Politics of Style

Meet the man who measures Modi's 56-inch chest

Narendra Modi’s tailor hopes that Modi jackets will soon become more popular than the quintessential Nehru jacket.

In the early 1980s, when Bipin Chauhan stepped into his ancestral trade of tailoring in Ahmedabad, the young darji harboured an audacious aspiration: to make clothes for India’s “top-level” people – perhaps even a prime minister one day.

Come May 17, Chauhan will know whether his ambition will be realised. Said Chauhan, who has been stitching clothes for Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi since 1989, “It will be the great coincidence of life if Modiji indeed becomes the PM.”

It’s clear that Chauhan has moved up from being a mere darji. His fortunes have risen in lockstep with those of the lanky, bearded man who walked into his shop outside Ahmedabad’s Town Hall 25 years ago. Chauhan doesn’t have sharp memories of the customer, who was measured for a pair of white pants along with a half-sleeved kurta. But he did notice his choice of fabric.

The man chose to have his clothes made in poly khadi, a blend that is cheaper than hand-woven khadi and doesn’t wrinkle quite as easily. “The fabric is easy on the body and looks presentable, even when one is travelling,” he said. Chauhan later learnt that the customer was an official of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh named Narendra Modi. “Modi was a young pracharak who would travel a lot and therefore preferred the practicality of the fabric,” Chauhan recalled.

Today, Chauhan owns a three-storeyed men’s lifestyle showroom on Ahmedabad’s CG road called Jade Blue, whose website declares, “What you wear matters.” It was obvious that Chauhan lived by that advice himself as he strolled through the store in soft lime-green checkered pants, a textured white linen shirt and a black bandhgala. Chauhan looked every bit the successful man who has designed the increasingly popular garment known as the Modi Kurta: a short-sleeved tunic in cotton khadi or a linen blend, fitted to perfection.

The cheapest Modi Kurta online costs Rs 995. Jade Blue has five in-house brands and its 18 showrooms across the country generate an annual turnover of over Rs 180 crore.

But it hasn’t been easy to get here. Chauhan descends from six generations of darjis hailing from Limbadi near Ahmedabad, and has spent his life surrounded by sewing machines, pieces of fabric, measuring tapes and buttons. “We were poor, so my father would stitch clothes and my mother would help in fixing buttons on shirts,” he recalled. His brothers and he started working as children, measuring and stitching garments.

When Bipin Chauhan and his elder brother Jitendra, opened their first shop, Supremo, in 1981, many Gujaratis still followed Gandhian lifestyles. They would come to him to make austere khadi kurta-pyjamas. But gaining Modi as a customer transformed his business.

As Modi’s popularity grew, so did the popularity of his short-sleeved kurta. In 2006, Chauhan register Modi Kurta as a brand under his company’s Jade Blue label. Other famous people began to wear his garments: Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, industrialist Gautam Adani and Nirma detergent giant Karsanbhai Patel, among them.

Until recently, Chauhan was selling 18,000 Modi Kurtas a year, but he’s since pushed up production to 25,000.

Of course, Modi doesn’t have the time to come into the store anymore. Instead, Chauhan is given a personal appointment two or three times every year in Gandhinagar to measure and dress the chief minister.

“I give few suggestions on the fitting, colours and the patterns, but finally what Modiji wears for his rallies, speeches or functions is his own style and personality,” Chauhan said. “He is very particular about his appearance and every time mixes different kurtas with jackets.”

As Modi flies from one state to another, changing his clothes up to three times a day, Chauhan checks out his client’s style quotient every evening on the news channels: sometimes it’s tone-to-tone, other times it’s a colour-block contrast (like the neon green kurta with a saffron jacket.)

Always keen to anticipate his client’s needs, Chauhan has started thinking not only about what Modi should wear to his swearing-in ceremony, he’s even got ideas about how the politician should dress on his trips abroad. “Modiji’s style is Indian and I think he should keep the same,” Chauhan said. “To meet international leaders, he will keep his Indianness intact by wearing more bespoke bandhgalas jacket suits.

In a few days, these Modi jackets – a 100% linen, bandhgala coat with buttons made of coconut shells or cattle horn – will go on sale at Chauhan’s store and through his website. He said, “I hope the popularity of Modi jackets will replace Nehru jacket.”

 
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