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Whither the humble `mundu'?

SUNANDA KHANNA checks out the sartorial male fashion in the city.

THERE'S NO disputing the fact that the `mundu' is easily the most comfortable garment ever designed for man. Light, made of the purest cotton it's easy to wash and easier to wear; mostly white in colour, it can team up with any shirt; it combats the State's climate like no other, be it the humidity or the monsoon; all a man needs to do as he wades through the ubiquitous puddles of rain water, is to hitch it up to the knees and voila!

However, there is one aspect where it falls way short. Even at its best with a gold zari border, it makes a poor fashion statement. Like it or leave it, the `mundu' is passé.

Open the closet of a fashion-conscious Kerala man and it'll reveal his best-kept secret. The solitary `mundu' has been pushed somewhere at the back to be dug out only for the odd ceremony. And discover that he has come of age. There's a lot more in there than just the basic black, the classic grey or the standard blue. Trousers in manifold fabrics and shades, shirts in checks and stripes confirm that he isn't afraid to indulge in his vanity.

So much so that Jyoti Deepak Aswani of Raymonds declares that her showroom on M.G. Road has been awarded first prize in the country in sales of the Park Avenue line. With 4,000 shirts in four different sizes, a variety of 2,500 trousers, 500 suits and close to 300 jackets thrown in, there's enough to choose from for even the most discerning buyer.

Money flowed in like never before when a large number of Keralites headed to the Gulf. Suddenly there was enough cash to run the household, plus a bit more. The MTV and other fashion channels further fuelled the imagination and the confident, multi-hued man basked in the luxury of dreaming. He stepped out of the malls carrying an air of success and sophistication about him.

Nithyanand Kamath of Louis Phillipe says, "Ten years ago the market was not capable. One still had to get trousers and shirts tailored and the concept of ready-mades was awaited. People who went abroad saw what was in and what looked good. They wanted to dress like them. Today of course, everything has changed. We have the highest quality goods available," and the best brands are just a walk away.

Brand names are sure-fire crowd pullers. It's where most of the action has been this season. It's the hype of the label that creates the frenzy. While Allen Solly offered no discount during Onam, it gifted a tote bag as a freebie with every purchase of two shirts. With prices slated at Rs 1,000 for a shirt it is the upper class that the brand entices. Similar is the story with the other big names in clothing. Janak Dave, vice-president, sales and marketing, Arrow Shirts, says that this year Arrow brought out a new edition to mark Onam. Priced between Rs 895 and Rs 1,495, the collection's u.s.p is that the shirts are crafted from 100% wrinkle-free cotton. The check collection includes a wide range of distinctive formal shirts in festive yellows, natural greens, crystal pinks, bright blues and a combination of these. Enough to woo the upward middle market, which is looking for impeccable finish and an eye for detail. Incidentally, according to the a survey conducted by the company, men in South India prefer bright cheerful checks as compared to the blues and beiges that sell in the North.

The consumer has grown with time. He knows what to wear and when. In the hierarchy of style, the trouser remains at the top. It must fit the body and needs to be cut and tailored appropriate to the form. "The fitting of the trouser is vital. If a customer is satisfied with the fitting, he will never change the brand," says Kamath. It was the cotton, wrinkle free pants that sold best at his store this season. "Our selling point is that our fabric is 25% lighter than the normal cotton", says Kamath. He adds that today's client is relatively simple in his taste and whereas the youngsters go in for non-pleated trousers, others still stick with the pleated ones.

Steve Lobo, assistant manager of the Raymonds showroom offers that it is the staying ability of the crease that decides the trouser. "When they get off from their cars, men don't want the crease to be messed up," he says. However, Ms. Aswani lets us into a little secret, "The idea of wrinkle free cottons that is being tom-tommed is not altogether true. The chemical treatment that is given to the fabric stays only for a few washes". Of course those few washes could last up to 15!

Meanwhile, what sold like hot cakes at the store this Onam were bold checked shirts in polyester cotton. Cool linens and comfortable cottons are the order of the day. Their wardrobe includes smart casuals for weekends, shirts with different collar styles such as the mandarin collar for the evenings, and a suit. "The khakis that we have recently introduced are selling well this season. They come under the casual category of clothes and are therefore loosely fitted and comfortable," says Ms. Aswani. Even as a good suit is a man's trump card, "it didn't sell too well this Onam," she adds.

Gautam Reddy of the Seematti Men's Studio explains the psyche of the male customer. "Men are exceedingly conscious of price and quality. They come in with a budget, painstakingly check out the particulars, compare brands and when satisfied buy. Women, on the other hand, covet what is the latest in fashion. They have no qualms about stepping beyond their original budget." Even as his North Indian counterpart is willing to try out the latest trends, be it leather garments replete with embellishments, rivets and wild prints, the Kerala man moves with caution.

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