Lecture: Designing Elite Indian Masculinities: Fashion, Whisky, and Cosmopolitan Neo-Royalty

New York University in Prague

E. Gellner Seminar

3rd April 2014


The lecture is based on a final chapter of Tereza Kuldova’s forthcoming anthropological monograph, Designing Elites: Fashion, Fantasy and Ideology among India’s Rich (2015). Grounded in a long-term ethnographic research in urban North India (New Delhi and Lucknow) among India’s leading fashion designers and their elite clientele, the lecture will present a critical discussion of the constructions of contemporary Indian elite masculinities and of the experiences of elite masculinity in crisis. In particular, the lecture will address the ways in which ambiguous symbols of low class machismo, muscular politics, and goonda-ism (gangster habitus), that are notoriously mocked and despised as much as admired and desired, become translated into an elitist aesthetics of powerful masculinity. Furthermore, the lecture will explore the nostalgia for warrior-hood, the re-invention of precolonial history and of the iconic luxurious lives of the maharajas and Mughals, and the re-imaginations of the ambiguous figure of an English gentleman that still haunts the elite men. Finally, the lecture will show how contemporary elite Indian fashion designers both diagnose and manufacture this crisis of masculinity, and how they promise to remedy it by joining forces with the alcohol industry and the art world thus creating virilising event platforms, where powerful elitist masculinities can be repetitively staged and reinforced.