INTEVIEW: The man who design Zulu king’s suits

Durban designer Janak Parekh has created suits for royalty and presidents. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi wears one of his creations, right, and top right is a picture of the late King Goodwill Zwelithini with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The one on the bottom right shows Parekh’s parents, Yeshwantlal and Surjben, with him and Nelson Mandela. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/African News Agency (ANA)

His suits don’t have a brand name and he never has to take measurements.

That’s Durban designer Janak Parekh who has suited up the who’s who of SA’s elite, from the late King Goodwill Zwelithini and icon Nelson Mandela to the rich and famous on the international stage, such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bollywood’s Anil Kapoor.

This week, Parekh had a chat to look back at 30 years of dressing the rich and powerful.

“I import fabrics from different parts of the world so the design is never the same and each suit is unique.

“I’ve been dealing for so long with ministers, I think I’ve even started to look like one, lots of people say I look just like Pravin Gordhan,“ said Parekh with a laugh.

Having grown up in Mumbai, India, Parekh, who was a qualified mechanical engineer, moved to Durban in 1989, settling along the beachfront and soon after that met his first supporter.

“I went to an event in Ulundi where I met Dr Buthelezi and at one stage I gauged his measurements and surprised him with a suit,” said Parekh, who also started designing suits for a number of people including the late Zulu monarch, because of the high quality of his suits.

“I never take measurements, I just look at someone.

“I design the suit and send the specifications to India, where the suit is made and then it is delivered,” he said, adding that one of the highlights of his career was the king introducing him to Modi.

“The king wanted to wear a suit with such a design to make the Indian prime minister feel comfortable.

“The king was so humble, he took me and introduced me to Prime Minister Modi in the ministerial room.

“It was such a big achievement in my life and it turned out that the prime minister and I were from the same province and spoke the same language,” he said, adding that India has 27 languages or dialects.

He added that the king had also taken a suit designed by him to Reverend James Orange from the Luther King Foundation when he travelled to America.

“For the king’s 60th birthday party, I was invited to join the main table and I joked with him ’why would I do that as all the other nine guests at the table were dressed in my suits’.

“The king had a good sense of humour and he practised and transmitted humility to anybody he came across,” said Parekh, who has conceptualised a suit design for the new Zulu monarch, should he be approached to do such a design.

“I am confident that the new Zulu monarch will carry on the legacy of his predecessor and hold on to traditional values, along with the wisdom of the traditional prime minister Dr Buthelezi, while moving forward at the same time,” said Parekh.

He said his most expensive suit was for a sheik in Abu Dabhi who paid a cool R328 000 for the outfit.

“I pick up many of my colours and designs from nature and I also look at the background and culture of the client and I will bear in mind the client’s taste.

“They don’t tell me what suit they want, I tell them what will suit them,” he said.