Parmeshwar Godrej: The passing of a diva


Parmeshwar Godrej: The passing of a diva

Style is both beast and beauty. Beastly in the way it eludes most. Beautiful in the way most chase it anyway. Style is both notorious and famous. Those who burn in its flame get branded for and reduced to their appearance, never mind their other pursuits. Prosaic parameters like height and weight, gait and get up, collar bone angularity and cheek bone finesse, taste and charm, hair and makeup; the way a person juggles fashion and trendiness, chooses clothes and colours, dresses to inform and communicate are used to explain style. Elements that are easily comprehensible when distinct. But once fluidly blended, the result is easy to admire,yet hard to deconstruct. This enviable blend could, to some extent, define the style of Parmeshwar Godrej. She passed away earlier this week in Mumbai at the age of 71. She was suffering from a lung ailment.

Air hostess, wife, mother, fashion and interior designer, hostess without borders, philanthropist, curator and friend of the rich and famous. Her many roles, with many adjectives and many photographs became a commentary on the Bombay society of the times gone by. She beamed it out with her charming persona, lacy corsets, white and black berets, long legs, bandage dresses, slinky saris and age defying choices.

Before Bombay faded into Mumbai, before society parties began to echo the faux decadence of sponsored booze and PR dictated guest lists, before fashion became a victim, before the front row became the joke it is today, Parmeshwar was the diva. Her famous friends from cinema, cricket, society, fashion and philanthropy, Imran Khan or Richard Gere, Oprah Winfrey, the Bachchans, the Khans or the Ambanis among many others who held her in warmth and respect added to her jazz.

I saw Parmeshwar in Stardust magazine (and in other glossies of yore) when I was in high school in a small town in Kutch in the Eighties. Mesmerized by the idea of Bombay then, I found in her photos the shades of that magical place of my mind. Trendy people, disco clubs, Ensemble the fashion store, Bombay Gymkhana, cinema halls, the Race Course, Colaba Causeway, Zeenat Aman, Vinod Khanna, plush homes with marble staircases waiting for a Shammi Kapoor to waltz down on a song… Parmeshwar’s life as retold in breathless snapshots in the glossies seemed to have all of this. I began to notice her fondness for the colour red—red nails, red lips, red clutch bags, and red chiffon saris with gold blouses. As a gaping school girl, I found her berets unusual.

I didn’t know her personally ever. The few times I saw her in real life, I myopically concentrated on her clothes, programmed perhaps by the reams written on her style and in anecdotes by designer friends. At an India Today Conclave in the early 2000s, I saw her in the ladies room at a five star hotel in Delhi, in a red chiffony dress that billowed around her like a cloud. Her skin glowed; she had invested in looking young. She had lifted her dress to her knees and I found myself staring at sleek, gold stilettos. She looked bored in the way only divas can. I liked that insouciant Parmeshwar in red.

Before writing this, I called designer Tarun Tahiliani and he called her the “last, lingering swan”. Wendell Rodricks calls her a style leader, not a style icon. “Her little black book directed the high society to many contacts. She made her style rules and the pack followed her. She was THE hostess of India. Only when she bought my saris, I felt I had truly arrived,” says Rodricks.

What has also passed away with Parmeshwar is an enviable, elusive style mantra. Easy to admire, difficult to copy.