THE MAN WHO DRESSES UP THE PRIME MIN­IS­TER

Meet Troy Costa, the guy be­hind the sar­to­rial sense of In­dia’s most pow­er­ful men

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - News - By Ri­aan Ja­cob Ge­orge; Pho­tos by Prab­hat Shetty

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.”

AL­TAR EGO

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.”

STAY­ING GROUNDED

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.”

LOOK­ING FOR­WARD

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.”

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