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Madhav Agasti: Politically Correct Designs

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Unassuming and down to earth best describe this 64-year-old who clothes almost all top politicians including four chief ministers and the President of India. With no formal training in design, he started his career as a Bollywood designer, designing mostly for villains in over 200 films and then for the political class. Read Madhav Agasti on men’s fashion and designing for the neta with Nivedita Jayaram Pawar.

You have no formal training in tailoring and design. How did you start?


I was always passionate about tailoring. Back in my hometown in Nagpur, I started stitching shirts for my classmates when I was just 15. I learnt by just observing and working with the tailors in my village. Initially, the shirts would get spoilt. But my friends didn’t mind. I would convince them how good they looked in the shirts! In college, I would stitch clothes for my professors.

That’s remarkable. How did Bollywood happen to you?

 

As all young men, I too wanted to make clothes for Bollywood stars. Luckily, my first job after landing in Mumbai in 1973 was with Super Tailors – Bollywood’s biggest dress designers then. I was doing everything here – dealing with the customers to take measurements, cutting fabrics, et cetera.

I worked with , Ranjit, Danny Denzongpa, Madan Puri, Om Shiv Puri, Shatrughan Sinha, Kiran Kumar, and many more. I was the get-up specialist for villains. From Jackie Shroff and Govinda to Salman Khan and , I designed for all their first movies, through the 1980s.

After working there for around seven months, I launched MMM (Madhav Men’s Mode) in Dadar in 1975 with an initial investment of Rs 1.5 lakh. With a staff of six tailors I would personally buy all the fabrics, cut them and give it to the tailors. After lunch I would visit the studios to take orders, measurements or deliver finished garments. I worked in Bollywood till 2001. Welcome was the last project I worked on. Now my sons – Rahul and Shantanu – are involved in designing for Bollywood and hence I have taken a backseat.

You have had a long association with Bollywood. What changes do you see in Indian cinema today vis-à-vis costumes?

 

There are no costume-based movies anymore. It’s more styling oriented. But that’s what people want – they want to see their actors as people who are like them, only more stylish, aspirational and fashionable.

Characters like zamindars dominated the film industry those days. The villain was always rich and his clothes had to reflect that opulence. They dominated even the film posters and commanded as good remuneration as the hero, and sometimes even more! Nowadays, there is no concept of villain!

How and when did the political association begin?

 

My association with politics began with Narendra Salve and Jawaharlal Darda. Then, I was introduced to Sushil Kumar Shinde and that set the ball rolling. Today, I design for almost all politicians in India including Prithviraj Chavan, Farooqh Abdullah, M.M. Joshi, , , JD-U leader Sharad Yadav, Praful Patel, Rajnath Singh, , Nitin Gadkari, , Ravi Shankar Prasad, Shahnawaz Hussain, and P.A. Sangma. You can say almost all politicians except Narendra Modi and . I visit Delhi every week to discuss styles and fabrics with neta.

What changes have come about in fashion with respect to the political aisle?


Earlier, politicians would stick to dhoti-kurta. They wore whatever you gave them. Now, everyone is so well turned out. With the advent of television and the media boom, looking good at all times has become imperative. The fabric preference has changed from Khadi to linen and more recently coloured linen. Interestingly, coloured clothing started in Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha. Ajit Pawar and Harshvardhan Patil started the trend of wearing coloured kurta. The trend of jackets was first introduced by Manohar Joshi and Gopinath Munde.

While designing for the political class, I have to keep in mind the protocol of the event. For instance, if it is for the Republic Day, I have to stick to black and off white. During election campaigns, I make a lot of cotton and khadi kurta.

What makes you the most preferred designer for the political class?

 

Designing and tailoring is all about specialisation and personalisation. You may be the best tailor in the world but you may not be suited for all. There are people who want their sherwanis to be stitched only by me and then there are some who prefer my elder son, Rahul. It’s is all about individual preferences. Everyone needs that one special person. Moreover, I am preferred since I am out of the limelight. They trust me more since I am discreet.

What changes do you see in men’s fashion today?

 

Change happens every decade. Fashion repeats itself every 10 years. Bell-bottoms ruled from the mid-seventies until the mid-eighties. Everyone from Bollywood to the common man wanted a piece of it. The bell-bottom pants revisited a few years later but it couldn’t sustain.

Currently, bandis worn over short kurtas and breeches are in. Short kurta paired with churidar and jacket has really caught the imagination of people. Loose fits are passé. In the 70s, tight pants were a rage and I see it coming back. The fitness wave is seeing people opt for fitter silhouettes to show their worked out bodies. The only difference being – today’s generation prefers to call it ‘Slim Fit’, as against ‘fit tight’. Nehru jackets are extremely popular among the political class.

What about fabrics?

 

Cotton is eternal; it is evergreen. The 60s was the year of terry cot. Then we saw many variations in it – terry wool and so on. Khadi changed to ploy khadi. Now it’s linen, woollen, khadi and cotton. These days you get various varieties of pure wool, which is so thin that you can wear it as a jacket even in the summers.
I prefer using Indian fabrics. But I also work with Italian fabrics when clients ask for it. Dormueil, Zegna and Cerruti are the Italian brands I prefer. Currently, the quality of Indian fabrics is comparable to the best international brands. India makes by far the best cottons and linen in the world.

What are the challenges in this field?

 

A dearth of good raw material, such as buttons, zippers, interlining, canvas, et cetera is a major issue in India. We prefer sourcing these from Germany. Finding good labour is difficult too. There is a serious dearth of skilful cutters and tailors. The number of people who entered this line from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and the south has gradually declined.

The craze for ready-to-wear garments has only added to the problem. But I can foresee people getting back to this field in a few years. The trend of made-to-order will make a comeback soon.

The current design school pass-outs are not very strong in cutting and sewing, though designing is their forte. Its only when you deal with and measure different body types that you will be able to stitch for them. It comes with experience.

How do you keep up with fashion trends?

 

Keeping up with fashion trends is an essential element in this business. I subscribe to various fashion magazines – both Indian and international – to stay up to date with trends. I also visit various fashion trade shows abroad. Additionally, browsing the Internet also helps.

Tell us about your clients outside the Bollywood and the political corridors.

 

Boxing legend Mohammad Ali used to be a regular client after Sunil Dutt introduced me to him. He was a great human being and even visited my store twice.

What are your future plans?I am 64 now and I will work till the time people call me. When they stop, I will too. We are working on a new concept of travelling tailors where we will travel to the client’s home for their designing needs.