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The politics of fashion

SWATI DAFTUAR
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Madhav Agasti remains the chosen designer for some of the most powerful names in Indian politics

The world of fashion is usually glitzy, glamorous and paparazzi ridden, but for Madhav Agasti, the chosen tailor and designer for some of the biggest male political players in the country today, it’s also possible to keep things simple. “My work is what matters, not the publicity and glamour. It’s my work that should speak for itself.”

His roster of clients transcends political parties, ideologies and regions. Whether it is Bharatiya Janata Party’s L.K. Advani or Jammu & Kashmir National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar or Janata Dal United’s Nitish Kumar, it’s Agasti they turn to, relying completely on his innate sense of men’s fashion, tailoring and design. The rush before elections is especially overwhelming, and keeps Agasti almost entirely occupied. “Today, everyone wants to look good, and public figures like politicians need their clothes to be simple, sober, but attractive.” Agasti has disovered, after 40 years in the business, that each politician has his individual style. While almost all of them prefer line kurta-pyjamas, the styles and cuts vary. Whether it’s Advani’s penchant for three button jackets or Ajit Pawar’s preference for colourful kurtas, Agasti has worked hard to deliver the desired clothes, winning loyal and satisfied customers.

Reminiscing about his initial days, Agasti talks about his work as an assistant at Super, a tailoring shop that used to cater to renowned Bollywood names. “I joined Super in 1974. Many Bollywood stars would come there to get clothes stitched, and a lot of them noticed my work and appreciated it.” This recognition helped Agasti when, in 1975, he decided to start his own business, and Agasti’s bespoke tailoring store, Madhav’s Men’s Modes (MMM) was born. The first shop was a modest business in Dadar, though Agasti remembers that he didn't have much trouble getting his first customers. “They were stars who had seen my work in Super, and they started coming to MMM”. Once the shop’s business picked up and expanded, Agasti shifted base to Bandra, where he has been ever since. Today, Agasti is assisted by his son, Shantanu, and is credited with career highs like the late Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s transition from black sherwanis to the colourful silk lungi-kurta, and designing clothes for boxing legend Muhammad Ali. “My love for painting and tailoring, something that started in childhood, comes together in this work,” he says.

While Agasti feels that Bollywood fashion has changed greatly today, he has fond memories of his early work with movies. “I was especially good at designing costumes for villains, and used to be a get-up specialist for villains in many movies.” Credited with designing for the early films of Govinda, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, among other famous Hindi movie actors, today Agasti sounds a little disillusioned. “There's not much tailoring involved nowadays in movies. You just buy designer clothes and put them together.” The 1970s and ’80s, though, saw Agasti design for hundreds of movies, including the costume for Amrish Puri’s legendary Mogambo in Mr. India . Agasti remembers it as a memorable project. His work was so appreciated by both producer Boney Kapoor and director Shekhar Kapoor that he was given Rs.1,000 extra. “I designed clothes for actors like Dev Anand, Amol Palekar and many more. Under my own name, the first movie I designed for was Apne Paraye , with Amol Palekar.” Today, Agasti has completely stopped designing for Bollywood, but he still receives compliments for some of his more recognised work.

His world is about suits, jackets and bandhgalas, and most clients that fall under a particular age group. “The young crowd in politics is buying clothes rather than getting them stitched. My clients are the older people, who still prefer bespoke tailoring.” Even within political fashion, trends are changing, and Agasti says that experimentation, in moderate amounts, can be seen. “Today, more colours, more cuts and more styles can be seen on politicians. It’s no longer plain white kurtas and khadi.”

Though his bespoke tailoring shop caters to big names in politics, Agasti himself stays non-partisan. The politicians he has worked with might be under the unflattering focus of the public eye, but Agasti has had only pleasant experiences. “They are good, non-fussy customers. They know what they want and they pay well, and on time.” Regarding his own political ideology, Agasti is frank. “Clothes are my party and my politics. I concentrate on my work, and do not involve myself in the political ideologies of the people I am designing for.”

SWATI DAFTUAR

Today, the highly impressive list of Agasti’s clients includes Yashwant Sinha, Rajnath Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nitin Gadkari, Shahnawaz Hussain, Raman Singh and Sharad Yadav among others. In the past, Agasti also designed for Madhavrao Scindia, Pramod Mahajan and Rajesh Pilot.

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