Ailing With Style | Verve Magazine
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July 16, 2008

Ailing With Style

Text by Shernaaz Engineer. Photographs by Ram Bherwani

He is the alpha male, she is his Aphrodite. Gautam and Nawaz Singhania live a life of passion, fashion and understated panache. Shernaaz Engineer encounters them on the high seas

Rough weather can rock anyone’s boat and the Singhanias are no exception. With the sun still high in the sky, we step onto Shazma, their chic dhow stationed off Mumbai’s Gateway. Nawaz is immediately much the worse off with the churning waters doing their choppy number rather without compunction. Her courteous composure is ruffled by the inclement conditions, although she braves through with almost intimidating resolve. And two Crocins.

Gautam, on the other hand, is a salty son of the sea. His stable of water babies includes a yacht and a couple of speed boats. And he loves the water in fair weather or foul, getting out into the sea as often as he can. “I have gone sailing to Goa several times,” he smiles, “and twice a week I’m in and around the Mumbai-Alibag circuit.”

While Nawaz may not always share his passion for the waters, they complement each other perfectly as clothes horses and, while he doesn’t readily concede as much, he does take his fashion cues from her, quickly changing at the shoot when she expresses disapproval over a sleeveless shirt. “Nawaz is a critic of my style, sometimes…” he confesses, “but a good critic.” So, is he the Complete Man, like his Raymond tagline? He laughs, “That’s an infinite proposition, but this man is always evolving. Life is a journey and it inspires me. On every front, whether it is business, family, or personal perspectives, there are different objectives one is trying to achieve. You can do only as much as is possible,” he reasons.

Nawaz, for her part, is as enthusiastic a student of life. “Virtually everyone I meet actually ends up teaching me something. Even those I don’t think much of teach me something I should not do or should not be, thereby influencing my thinking.” She is the sort who can hold her own and pursues her career in health and fitness with a passion that goes beyond the mere trifling affectations that many ‘ladies who lunch’ feign for want of something significant to fill their days with. If not exactly a pioneer, she is certainly one of the prime movers of the fitness business in India, having trained in America many years ago, returning to start her fitness studios that promote a holistic approach to health.

And she is her own best advertisement. Not an inch is amiss on her toned and taut frame. Despite having a little daughter, she is back in shape, although on the day we meet she isn’t exactly ship-shape, given the rocky boat! But that doesn’t hamper her inherent flair for looking fabulous. Unfussy and understated, she is almost bashful about being in the spotlight.

“Style to me is, firstly and most importantly, being comfortable in your own skin. Only then can you be comfortable in what you’re wearing and look good and stylish. Style should be highly personalised,” she explains.

Gautam echoes her sentiments when he adds, “Whatever makes you feel comfortable will define your style. I could be wearing anything from Indian to funky, casual to formal stuff, but my clothes will always be comfortable.”

He is also not a label junkie. “I buy brands people have not even heard of. Although, most often, I don’t look at the labels when I buy. But I have to confess that Raymond is a favourite.” Well, the Chairman of Raymond Limited is entitled to be partial towards his product!

Nawaz is more democratic and goes by the look rather than the label when she is dressing up. “Colour wise, I tend to veer towards blues, purples, greens and whites. I can’t bear black. I love the Gothic look, though,” she confesses. And her favourite accessory is, without doubt, her attitude! This is confirmed in her choice of style icons: “Victoria Beckham, because her look is just so picture perfect. She carries off all she wears with such great élan, ease and class. Angelina Jolie, because she looks fantastic, captivating and wickedly alluring, all in the most basic clothes and colours. And Julia Roberts, as her vivacious personality and million dollar smile helps her carry off just about anything.”

Nawaz, herself, can carry off almost everything, from small shift dresses to elegant saris, from gym shorts to formal shirts. But, beyond a point, she finds fashion a tad tedious. “To me, yes, while it’s very important, I feel that some people tend to give it undue importance. At the end of the day, fashion is a vehicle and not the be-all and end-all of life. Many things make a woman truly beautiful. I think integral parts of true beauty are humility, grace, kindness and sensitivity.”

She doesn’t add fitness, although it is high on her list. But her approach is balanced and without any of the faddish enslavement that many fitness gurus may encourage. Gautam, for his part, is a fitness buff too, although, surprisingly, he doesn’t engage his wife’s expertise, informally or otherwise. “For me, fitness is more an attitude,” he explains, “if you think fit you become fit. I pretty much follow my own regimen.” He does admit to some dietary indiscretions, though. “I’m a foodie and you tend to eat junk food once in a while. So I have to keep myself on a leash.” Being naturally sporty, he has ample scope to burn it all off. His pet passions he lists in no particular order as “boats, planes, cars, helicopters, jet skiing, water skiing and travelling”. Favourite holiday destinations include the Maldives, French Polynesia, the Andamans, Lakshadweep, South America and Greenland.

Nawaz has, more lately, been foraying into art and enjoys this new found expression of her creativity. That, coupled with running her fitness centres, and being mum to little Niharika, fills her day. Their personalities juxtapose interestingly. While she appears perfunctorily precise and to-the-point, he is more out there and all-over-the-place. Known to be an avid party animal, he cocks an indifferent eyebrow and announces, “I do enjoy going out – interpret that as you will.”

More gamely, he smiles, “I thrive on chaos. There’s no typical day in my life, although I do know what I’m doing!” He has grown into his role as chairman of one of India’s largest textiles and readymade garments group, with brands like the iconic Raymond, as well as ColorPlus, Parx, Manzoni, Park Avenue, Zapp (for kids) and so on. He is still remembered as the man who launched KamaSutra, a condom with a radical advertising campaign that raised a flurry and fury in the staid clime of a couple of decades ago. But he has had a bit of a path breaking streak, what with conceptualising and creating one of the earliest designer prêt chain stores, BE:, which unfortunately didn’t meet with much success. “I think BE: was before its time,” he accedes, and adds, “No, I am not in touch with any of the designers any more.” Perhaps, it will take the home-grown fashion business a while before a corporate collaboration can bear fruit and Gautam Singhania is rather fed up of waiting.

Whether it’s charting his business or his boat, he’s philosophical: “I believe you’ve got to go out and do what you want to do.” What anchors him? “My will,” he responds, “it centres me and keeps me going.” Nawaz is also contemplative and concedes, “Thinking differently and finding new answers to old and new questions are some of the things that keep me excited and alive.”

More pressingly, she wants to get off the boat as there’s only so much motion sickness Mrs Singhania can take. As she leaves, Gautam settles down on his dhow with a buddy, who has just hopped on and offers him a beer. They start talking shop. The sun slips into a scenic descent and, back at the Mumbai jetty, a relieved Nawaz slides into a waiting BMW that purrs off as she waves goodbye.

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