Yuvraj Singh on teenage fashion disasters, (still) looking up to Lance Armstrong, and the trouble with getting Indians to contribute to charity
I can’t help but compare Yuvraj Singh to Virat Kohli right now. Maybe it’s the hair: sharp fade on the sides, top blow-dried into a side-parting, product to keep it photo-ready. Maybe it’s the full beard he’s now sporting (which cricketer isn’t? Even R Ashwin tried. And gave up. Thank god). Quite Kohli-ish.
We’re in Mahalaxmi, inside one of those repurposed mill compounds. This one serves as a photo studio. I enter to blasting music, half a dozen female models, on-trend athleisure on racks, and leading photographer Prasad Naik doing his thing.
Singh is in a glass antechamber, patiently going through hair and make-up. A sporty half-jacket is zippered down halfway to reveal a shaved chest (not long back, only male actors had to undertake that pain. But we’re in the age of athlete-led brands, and squeaky-clean-chested Ronaldos now).
VIDEO: Fashion rapid-fire with Yuvraj Singh
Once in a while, he jogs out, to shoot (day two today, he says), or when Naik asks him to “come take a look at the shots”. In that — in keeping a tab on the photos, in the barrage of tweets he unleashes leading up to launch day, and the sheer star power he manages to get to come for the launch (cricketers, other national athletes, A-list Bollywood) — Singh is very much invested.
He says hello, ready to talk, but with his guard up, his expression intense. He remains measured, like a batsman on a Day 1 WACA pitch. You try to get a read on him, and you sense he’s trying to do the same.
Eventually, he eases a little. We chat about torn jeans, Lance Armstrong, and the trouble with getting Indians to contribute to charity. Oh, and he smiles. Not very Kohli-ish.
Were you a fashionable kid, growing up (in Chandigarh)?
As a teenager, I had no sense of style. I also didn’t have the money to spend on fashion. So I wore what my parents bought. The baggy was in; it was the ’90s. I used to think it was really cool. Looking back, now, well, not so much.
And then, you played for India (and made money).
Yeah, you travel, you meet people. I was 20, on an international tour to South Africa. In Jo’burg (Johannesburg), I went to an international mall for the first time.
So you gave up the baggy. What else?
Trends change. Baggy went to straight, to slim, to athletic. My own style has toned down now. It’s less dramatic and bright. It’s simpler, smarter.
Most regrettable outfits? We all have them.
So many. Jackets with too many lines on them. Jeans torn everywhere.
Athletes, globally, are spawning one of the largest celebrity fashion movements. And all of it is athletic clothing (as is his line, in collaboration with designers Shantanu-Nikhil). Is it tough to stand out?
It’s about building a connect with people. It’s strong, thanks to the YouWeCan story (his cancer initiative). Every time you buy something, you’re contributing to the charity (later, at a press-con, he’ll announce all profits from sales will go towards YWC). But it’s been tough to generate funds. I’m doing this with the sole focus of helping the cause. That, and motivating people. The way I was motivated by Lance Armstrong.
You still consider Armstrong an icon?
Yeah, I do. The doping controversy’s there. But his fight after being diagnosed with cancer… I went through three cycles. That guy went through four. And he came back and did the Tour de France. I know the pain, how hard it is to come back and play a sport.
You’re Yuvraj Singh. Everyone knows your cancer story. How can funds be hard to generate?
It’s hard on a large scale. The awareness of cancer is one thing. The culture of charity in India is another. At the Livestrong Foundation (Armstrong’s non-profit in the USA), people come, donate, and go. Here, you have to educate people. And because they’re donating, they want to take photos with you, spend time with you. I get that. Two years back, I did a sit-down dinner in England. We raised a lot of money. But that’s a lot of work. You need something that can be sustained.
Does getting into the apparel business change the way you think about fashion?
It makes you understand the value of clothes. Earlier, I would throw one kapda [he transliterates clothes as “kapda”, and says “kapda” a lot], wear another and go. Now, I pick up the kapda, because I know how a kapda is made, how it’s printed. You just wear a good kapda, but there’s so much hard work behind it. Knowing that process has been humbling.
Earlier, you’d think of Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi as a stylish cricketer, and he’d be an exception. Now, every cricketer is stylish. It pretty much happened during your career.
When the ball’s coming at you at 150km, you forget about style. But off the field, you learn to carry yourself. People want to look good for TV; the IPL added to that. Kumble, Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, they never cared. But people weren’t into your private lives so much then. Now, everyone’s in your space, so you might as well look good.
How does a Virat, or a Ronaldo, have immaculate hair through a whole game?
You gel it. You press it (Haha). No, man, under a helmet, when you’re sweating, it’s not possible. I never gelled my hair when playing. But if it’s a charity football game, I’ll make sure the hair looks great.