Kaustav Dey, Vice President — Marketing, Tommy Hilifiger & Calvin Klein, talks to HELLO! About his style, Indian men’s fashion sense, his current fashion obsession, and more…
Style to me is: An expression of our unique, individual identity. It’s a language of love that communicates who we are and what we believe in without having to say a word.
On being HELLO!’s Most Stylish Queer Icon: It’s such an honour for me to be selected for this category!
Being stylish VS being fashionable: Fashion is what we wear. Style is how we choose to do it.
My personal style: Tells the story of who I am, where I come from and what I stand for. It’s a mix of heirloom pieces from my mother, vintage pieces from across the world and designers who infuse meaning into their clothes.
Favourite brands and designers: Overseas, my favourites are Raf Simons, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger (I’ve learnt so much personally from this genius maverick!). In India, I love Rajesh Pratap Singh, Sabyasachi and Ara Lumiere.
Indian men — stylish or not? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say 10! Indian men, at their very core, have always been some of the most stylish men in the world historically — right from the magnificence of the maharajas to the timeless modernity of the Madras checks.
A recent style indulgence: A Balenciaga bag. The most stylish cities: Venice and Varanasi, both for very different reasons.
Three items that complete my wardrobe: A double-breasted pinstripe suit, a silk and zari Banarasi shawl and my favourite white shirt.
Inherited sense of style: I learnt everything I know about style from my mother. She made me fall in love with fashion. I was mesmerised by how much joy she got from dressing up, and I was entranced by how radiant she was when she did — always the perfect balance of restraint and whimsy in her style. Just with what she wore, she taught me how to respect our roots and reference our heritage, and how to experiment with silhouettes, play with proportion and use fashion to be absolutely whoever we wanted to be that day. At that point, I knew nothing yet of the ‘rules’ of what a man must look like. I just remember wanting to be as beautiful as her when I grew up.
I’m happiest wearing: A kurta and pyjama with a Kashmiri pashmina shawl.
Current fashion obsession: I love fashion that effortlessly blends the structured nature of masculine style with the unexpected softness of what’s considered traditionally feminine. So currently, I’m absolutely obsessed with the dreamy, nuanced, almost ‘bridal’ pieces in designer Simone Rocha’s first menswear collection that was just showcased at London Fashion Week.
Items I overuse: My Thom Browne backpack. I carry it everywhere! Whether to work or while on vacation, it’s a signature part of me.
An overrated trend: I believe fashion is meant to be a beautiful escape, a fantasy of our very own artistic expression. Therefore, I’m deeply unmoved by ‘trends’ that fetishise the oversimplification of fashion, such as normcore and athleisure.
Work is worship: In addition to being a TED speaker and advocating for issues like diversity, inclusivity and gender non-conformance using fashion and jewellery as a means of visual dissent, I’m also the Vice President of Marketing for Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.
My most prized possession: My diamond ring. I wear it every day, regardless of whether I’m formally or casually dressed, in Indian wear or western clothing. It’s a traditional neli, a wedding ring worn only by women in South India. I wear it not because I find its unique, fluid V-shaped structure beautiful (and why must beauty be gendered?), but also to make a visual point that I refuse to play by the rules of what I’m allowed to wear as a man. It’s my silent, sparkling reminder to myself to continue to push against the system and its stereotypes.
Style motto: I believe that what we wear is who we are. Fashion can give us the courage to express ourselves fully and freely, without the need to have to say a single word. In a world with increasingly narrow definitions of what we are allowed to do, who we are permitted to love and what we can or cannot look like, fashion can be our visual dissent against the boxes we are conditioned to fit into, our strong protest against the stifling sameness of conformity we are expected to abide by. Our style can fill us with strength, our fashion can be our armour against the world.
Photos: Harish Ramaswamy
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s November 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!