x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Men's Fashion: A look at the style of a few world leaders

For close to two decades, North Korea's Dear Leader lived by his own fashion sense.

The late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. KCNA / Reuters
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. KCNA / Reuters

Kim Jong-il was an international man of mystery, to steal the title from the 1997 Austin Powers film. So as we welcome in 2012 today, what better time to say goodbye to that world leader who died in the last days of 2011 and who for more than 17 years lived by his own fashion sense.

Nearly two years ago, the news service Agence France-Presse reported that according to official North Korean news, which was quoting an anonymous French fashion expert, the Dear Leader's modest khaki suit was setting fashion trends around the world. The story went on to say that people everywhere were inspired by the suit sported by the then 69-year-old man.

Truth be told, the essential elements of the Dear Leader's look were not so different from that of a king - and by king I mean Elvis Presley. The pompadour hair, the crazy-long collar tips, the shoes, the ever-present sunglasses and even the entourage could all apply to Elvis. But while Elvis's look changed with the times, the Supreme Leader's did not.

Muammar Qaddafi, another leader who died in 2011, had a unique style all his own as well. But while Qaddafi's look became more outrageous the longer he stayed in power, Kim's never changed (unless he was out during the cold weather, in which case he was seen in a heavy, shapeless, winter jacket). Unlike Qaddafi, Kim stayed true to his fashion ideal - at least publicly.

While the fashion sense of Vaclav Havel, who died the day after Kim, did evolve, it always seemed to lean towards the stereotypical fashion precepts of an artist, perhaps because it was from that world that Havel emerged when communism fell and he was made Czech president in 1989. His style was something that changed with the times. It reflected his personal choices but also the world in which he was living.

It was Kim and his style, however, that most captivated the world. It was the mystery behind the man and also his sameness. The only information we could believe about him was what we saw and what we saw never changed. His image was a controlled one, but considering he had 24 million followers and the state crafted his legend (and by legend, I mean the story of his birth atop the country's highest mountain peak with a double rainbow and swallow, et al), it is fair to say that the way we saw him was the way he wanted the world to see him.

But to stay with a look for 17 years requires a level of devotion most men are not capable of - and nor should they be. What kind of man can stay married to one image for his entire public life? There is but one answer: Fidel Castro.

The 85-year-old former Cuban leader has stuck with a variation on his revolutionary theme for more than five decades. In the fashion world, nothing can stay fresh for more than a few years. Anything after that becomes stale and predictable, two of the worst charges to be levelled against a man who is trying to make a statement and two adjectives we can assign to Kim.

Michael Jabri-Pickett is the news editor at The National. Contact him at mjp@thenational.ae