An Every Man for our age

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An Every Man for our age

Bollywood actor John Abraham is, in many ways, the perfect expression of our times. He got where he is because of hard work and a little luck, he looks after himself and cultivates a studiedly casual image.

His passion for bikes has been written about ad nauseum, his foppish long hair about equally as much – and both have become more popular because he is an identifiable, easy-on-the-eyes actor we can look up to. And while the 37-year-old star may not exactly have sparked trends, say the way Amitabh Bachchan launched a vogue for hairstyles in the seventies, the once unlikely film star is an icon because he has always cast himself as a sort of Every Man, saying: “If John Abraham can do it, anyone can do it.”

In attempting to define his style, he has said: “I am a denims and T-shirt person. John Abraham is cool and casual and that’s what connects me to people. The audience feels that here’s a middle-class boy, who is in the industry without any backing and if John can, so can we. I dress simply and ride a bike – there’s a strong element of rebellion, which is complemented by coolness. If today, I sit with students in a college, I can connect with them easily. People find me approachable and that’s what I am in real life, as well.”
But while he doesn’t push the style limits by wearing edgy clothes off the ramps he still graces for friends, he is also often the first to do something in Bollywood – whether it was the long hair, stripping off for Jism and Dostana, wanting to insure that fabulous backside or even, launching his own fashion label.

With Dostana, for instance, he pretty much wore only a pair of yellow trunks throughout the film. “The role asked for it and I just obliged,” he said at the time. “My modelling background helped a lot there because when I was a model, I had to be relaxed in whatever I wore and however I looked. Anyway, I care more about the entire look than about individual clothing.”

A Bollywood actor who cares about his look in a film? That’s a switch. Even other model-turned-actors, such as Arjun Rampal, don’t care about what they look like as much, confident, like John, in their ability to look good in pretty much whatever it is they’re wearing.

But it is John’s ability to internalise his wardrobe, to look like he personally sourced the fabric for his garments and instructed his tailor what to do that sets him apart.
That he has capitalised on his modelling experience is borne out in the success of John Abraham Clothing, the fashion label he created with Wrangler jeans. The first set of 30,000 pieces in the profit-sharing venture sold out in a week, as did the next 250,000.
And while he didn’t actually design the garments (a team from Europe did the hard work), he says he was very involved in the process.

In the four years since that first fashion line was launched, John extended it into accessories and innerwear, rolling out belts, hats, shoes and tighty whities. Aimed at the well-travelled man, it’s a classic, retro line which was inspired, he said at the time, from the actor James Dean. The next step is a collection of John Abraham chappals for all occasions, to be marketed next year, followed by a line of traditional Indian menswear and affordable T-shirts.

John apparently thinks we need to cultivate our own cool quotient, different from the notions of cool in the West. “If it is cool to be dressed in designer denims for Americans, it should be equally cool for us to to wear dhotis and Pathan suits. We need to be as happy with our fabrics like khadi and silk as the West is with its own textiles. Once we are comfortable in our (desi) clothes, we will also learn to get comfortable with our own skins.”

But that’s not to say he hasn’t made the occasional style mistake. At the recent wedding of India cricket team captain MS Dhoni, John was seen in a kurta that was at least two sizes too large for him. This is where pragmatism triumphed over fashion, though: when he found out that his clothes had been hidden by Dhoni’s mates, who left them outside in the rain, he borrowed a too-big kurta from the groom’s brother-in-law – rather than buy a fresh outfit.

At least he hasn’t begun endorsing that kurta line yet – or he could have damaged revenues considerably.

So what other advice does he offer those looking for a style of their own? “You can be cool without spending a fortune on clothes and accessories. I am a middle-class Bandra boy. And I am glad I can walk into any event, no matter how elitist, in jeans, a T-shirt and chappals.”

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