Gilbert Madhavan had his fashion awakening while he was living in the Caribbean in the mid-2000s. The 63-year-old hospitality veteran was then stationed at Raffles Hotel on the uber-exclusive island of Canouan in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Billed as the luxury getaway for the rich and the famous, many of the resort’s guests came from global capitals such as New York, Paris, London and Milan. “At the weekly residents’ cocktail events, every guest would show up, so it was important to dress well,” says Madhavan, who is currently the general manager of One Farrer Park Hotel. During his four decades in the hospitality industry, he has also worked in Australia and Asia, spending 16 years with Raffles Hotels & Resorts where he opened and managed Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
“Wearing statement pieces would also be a good conversation starter, so I started to get more adventurous, wearing colours and prints instead of a black and white suit.”
He would frequently shop at fashion capitals, as one of the perks of the job was travelling there to meet potential guests. He continues to rank classic designer labels among his favourites, saying: “Versace has very unique suits and shirt designs. I love Issey Miyake for his colourful and ‘playful’ outfits, Roberto Cavalli for interesting prints and well-cut suits, and Etro for colourful shirts.”
No wonder his impeccably fitted suits – which include bespoke creations by Tom Ford – are always styled to be a cut above the rest, be it through the masterful use of a standout print, unique embroidery or statement shoes. He distils his sartorial secrets for The Peak.
How would you describe your personal style?
I am not a big follower of fashion trends especially at my age, so I keep my personal style to three basic fundamentals – well-cut clothing, good fabric and interesting prints or details that make a difference in a tasteful way, not just for the sake of being different.
Do you have a style hack that never fails to save the day?
I love Lululemon’s men’s slacks. They fit well, are comfortably stretchy and do not crease. Yes, I wore them for this photoshoot.
What was your first big ticket fashion purchase?
When I was stationed in Cambodia in the ’90s, one of my first vacations was to Bangkok. I went to the old Gaysorn Plaza, walked into the Versace boutique and bought a shirt for a princely US$1,200. It was my first foray into luxury fashion.
A year later, Versace was killed and for me to own something by such an iconic designer, which bears the now defunct “Gianni Versace” tag, is very special. I can still fit into the shirt and it has maintained its shape.
Do you have any items that evoke special memories?
A few years ago, my wife and I were walking by the Christian Louboutin boutique at Takashimaya when I spotted a pair of black studded loafers. I went in, tried four pairs and fell in love with all of them. However, my wife said: “No, you cannot buy because you have spent too much money.” So I left disappointed.
What I didn’t know was that she quietly went back to buy all four pairs and worked with my staff to throw me a surprise 58th birthday party. They remain some of my favourites today.
Is there anything you would not wear at your age?
Grunge wear or mesh singlets.
Have you ever committed a fashion faux pas?
In Cambodia, I once wore a sampot (the traditional Cambodian attire similar to a sarong), which I tied myself. But when I was walking, it started to unravel! I had to hold on to it and hide in a bathroom, where I texted my staff to come to my rescue with a belt. (laughs)
What are your quick style fixes?
It is always important to have handy a well-cut black suit and a good pair of black shoes. Matched with slacks or jeans, over a shirt or T-shirt, these can generally take me through any occasion, unless it is a big formal event.