THE MAN WHO DRESSES UP THE PRIME MINISTER
Meet Troy Costa, the guy behind the sartorial sense of India’s most powerful men
Everything about Troy Costa exudes discretion, whether it’s his chic atelier, tucked away in a leafy, almost nondescript, lane in Bandra, one of Mumbai’s plushest precincts, the elegantly understated signboard or even the decor within.
The designer walks into his cabin, punctual but panting, greets me and proceeds to finish the last bits of a sandwich – his “express lunch”. It’s a Saturday and Costa has agreed to meet me in spite of a schedule that is packed to the rafters with clients. I am sandwiched between two appointments – restaurateur AD Singh before me and Bollywood photographer Atul Kasbekar after me.
THE PM’S “TAILOR”
Costa’s client list reads like a who’s who list of Indian society, with A-list actors, CEOs, and industry leaders vying for his time and talent. As with any high-profile tailor (I use the word “tailor” and not “designer” upon Costa’s insistence), Bollywood celebrities come a-flocking. But in the recent past, he was revealed in the news as “the man who dressed the Prime Minister”. Rewind to 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sartorial choices for a highly-publicised US trip were lauded by the fashion brigade. Modi’s natty bandhgalas made the news and Troy Costa, a discreet “tailor” from Bandra, was the name behind the PM’s new avatar.
All through the media hype, Costa remained tight-lipped about his association with the PM, but in the last few months, he’s begun to talk about it, though not without restraint. “From what I gather of the Prime Minister, he is a guy who wouldn’t want to talk about something as trivial as his personal tailor. I respect that,” he says. Dressing the PM, he says, “Was an amazing experience. He is extremely fashionable. He is tall and can carry his clothes off so well. He does love his clothes.”
Experts hinted at a visible shift in Modi’s fashion sensibilities from a kurta pajama look to tailored bandhgalas, which are seemingly more “international”. Did Costa have a say in this?
“For the PM, like for all my clients, I first understand the person and what they do, and then proceed to put together a wardrobe. In this case, I believe that if you want to be part of an international space, you need to dress the
“I grew up as an altar boy in the neighbourhood church. My family wanted me to be a priest. I wonder how that would have turned out...”
part. Do you see a Japanese person wearing a kimono in an international context? I think not. On an international stage, I don’t think an all-out traditional look is the best choice. You want to blend in.”
Our conversation shifts to Troy Costa, the person. “I grew up as an altar boy in the neighbourhood church. In fact, my family even wanted me to be a priest. I wonder how that would have turned out,” says the tailor in jest.
“We lived in a humble home and my mother had to mortgage her gold because we didn’t have enough money to survive. At an early age I was made to see the reality of life. I became an adult way too soon,” he says.
A chance encounter with a widowed seamstress in the neighbourhood sparked his desire to “make clothes”. “She had no kids. I offered to run her errands if she’d teach me to stitch. Which she gladly did. I didn’t even know what design really meant. All I knew was that I loved clothes and to dress up. I got the love for fashion from my mother.”
This passion, once revealed to his family, elicited a furious response from his father, who wanted him to become an accountant. If he was to become a tailor, young Troy would have to leave his father’s house. He did just that, but moved into the cloakroom of his own building for a while, without his family knowing. Then he came back.
Costa first learned the skills of a women’s tailor. He soon began to take orders for men too, followed by costume gigs with Bollywood movies. His first big menswear break came when he met Aditya Pancholi. “He then took me to Anil Kapoor. Within months, I was doing everyone’s clothes,” he says. But success was sporadic; it took a while and several entrepreneurial attempts before he could find his feet. Troy Costa, the menswear label, was launched in 2008, boasting a stellar client list.
One of Costa’s favourite anecdotes is about a sewing machine. “At 19, I rented a hand sewing machine from a Mrs Pereira. I often wasn’t able to pay the rent on time. Even today, when Mrs Pereira meets me, she jokingly reminds me of her unpaid rent. She is very proud of me though.”
The story behind his success is one of grit and determination, laced with bittersweet nostalgia, perhaps even a hint of regret. In spite of tremendous acclaim, both in India and internationally, he is not one to shun his past, nor will he rest on his laurels.
TOAST OF THE STARS
It comes as no surprise, then, that India’s A-listers enlist the services of Troy Costa for their sartorial needs – from Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Kapoor, to Randeep Hooda, Farhan Akhtar and Anil Kapoor. The previous day, another regular, Saif Ali Khan showed up unannounced at Costa’s studio, “in his pyjamas and kolhapuris to have some clothes made” and Khan chided him for not “texting him enough”. What’s it like to deal with cinema’s leading men?
“You know, in India, a lot of celebrities want to wear Troy Costa, so they will send their stylist or assistant. I don’t entertain this. If you can’t come to my store, then I won’t give you clothes. I’ve said no to dozens of celebrities asking me to send them clothes – Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, everybody.”
Costa recalls his first encounter with Irrfan Khan, who was prepping for an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival at the time. “He called me and said ‘I’ve been told you’re the guy I should wear. Could you send something over?’ I said, ‘No, I’m sorry. With all due respect, that’s not how I work. You will have to come to my store and I will personally do your fitting.’ We couldn’t come to an agreement. I reminded him that he didn’t have to wear Troy Costa. I’m sure he must have thought me completely mad. Twenty minutes later, he called back saying he was passing through Bandra and that he would make a quick stop at my studio. We got along like a house on fire, and he looked amazing for the red carpet. Now I have his measurements on record and can make what he asks for, without him having to come down here.”
It obviously takes a grounded person to brave celebrity egos. “I am a tailor, not some hot-shot designer. I want to work with simple people, minus egos. What I love about many celebrities in the West is that they don’t have big egos. You may be the best looking guy, but you do need your tailor to make you look amazing. The best fabric won’t guarantee that you look good. Only the best cut and fit will ensure that. A lot of people don’t understand this. I have to constantly fight with many of my clients over this.”
Costa believes there should be no hierarchy in the relationship between a celeb and his tailor. “What’s the big deal? You go to a barber to cut your hair. Similarly, you come to a tailor to have your suits made. We are all just doing our jobs and there should never be any clash of egos.”
Costa also enjoys the patronage of other influentials. With gleeful irony, he tells me that Vijaypat Singhania, the owner of the Raymond Group, has some of his suits made at Troy Costa. “I have clients in Manhattan, London, Dubai and Hong Kong. I recently had a customer in New York who couldn’t come to India. I sent him to Saks Fifth Avenue, had his measurements taken and then I made a prototype for him and sent it to New York. We then fixed the fitting on Skype. He sent the prototype back and we finished it.”
Working 15 hours a day, Costa rarely takes a breather. This means having a limited family life. “My family understands my goal. Troy Costa is a legacy that I would like to build for this family. I started with nothing and I became a tailor. I worked my way to the top and can now provide the creature comforts to my family. I live with my wife and three kids – two girls and a boy. I’ve told them that I’m not always going to be available and they’re supportive.”
Surrounded by the superficiality of the fashion business, Costa stays grounded and credits this to his late mother. “My mother was an amazing person, who encouraged me and influenced me. She struggled her whole life. We were insanely poor. The memory of that has never left me. Staying grounded and staying simple is extremely important. I’ve seen penury and also great fortune, thankfully.”
His belief in God is also what keeps him going, he says. “I was raised with strong Christian values and I cling to them fervently even today. I attribute all my success to Him. I believe that there was a divine plan for my life. The heavens will decide what direction my life will take. My prayer to God is to keep me simple, give me the energy to work 15 hours a day and to achieve something that my kids and family will be proud of.”
The future is bright for Costa. While his son is still too young, his daughters have inherited their father’s astute fashion sensibility, and he hopes that they will one day take over from him. “My daughters are so talented at working with colours, it’s absolutely incredible. I’m so glad they’ve got design flowing through their blood.”
For now, Costa’s plan is to have an international footprint. He is on the verge of finalising a show at Paris Fashion Week next June. He has also started a new company called Cruz Troy Costa (named after his son, Cruz), which is a relatively affordable label, with 20 stores across the country.
I leave Costa’s studio, my mind immersed in his unique world view and disarming personality. I walk down a few tree-lined lanes and I can’t help but think of a lanky young Troy D’Costa, who once played cricket with the local boys in these very lanes and is now one of the country’s most sought-after suit-makers.
“I started with nothing and I became a tailor. I worked my way to the top and can now provide the creature comforts to my family.”