Step forward Hamid Karzai, fashion icon to the world

By Susannah Frankel,Fashion Editor
Thursday 17 January 2002 01:00

Kindred spirits hail from the strangest of corners. Tom Ford, aka Mr Fashion, took the opportunity at his latest menswear show for Gucci in Milan to label the newly appointed Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, "the most chic man in the world".

The designer expressed admiration for Mr Karzai's sober, single-breasted suits (so much less "flashy executive" than the double-breasted variety, don't you think?), worn with T-shirts (ultra-modern – Mr Ford does this very same thing himself!), his "soft, long trousers" (surely he can't be expected to wear shorts), and, of course, his Astrakhan fur hat. Mr Ford, coincidentally, once designed a pale jade trench hat in just the same material.

The brilliant pointlessness of such an observation aside – given the monumental gravity of his position, Mr Karzai is surely the most unlikely style icon since, well, since Mahatma Gandhi – it has to be said that his is, undoubtedly, what is known in the trade as a very good look. And if anyone knows a good look when he sees one, it's Tom Ford, the creative director at Gucci. A quick glance at the designer's latest collection could almost be said to have had Mr Karzai in mind as a brilliantly unpredictable muse – which wipes the floor with the likes of Audrey Hepburn in the obscurity stakes.

If Mr Ford is to be believed – and it almost goes without saying that he is – then come summer, the male population can look forward to a return to formal, sophisticated dressing not seen since it was sported by the great Hollywood film stars of the Thirties – just the type of "proud elegance" he credits Mr Karzai with possessing, in fact. And can Mr Ford possibly have failed to notice Mr Karzai's effortless fusion between traditional tailoring and ethnic influences? I think not.

The brilliantly casual layering of neutrallycoloured, Nehru -collared shirt, waistcoat and jacket, finished with jewel-coloured wrap, demonstrates a lightness of touch not seen since Yves Saint Laurent in his heyday. Okay, so the ivory pashmina worn in the back of the car outside the palace in Kabul was rather last millennium, but perhaps Mr Karzai was just cold. It was December, after all.

Aside from this fashion faux pas, however, the man is blameless, from the subtle old-gold beading on the lapels of one particularly memorable silk wrap to the beard groomed just so. It looks like it smells discreetly of lavender.

All in all, the world's other more established leaders would do well to take a leaf out of Mr Karzai's (calfskin-leather-bound) book. Treading the fine line between two of the world's most impeccable male role models – Sean Connery and Omar Sharif – he puts George Bush (Mr Ralph Lauren/Marlboro Man) and Tony Blair (Mr Next) to shame.

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