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SUIT UP

Jungle chic

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Raghavendra Rathore teams up Jodhpurs with a safari jacket;and Valentino's take on it

Safari jackets made a strong statement on European runways this spring-summer. But in India, where it's patronised mostly by babus and bodyguards, the safari suit is almost a fashion outcast.

In India, the safari suit in cheap polyester and monotone grey is synonymous with two things: toughies and greasy babus. You wouldn't be caught dead in one unless you wanted to look like one or the other.
But in Europe, this silhouette for spring-summer has been a rage on the runway. Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, to name a few have, presented stylish interpretations of the safari jacket in their collections. From the traditional form - khaki jacket with big front pockets and collar - to versions in leather and even in a green quilted avatar paired with indigo trousers, Valentino has created jungle chic which can be carried with effortless style, both indoors and outdoors.

The history of the safari suit goes back to the time when American and British travellers were discovering Africa and India. With its simple design and clean silhouette it was ideal for the outdoors and difficult weather. Its big pockets could carry keys, wallet, small torch and even binoculars. The fabric was breathable and the silhouette allowed enough space for easy movement. It was tailor-made for discovery. Like most staples of the modern wardrobe, the safari suit, too, was the brainchild of Yves Saint Laurent. Until then, no one had considered that the kind of clothing designed for the jungle could be worn on a city street. In this year's spring-summer collection brand YSL has given its own creation a feminine spin by adding a khaki lace belt at the waist. Roger Moore as James Bond and Ernest Hemingway, the two who popularised the suit in the West, would have cringed at such an interpretation but reinventing iconic looks is what fashion is about.

At home, the safari is largely a fashion outcast. It is best forgotten, say fashion bloggers. Yet some designers have dared to play with its form and energy despite its negative connotations. Raghavendra Rathore, in a recent collection, teamed up the safari jacket in dark colours with Jodhpur pants and breeches. "The safari jacket is an important piece for the RR brand. In fact, while designing costumes for the movie Eklavya, I had proposed including safari suits in the film but the producers were not keen on the idea, " says Rathore. But he feels that now with Europe embracing the style, India too will follow suit. Designer Varun Bahl recently created a woollen safari suit in charcoal grey for cricketer Virat Kohli who was modelling a suiting brand. "It has golden metallic buttons and sharp pockets, " says Bahl who will be further experimenting with the suit in his coming winter collection. "Trousers will be simple but the jacket will be the highlight", says Bahl. Before it became a daily fashion faux pas committed by the babus, the suit was an important part of the wardrobe of erstwhile royals and aristocrats. Dr Karan Singh, the son of former monarch of Kashmir, and Jaswant Singh, former Union defence minister, still nurse the sartorial hangover and can be seen wearing the safari suit at various public events. Former prime minister I K Gujral used to almost live in them. In an essay the late H Y Sharada Prasad, media advisor to three former prime ministers, quotes a friend on Gujral's sartorial choice: "Thank God, we have a modern, safariwearing prime minister at last, and the era of khadi has ended. "

Our older industry captains also feel at home in safari. Like Rahul Bajaj, who has a huge collection of these suits. He has often been criticised for still being caught in the seventies. It was the time when the safari suit used to have a wow factor. It was flaunted by the mighty Dhirubai Ambani and also endorsed by cricket superstars like Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri who donned the suit for various print ad campaigns for Vimal.

But things are so different now. Apart from the odd babu, the only other people who can be seen in this garment are the security staff of our netas. They wear dark safari suits with dark shades and try to look menacing. "But nobody wants to be confused with a security guard, " says designer Ashish Soni. He adds: "Even though the military /safari chic has been a trend abroad, it still is not big enough to make safari fashionable in India. " What makes it more unfeasible, feels Soni, is its structure. "It is semi-structured, neither a shirt, nor a jacket. It does not flatter the Indian male's body form. "

However, it can be tweaked to look chic. "If it is made out of natural fabric, with well-cut jackets and fashionable trousers, it too can look trendy, " says David Abraham of the fashion label A&T. He recounts recently seeing someone at an art event dressed in safari suit made from white khadi and the ensemble looked quite hip.

The safari suit may have had its heydays in the 60s and 70s but for a fashion reincarnation in 21st century India it will need more than just a passing trend in Europe. Maybe a fillip from Bollywood?

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