singh Sidhu, the brand ought to know a thing or two about the perfect suit.

At his government flat in Lutyens’s Delhi, Sidhu talks with gusto of his collection of suits which includes labels such as Armani, Tom Ford, Hugo Boss and Canali. But no matter which luxury brand he splurges on, he follows one cardinal rule. “I never coordinate my tie with the colour of my suit... that would be so drab,” Sidhu says. Instead, he chooses ties and pocket squares in brighter colours — he has 20 each in yellow, green and magenta. Sidhu says he has a huge advantage in his turban and always matches the tie with it. “If I wear a black suit, I team it up with a yellow tie and turban!” He often dyes his tie the colour of his turban to make a style statement, he reveals.

Every man needs a suit, be it a formal dinner jacket or a casual one. With brands such as Hugo Boss, Canali and Burberry available now, the Indian man has plenty to choose from. These brands also cater to the demand for bespoke suits through “made to measure” services. Canali, for instance, flies down its master tailor every season from Italy to India. The expert makes appointments with customers — on request, of course — helping them select fabric from a swatch book, and the style of the suit.

Later this month, Burberry will launch its Men’s Tailoring service in India. Burberry suits (prices from Rs 90,000) are all made of English fabric, designed in London and hand-tailored in Italy by over 100 craftsmen.

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Television personality Karan Thapar has three things in mind when he goes suit shopping — the weight of the fabric, the cut of the suit, and the style. Thapar’s wardrobe comprises suits from several tailoring boutiques in London, such as Gieves & Hawkes and Aquascutum (prices up to Rs 70,000); Italian label Brioni and French fashion house Lanvin (whose suits cost well over Rs 1 lakh) are his other favourites. He usually opts for charcoal grey suits in the Prince of Wales check pattern — a mix of small and large checks, named after the Duke of Windsor and popularised by the James Bond film franchise. He also likes the herringbone (a zig-zag pattern) or the classic salt-and-pepper suit.

“The last button on my sleeve should be a working button,” Thapar emphasises. The functioning button on a jacket sleeve, known as a “surgeon’s cuff”, is the mark of a bespoke suit and is often left undone to flaunt its make. The bow tie, insists Thapar, must be avoided if you cannot tie it yourself. “Indian men look ghastly in readymade bow ties! If you’re going to wear one, you might as well learn to tie one!” Thapar teams his suits with ties from Hermès, the French luxury brand. Starting at Rs 11,400, Hermes silk ties are screen-printed and hand-stitched.

Businessmen like Analjit Singh, founder and chairman of Max Healthcare, Mohit Burman, director of Dabur, and Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, are often immaculately attired in suits. For Goenka, it is the weight of the fabric that is most important. Goenka prefers light woollen suits in black, grey or dark shades of blue. “For pot-bellied men, dark colours are best,” he adds with a laugh. A no-fuss shopper, Goenka opts for Ermenegildo Zegna’s Su Misura or made-to-measure service.

“For the Indian climate, the fabric for an all-weather suit should weigh between 180 and 220 grams per square metre,” advises Samrat Som, Louis Philippe’s head of marketing. The company designs suits for Kapil Dev, making house calls when necessary. “Kapil likes English tailoring; he prefers his suits well-shaped rather than very fitted; it is important to understand the difference,” adds Som.

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Frequently photographed and closely followed by the media, it is Bollywood stars who are seen in the most fashionable suits. For instance, Canali Nawab jackets have become popular in India ever since they were worn by Aamir Khan, Arjun Rampal and Kabir Bedi at award functions. Paul Smith is often represented by musician A R Rahman on the red carpet.

“In India, jackets tend to have massive shoulder pads, making one look like Frankenstein,” says actor Imran Khan with a laugh. He wore lots of suits in his recent film, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. An admirer of Cary Grant’s elegant pinstriped suits, Khan swears by brands Zegna and Tom Ford. He likes small details such as the “ticket pocket” (an extra pocket above the regular flap pocket on the right of the jacket), surgeon cuffs and a lapel hole in his suits. Khan also gets suits made by Avinash Punjabi in Mumbai.

Bedi, too, prefers custom-made suits to designer labels; his suits must have tailored inner pockets for his BlackBerry, pen and visiting cards. While he may opt for an Armani, he argues, “Given the number of public appearances I have to make in a suit, I cannot spend an exorbitant amount every time!” Bedi says he likes wearing “textured” suits — “a fabric that you would want to reach out and feel,” he elaborates in his deep timbre.

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While Indian styling is gaining ground, the machine cuts are very poor, laments Sidhu. Fine tailoring, it seems, is a craft best acquired from the West. Take the case of Manu Melwani, owner of Sam’s Tailor in Hong Kong. He has an impressive portfolio of customers — on his website, the humble Melwani can be seen holding a measuring tape against former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush and Hollywood actors Pierce Brosnan and Richard Gere. His services don’t come cheap: a Sam’s suit costs anywhere from Rs 60,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

Melwani, who learnt to “sew, cut, stitch and fit” at Savile Row in London, urges Indian men to do away with staid black and experiment with colours. “If a suit fits at the shoulders, one can get away with anything,” says Melwani. He has another piece of advice: “Short men must be honest with themselves and buy short-length suits with peak lapels” to look taller.


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