Suket Dhir reflects on designing Abhijit Banerjee's outfit for the 2019 Nobel prize ceremony

New Delhi, India

Speaking on 4 January 2024 in Bikaner House, New Delhi, at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Suket Dhir reflected on his experience of meeting Professor Abhijit Banerjee, co-founder and co-director of J-PAL, getting to know him, and dressing him for the 2019 Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, where Abhijit was awarded the Nobel prize in economics, along with Professor Esther Duflo, co-founder and co-director of J-PAL, and Professor Michael Kremer, longtime J-PAL collaborator.



A day before they arrived, I was at an event at IGNCA. It was a Good Earth event going on, the middle of the night and Abhijit, it's just been announced that he's won the Nobel.

“I’d like you to dress him up. Do you think you can make some time?”

I said, “I’m absolutely free.”

So I was not busy anymore. And they came over for about – I told him: "I'll need about a couple of hours. I just can't, on a whim, dress him up. I'd like to spend some time with him, if you can." And luckily they did. So I think the first thing I was, I was awestruck.

It was almost like the Delhi people meeting celebrities. We don't get to see celebrities quite as often as Bombay people do.

So I saw him and I was like, okay, well, a Nobel laureate has walked into my studio. What do I do?

I had my family over, my children were there. We did a photo op. I pulled out an Economist magazine. I was on the cover of that magazine and, as a joke I cracked with Abhijit, I said: "Listen, the only way you can top this," because I was on the cover of the Economist magazine, I said, "you're the economist, but I'm on the cover. The way we can reverse this is you need to be on the cover of GQ.' That hasn't happened yet – but we shall make that happen hopefully sometime soon.

There was a brief, there were two options – one was a tailcoat and the other one was a national dress, sort of, one of their own cultural dress – and we decided to go with a cultural dress, and I recommended a Bandhgala with a trouser. We fitted him for that and he left.

About two months later, I was supposed to ship the products to him and I decided to pack in a dhoti and a kurta on my own. When he received the parcel, I get a phone call.

He's like, "Listen, what is this?"

I said, "This is something I decided to pack and send to you. I was being very presumptive since you're a Bengali and you'd know how to tie a dhoti."

He did laugh and he's like, "Yes, I love tying a dhoti. So you recommend I should wear a dhoti?"

I said, "Sure, if you would."

And he ended up wearing a dhoti. I think his outfit was talked about more. Thank you, Abhijit, for giving me that opportunity – and he got featured in Vogue magazine, so that happened.

Like he said, he has a very infectious energy. There's a certain amount of innocence he approaches certain subjects, and that is something which is very inspiring. You don't get to see innocence these days, but there is a certain something that is there, that I've observed, and that is what makes him magnetic.

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