In the last few years, we have seen an ace filmmaker and one of the most powerful men of the Indian film fraternity, Karan Johar, turn into the ultimate fashion trailblazer. He’s also Lifestyle Asia India’s February cover star, and here we have him, talking to us exclusively about his passion and love for all things fashion.
Superstar and style icon Ranveer Singh calls Karan Johar a bona fide fashion maverick. When we spoke to him, here’s what he said about his Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani director, “Karan is a force of nature in the sphere of fashion. His knowledge, his aesthetic, his innovations are all driven by one thing – passion. He’s a man who has a very true and a very rare passion for artistic expression through fashion. The best part about it is that he is beyond just hype; he dresses for himself and for the joy that it gives him. He is at the very forefront of Indian men’s fashion. A bona fide fashion maverick.”
We asked one of the finest actors of India and always impeccably dressed Ayushmann Khurrana what he thinks of Karan’s style and he said, “Karan Johar is one of the pioneers in making the conversation about high fashion so relevant in India. He has an eclectic and maverick fashion sensibility that speaks volumes about his personality and we all love how he plays dress-up. There is great showmanship in how he does it. He has shown that he is here to make statements and ups our country’s style game.”
We also spoke to fashion supernova and singer Badshah who said, “Karan Johar’s style statements make a case for outlandish fashion. I admire the way his choices swing from flamboyance to minimalism. His sartorial aesthetic subsumes everything right from animal prints, to floral and super bold prints. He goes where no one has gone before with the drama it takes to pull off oversized glasses, metallic footwear, and the coolest jackets.”
Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana and Badshah’s words mirror our thoughts. It can be safely said that Karan Johar has become a sort of cultural phenomenon in the last few years. The boomers are inspired by his films and business acumen, while Gen Z is impressed by his ‘gram game. After conquering the world of films, television, stage, Karan Johar is now at the top of the fashion game too. And he’s owning it like a boss! However, it’s been a journey for him. Here’s what he has to say about it…
Our February cover star Karan Johar talks about all things fashion
The last few years have witnessed a big change in your fashion and the way you dress. What has led to this metamorphosis?
I think I woke up one day, and I just got fed up with myself. I was always inclined towards fashion as a hobby. As a child, there used to be a ‘raddi wala’ store that used to have foreign fashion magazines, and I would go and pick them up. They used to be in tatters, but I’d buy them. When I was assisting on Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, I used to see Shah Rukh Khan’s clothes and give some references from the magazines, but they all thought I was speaking some other language.
Then I became a director and I think we evolve as time goes, and at one point I thought, ‘if I love all this, why can’t I just wear it?’ And you know maybe it doesn’t go with me, my age, or my stature. As a filmmaker, you are also perceived in a certain way and are supposed to dress in a manner, but I’ve never really conformed to what people think. I mean I’m a single parent, I’ve taken decisions for my life that are in any case considered unconventional, but I do what makes me happy. So, I told myself why can’t I wear what makes me happy. These are clothes that I love, I love seeing them on others, why can’t I see them on myself? And then I started enjoying the Instagram game. What started as fun became a thing, and I thought why shouldn’t I do proper shoots and I started enjoying that too. My love for fashion is unapologetic, unconventional but it is what I love. I’m going to be 50 in May, and I do not want to do things that don’t make me happy, and I’ve stopped caring about what everyone thinks. As I said, you can love me, you can hate me, as long as you’re not indifferent to me, I’m fine.
You’re also breaking away from the notion ‘Dress your age’. What do you have to say to this statement?
I don’t understand what dressing your age is. At one point in time, you are going to realise that perhaps all this is too much for me or maybe you won’t. It all depends on what your mind is, you’re as old as your mind tells you. Firstly, I can’t bear ageist comments, they annoy the hell out of me. What do you mean by ‘Dress your age’? That’s the most ageist thing you can say to somebody. You should dress in what gives you happiness. Lines like, ‘For your age, you’re looking really good’ bug me. Nobody is woke in this world, and they have to understand that there is a woke environment that surrounds us and all of us have to come to terms with it that there is an entire community of people that have taken off in an entirely different direction, and if you don’t keep up with them, you’re going to stay behind and if you’re staying behind you’re going to say a lot of regressive and strange things which will be caught eventually, so you better watch what you’re saying these days.
Your first film Kuch Kuch Hota hai was a fashion game-changer. How involved were you in the film’s styling?
Manish Malhotra and I, for the first time, took a trip to London to shop for Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. At that time GAP, Polo Sport, DKNY were brands we wanted to have and that’s why we flashed them all over. We were like if we’re paying this much money; we should show that they are wearing big brands. I was very invested and totally into it. We wanted to make our fashion statement because that was my voice and I’m so glad that I had Manish to partner with because he went for it, it’s all him. My father thought we were mad because nobody had ever travelled out of the country to buy clothes before. It was the first time anyone ever did it in India. In 1997, we took that trip to London to buy clothes for a film. Then of course everybody started going. We made athleisure a thing back in 1998 and it’s all Manish Malhotra, full power to him and complete credit to him and his vision for creating that voice. He’s such a strong voice in Bollywood when it comes to fashion.
Who are the people that have influenced your style?
All the Hindi cinema I saw growing up as a kid has had an influence on me. From Mumtaz to Rekha to Sridevi to Zeenat Aman to Parveen Babi, my references are all these heroines, and I learnt a lot from Manish. Even the men in fashion — Amitabh Bachchan to Dev Anand, Shashi Kapoor, and of course Rishi Kapoor. I used to go mad looking at his sweaters in the 70s and 80s. Hindi cinema has changed my sartorial sensibilities. Hindi cinema has been my training ground; it has been an institution in itself when it comes to fashion.
How does your mother react to your fashion choices?
(Laughs) She’s horrified sometimes. There are times she still tells me, “What are you wearing. Go back and change” I tell her I’m going to be 50, and I’m not going back to my room to change my outfit because you don’t like it. She still says I can’t go outside looking like this.
Does she know how much your clothes cost?
No, I lie to her about that. Firstly, she thinks everything I’m buying is on sale. I never tell her the truth because she’ll kill me if I reveal the actual price.
There’s also an ongoing conversation about how all the female actors in our country are losing their individuality because everyone is copying each other. What do you have to say about that?
I’m upset and disappointed about how this generation is dressing. I think that there are such few people who really walk the talk when it comes to fashion. Kareena Kapoor Khan is a quintessential diva when it comes to fashion, she always gets it right. I think Deepika Padukone is pushing the fashion boundary; it’s fantastic. I think Alia Bhatt has a very strong sensibility of her own and she is always very individualistic in her fashion choices, and I appreciate that but everybody else is just looking like the same.
I’m not mentioning names here but the younger girls can do so much better. They should develop a sensibility of their own. Everybody looks like they’re coming out of a cookie-cutter machine. Each stylist is also going to the same brands; it’s a disappointing fashion fair. Fashion disappoints me every day when I go to the ‘gram.
What is your take on airport fashion?
Well, I also succumbed to that airport runway for a long time because I was like, ‘Oh god, the paps are going to be there, so you might as well dress for them right.’ So, there were the glasses, the backpack, the jackets, the whole enchilada. However, due to the pandemic there has been an organic reduction of airport fashion. I feel as long as you’re carrying a change in your trolley bag and you can get into your sweatpants on a long-haul flight, you can wear what you want. You’re being photographed at the airport and these pictures are archived for posterity, so you might as well look good.