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April 05, 2017

‘Tailor’ To The Stars, Troy Costa Talks About Creating His Own Legacy

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by The House of Pixels

The menswear designer outfitted the rich and the famous…and the Prime Minister

His atelier in a suburban by-lane of Mumbai is enveloped in quietude — the discreet signage giving a nod to the presence of the hot-shot menswear designer. As I climb up to the first floor, I spot Troy Costa at my heels. He waves me into his well-appointed yet minimalist workspace. His cabin is being tidied for the business of the day and soon we are sitting across his table, where I begin to get a glimpse of the muses that have shaped his journey.

Scheduled to show in New York this June for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards and to present his first collection at Paris Fashion Week (Men’s) in January next year (the first Indian menswear designer to do so), Costa caught the nation’s attention when he hit the headlines for giving Prime Minister Narendra Modi a natty look for his US trip in 2014. The tuxedo specialist, known for his sharp cuts and clean lines, had mentioned in interviews at that time that it had been an amazing experience and that the PM, being tall, could carry off clothes very well. Costa emphasises, “I want to stay low-profile on this subject. He is who he is. I just went, did my job and that was the end of it. I’ve never gone the PR way and prefer that my work speaks for itself. I love what I do because every now and then, I feel I’m doing something new and challenging.”

His family — particularly his late mother — has had a great influence on him. This was perhaps reflected in the fact that he invited a woman — Tina Desai — to star in his menswear show (2015). Costa states, “I respect women. My mum was a super-strong person; she was more than a mother or a home-maker; she was more than a man can ever be. I began my journey as a tailor or pattern-maker in womenswear, but I realised in a few years that I couldn’t build my business in women’s clothing any further due to the absence of great technical people in the industry.”

His flair for fashioning Western attire stems from his traditional Catholic background. He states wryly, “You are inspired by the people who come to church. Everyone wears Western garments. And, I often spent time in a tailor’s shop with my mother who loved clothes; we would look at magazines. Growing up, I always wanted to build something that would be forever. I kept thinking that I should be known as an international designer. I think that if you want to succeed internationally, it should definitely be in Western wear. So, although 35 per cent of my business is Indian wear, we don’t exhibit it; we don’t show it to anybody; we make sure it’s not photographed, because when I show in Paris or Italy, I keep thinking that if someone Googles Troy Costa, no Indian garments should pop up.”

Today, the designer is famous as the man behind the most successful suits and tuxedos in the business. “I am known for the ceremonial jacket, the tuxedo or the evening black-tie suit. Every guy who gets married in this country, his tuxedo should be from Troy Costa. I think it is very important for every designer to be recognised in a special segment.” He feels that his own name sealed the fact that he was meant to be different. “It is a strong name — it was God’s plan from Day One that took me through the early years of my life. My father was abusive. He drank. I don’t drink, smoke or party. I am the exact opposite of who he is. Nothing has come easy for me. I’m always trying to find my way to make things happen.”

Despite being a celebrity favourite, Costa has not forgotten his humble roots. He was the altar boy at his church, and remembers requesting Margaret, a tailor and wife of Patrick, a photographer in the neighbourhood, to teach him how to become a pattern-maker — he offered to do all her chores after her husband passed away in return for the lessons she would give him. Breaking through her initial reluctance, Costa began to learn on her sewing machine. When I point out that his obsession with detail, neatness and perfection could be traced back to his early hands-on training, Costa says, “It started when I was five years old. My father would beat me to improve my handwriting. So, a 200-page notebook would have only 60 pages, as I would tear out the ones that had cancellations on them. I was obsessed with the thought that the pages should look like print — they had to be extremely neat. Even today, we have correction tapes everywhere in my office. When I am dressing someone up, I need the whole look to be neat. When I go to a wedding, I start adjusting things there too. People are scared of me as they feel that I may start shouting if the pocket square isn’t perfect! It’s just the way I am. I’m obsessed with crispness and perfection in everything that I do.”

It took some time for Costa’s family to accept the fact that the boy wanted to be a designer. Initially, he faced a lot of resistance, especially from his father. He recalls how it all started: “Twenty years ago, I went to a guy called Yusuf to make my first suit. When I asked my parents to pick it up, I told him to convince them that it was okay to be a fashion designer — that this was the profession of the future. When I returned home that night, I got the beating of my life as my father thought I wanted to be gay, like Yusuf was!” Costa had to leave home for a while, as in many an Indian home, the father is considered king. But retaining his respect and love for his parents, he says, “I was a rebel — I said that this was my journey! Yet, I completed my graduation only for them, since I loved them tremendously.”

Dealing with the famous comes easily to him — his first filmi client was Aditya Pancholi who took him to Anil Kapoor; and then there was no looking back. Except in special cases like the Prime Minister and other politicians, Costa insists that his clients come to his atelier for the first visit before he starts his creative process. On this rule, he states, “It is important to meet the person. You can go into a store and buy a jacket, but they can’t alter it — look at celebrities wearing brands, the sleeve length may be too long or too short. I’ve always been so fussy about this aspect that it’s just become a part of me now. I need to do my job thoroughly. I am a simple guy; I insist that clients come to my store the first time — after that I will do whatever they want. They must understand what we do, the kind of clothes we make. Each individual is different. Hrithik Roshan is flamboyant; Saif Ali Khan wears the classics. I am not going to change who a person is; I’m going to keep his image in mind and make perfect clothes to suit him. We have some jackets that we call the magic jackets, which we make clients wear to identify their cut and fit, so they don’t have to go through many trials. I learnt all this on the road: the importance of getting into the psyche of the person and respecting the value of his time.”

Costa draws inspiration from his travels, but is quick to make it clear that he does not seek it from others in the field. He is highly inspired by Italy — the place and its people. He recently spent almost a month in the country, and states, “They live their fashion and love their work. I see people in their 80s working nine-to-six; it’s amazing, having built their businesses over the last four decades and more. They want to create the legacy that I have been dreaming of. In our country, many tailors retire at 50. They have acquired the best skills and should be making money by working and teaching. But nobody wants to teach. It’s impossible to build the next group of tailors and pattern-makers; we are trying to correct that and are working with people from different communities. It is important to learn, because menswear is more difficult than womenswear. It’s all about the tailoring and the little traditions — why the pocket watch has to be a particular way, or why the pocket square has to be placed just so! You cannot disrespect traditions.”

Currently busy with plans to set up production in Italy, Costa is looking forward to his Paris debut. He says, “Fame and money do not excite me beyond a point. The challenge is to show abroad. I keep telling my team that a dog that barks in his own neighbourhood considers himself to be a lion. I don’t want to be that kind of guy. This year I want to reinvent myself.”

The timing for the 2018 Paris showing emphasises that Costa is playing to his strengths. He admits, “Initially we were thinking of June but Spring/Summer is a bit scary for me. Paris is not forgiving. And, as a new designer, it is safer for me to show my winter collection as that is more me. I can show leather, suits and tuxedos.”

The next year will also see the launch of Cruz Troy Costa stores showcasing a more affordable retail line. Named after his son, he sees it as the beginning of the legacy he will leave behind. His daughters Trésor and Chloé, are also tuned into the world of cuts and colours. Costa says proudly, “We’re going to create something even bigger with Cruz Troy Costa. The kids will come into the fold and build the business further, like international brands that are passed on from one generation to the next.”

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