Tom Ford once said, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” If this is anything to go by, Abhishek Bachchan is very well-mannered. He shows up at our interview on time, pressed and dressed, in the company of – and clad in a bespoke suit by – his Savile Row tailor, Paul Jheeta. Before settling down to chat, Abhishek unapologetically proclaims, “I am a huge admirer of suits. And I have no qualms. If you give me something to wear for sheer comfort, if it wasn’t a tracksuit, it would have to be a suit.” With his unmistakable sense of humour and boyish grin, he tells me, “I could even sleep in a suit, if I had to.”
This sets the tone for a rather interesting tête-à-tête with the actor, who has earned the reputation of being one of the most stylish in Bollywood. The countless best-dressed lists apart, the 40-year-old has established himself in the collective consciousness of Bollywood fans as a suave and dapper gent in an impeccably-cut suit. Abhishek has adopted the suit as his signature, effortlessly embodying its timeless codes and sartorial elegance; it’s a far cry from the reticent young actor we saw on screen at the start of his career.
Fuss-free, articulate and disarmingly charming, Abhishek breezes through the photo shoot, and then settles down to explain how he fell in love with suits.
“It all goes back to my school, where we had to be dressed in a jacket and a tie every day. That probably explains why I am so used to wearing suits,” says the actor, who claims to be nervous about casual wear. “For me, the easiest thing is to get a nice suit out and team it with a crisp white shirt and a tie. Then I’m good to go.”
A Man And His Tailor
At the very start of the interview, I tell Abhishek that we aren’t here to talk about his films; only his sartorial style. The tone of the conversation augurs well, especially since we are in the company of Jheeta, his tailor, also the first Indian to own a label on Savile Row. This, in the actor’s words, is “an institution harder to get into than some of London’s exclusive clubs.”
There’s camaraderie and boyish banter between the actor and his tailor, proving the basic principle of bespoke suiting. The bond between them is important, says Abhishek. He remembers seeing his father, Amitabh Bachchan, bond with his suit maker from Kachins (Mumbai). “I used to call him Akbar Uncle and he taught me so much about suits and fits. He and my dad were extremely close. They might not have socialised or met on a daily basis, but when they were with each other during a tailoring session, there was an understanding between the two. A man needs to have this bond with his tailor,” he says. “Contrary to what people think, suits can be very complicated. It is more than just fabrics and colours. In my opinion, the cut of a suit reveals your personality. I have always been very particular about the cut. Therefore, it is important to be able to have these discussions with the person making your suit.”
What’s In A Suit?
It is no secret that Abhishek is an obsessive collector of suits. However, he prefers the classic look. “I am open to experimenting with my clothes once in a while, but when it comes to suits, I am a bit of a traditionalist. The suit is made in a particular way for a reason.” Passing trends don’t attract him much. “There are certain things that have become styles now and I cannot carry them off, nor can I understand them. The really tight suits, for instance. I don’t get them; they just look really uncomfortable. Comfort is the mark of a good suit. The only experimentation you should indulge in is with the colour of the suit. Nowadays, we are cutting suits tight, so the guys wearing them look unbelievably thin. These guys are probably holding their breath all the time,” he giggles.
A suit, in the actor’s opinion, is designed to enhance a man’s body, perhaps even cover his flaws. “A suit has to have a shape; it needs to enhance your body and not look like a tight shirt. I don’t like short suits. My body does not look good in them. I tell my suit makers not to give me small lapels. I know the kind of lapels I can pull off. So I know what suits me and I work with that.”
The actor is very hands-on with his sartorial choices. So much so that he often brings his own suits to the film set. “I don’t have a personal stylist for my daily wear. If I do have one working with me during a film and if there’s a suit involved, they run away because they know I’m so particular,” he says.
Still, he’s never had a huge disagreement with any stylist. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “The stylists I’ve worked with have known the script so well that they’ve designed specially for the character. There have never really been any disagreements on that front. For a film, you can get away with wearing something that might not be your personal choice. But then again, you’re dressing for the character.”
In The Family
We then get talking about a very contentious issue of celebrity wardrobes – repeating clothes in public. On this note, Abhishek does not take himself too seriously. He jokes, “I am not one of those people who cannot be seen wearing a suit the second time around. I take great pride in repeating my clothes. We’re all human beings, you know. The fashion police may be severe, but I think it’s normal to wear your clothes over and over again. It’s easy with suits as they are so timeless. All you need to do is play around with your shirt and accessories.”
Abhishek sources his accessories from all over the world. He has pocket squares, cufflinks, tiepins, belts and lapel pins, and even borrows accessories from his father. “We share a lot of our stuff, especially ties, belts and shoes. We have the same shoe size. When I couldn’t afford to make my own suits, I would wear some of his.”
How much say does his wife have in his wardrobe? His cheerful response is as spontaneous as his personality. “When you are married, you may have access to the world’s greatest stylists and tailors, but you go home and do just as your wife says. On a serious note, Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan) has been very accepting and rarely ever tells me that something is not working. She has a nice way of disapproving my clothes, such that she doesn’t kill my confidence.”
While contemporary fashion codes no longer stick to the ‘belt must match shoes’ rule, Abhishek says that he is a purist in that aspect.
“I still follow that rule. My shoes and belt always match. That said, if you are wearing a statement belt, and it doesn’t match the shoes, you could perhaps pull it off. But a black belt with brown shoes is just awful,” he says, with a visible cringe.
The self-confessed watch hoarder is so meticulous that he even matches his watch straps to his attire. “I love collecting watches. I own some beautiful vintage watches. But I take care to wear the right watch. You can’t wear a sporty watch or a brown strap watch under a black tuxedo. That’s just wrong.”
Indian actors have evolved when it comes to fashion, perhaps because of the paparazzi’s non-stop camera action. Once, points out Abhishek, sunglasses were the mark of a Bollywood actor. Now, every actor’s style manifests itself through the tailored suit. “Interestingly, there were some great suits in Bollywood in the ’70s; they were as trendy as the sunglasses. Today, Bollywood actors are all about their suits,” he says. “I think the style quotient is so high, from completely conservative to absolutely flamboyant. Things have evolved unbelievably in the last six or seven years. I like the fact that the new generation is throwing caution to the wind and really having fun with their clothes.”
There is a slight downside to this though, he adds. “On some level, Indian men have taken gender equality a bit too seriously,” he laughs. “When it comes to evening dressing or a function, you have to understand that the chivalrous thing to do is to let the woman shine. A lot of Indian men are trying to outshine the women now. This doesn’t go down well with me.”
It’s time for Abhishek to leave, and he thanks everyone around him graciously, not forgetting to straighten out his suit. And then he laughs again. “This style evolution has led to a sort of dichotomy,” he grins. “We are very comfortable wearing loud colours in Indian wear, but as soon as we dress in Western suits, we become very conservative. It’s really funny!”
Humour: A man’s most important fashion accessory
Things AB said during this interview that made us laugh
* “When I look at guys in extra-slim cut suits, I feel like they’re holding their breath all the time.”
* “I take great pride in repeating my clothes!”
* “When you are married, you may have access to the world’s greatest stylists, but you go home and do just as your wife says!”
* “In life, you’re always discovering what you like, but are almost certain about what you don’t like!”
* “If you asked me to sleep in a suit, I would!”
Get your suits right!
Paul Jheeta, Savile Row designer and the stylist for this HT Brunch shoot, shows you how…
* You need to own some solid colours.
* Black, grey and navy blue are musts in every man’s wardrobe.
* It is important, especially in a tropical country like India, to own linen and cotton jackets.
* While well-fitted suits are fine, make sure you don’t look like you’re about to burst out of your suit.
* When shopping for a suit, do your research and figure out what suits you. It needs to be styled to agree with your body type.
* Your suit should enhance your personality.
(Our stylist and designer for this special shoot with Abhishek Bachchan is Paul Jheeta, a well-known presence on London’s Savile Row. He has dressed everyone from cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar to various heads of state.)
From HT Brunch, February 5, 2017
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