STYLE STORY: The Mexican drug lord’s “narco” shirt

When Sean Penn’s interview with (then fugitive) Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzmán (or just “El Chapo”) was made public, it was sensational news around the world. Accompanying the news was a picture of El Chapo shaking Sean Penn’s hand, wearing a printed blue shirt. And then, El Chapo’s shirt was suddenly in demand. But who designed that shirt? And where is it from? This feature from El Pais (a Spanish newspaper) has the answers. Don’t just read it to know about the brand and the designer—think about the bigger picture here. It’s a fascinating story that began with religious persecution, then immigration, and is truly symbolic of globalization, international trade and the fascinating times we live in. It left me amazed (and amused!).

El Chapo in blue shirt with Sean Penn

I’ve translated important sections of the feature from Spanish (without help from Google Translate). Read on for an enlightening story about the famous “narco” shirt:

Last Saturday, while thousands of people were looking at a photo of actor Sean Penn and El Chapo Guzmán and wondering where it was shot, what they discussed or who took the photo, Sam Esteghball was focused on something else: the shirt that El Chapo was wearing was his. That is to say, the design. Esteghball is the owner of the shop Barabas in Los Angeles, and he had been inundated with emails from customers who had recognised the print and it seemed like they wanted to buy it.

Since then, orders have flooded this family business that creates its own designs and manufactures in China. “We have thousands of requests that we cannot fulfill [yet], but we are manufacturing more,” says Sam Esteghball in the store. They placed an order for a few hundreds of the shirts, like they do with all their designs, to sell them through exhibitions and to see how they do in the market. They did not imagine instant success.

Right now they are sold out, but Sam assures that he’s been requested [the shirts] for exhibition sales. If one makes an online request, rest assured, the shirts will be here in two weeks. On the internet, there are two shirts El Chapo was wearing- one in the photo, the second in the video.

At the entrance of the store the shirt from the photo with Sean Penn is clearly displayed, light blue with darker vertical bands and twig motifs, 100% cotton. It costs $128 in stores, a price that is cheap for this fashion line, according to Esteghball, who assures that it hasn’t risen this week. Sam defines the line’s style as “fantasy”, but the Mexicans know it as “norteño” [Mexican street gang] or “narco” [drugs]. Not exactly. The correct word in Los Angeles for that style is flamboyant. Flashy, ostentatious, garish, that calls for attention. That description is flawless.

Barabas is a small store in the well-known “fashion district” in Los Angeles, a euphemism that conceals a sea of warehouses and alleys where clothing business by most of the world and for the world is negotiated. In September 2014, the FBI confirmed that it was the epicenter of drug money laundering.

Photos of famous people posing in their clothes adorn the walls of the Barabas store in the city centre (there are two locations). You can assume right away that they have special success in the world of Mexican street gangs: Goyo Gastelum, Andrés Márquez El Macizo, La Banda Jerez, Jorge Gamboa, Javier Rosas y El Komander pose with their designs leaving from the store.

“That culture came to us, not the other way round,” assures Esteghball. He started the business with his brother nine years ago and it was around two years ago, he says, that he realized that the “narco culture” world had adopted his shirts, bright pants and safari jackets like those of his brand. They began to be copied by some of the others, he says. One enters Barabas and can leave dressed like El Komander in 10 minutes. They sell clothes to 5000 retailers around the world, which is why Sam says he had no idea where El Chapo bought his shirt, one of the richest men in the world, who could choose Armani, visible from Barabas.

The five members of the Esteghball family migrated to California 16 years ago from Shiraz, Iran. They are Jewish and the situation had become very difficult for minorities during the regime of the ayatollahs. Around a million Iranians live in Los Angeles- it’s the largest exile community of Iran in the world, to the point that there is an area called Teheángeles. The sons got into the fashion business because it was what their father did in Shiraz. El Chapo wears narco shirts designed by Iranian immigrants and made in China. That’s what the Republican candidates don’t notice.

 

Picture courtesy: Rolling Stone

Sunday Street Stories: Berlin’s “ruined” church

When I visited Berlin a year and a half ago, I headed to Kurfurstendamm to shop. As the stores’ window displays tempted me, my eyes fell on a strange church across the street. It looked around a century old and the spire seemed ripped off.

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Despite the construction work going on, there were no signs of fixing the spire. I wondered, why would the technically-perfect Germans allow a church to stay in its damaged state?

It took me some time to find the answer. This church (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), built in the 1890s was partly destroyed by an air bombing in 1943. In the 1950s, restoration plans were developed but the public and  powers that be decided to keep the ruined tower as a reminder of the futility of war. Instead, a new building was constructed near the original. The result: this hexagonal building by architect Egon Eiermann.

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Pictures taken on: June 1, 2014
Location: Berlin, Germany
Device: Google Nexus 5

My favourite shopping streets in Europe

Also read: Awesome shopping streets in Asia.

Strøget, Copenhagen (Denmark)

A gorgeous street in Copenhagen, but alas, the shops close by 7 pm and the prices are outrageous for tourists on non-European salaries. Strøget is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe, and is lined with popular high street stores like Topshop, Zara, H&M and some local brands. There’s also a giant Lego store (yay!). The summer of 2014, Strøget was buzzing with tourists and locals enjoying the atmosphere, sipping coffee at outdoor cafes, and just strolling about. I especially enjoyed the walk on cobblestoned streets and checking out the heritage buildings, still in excellent condition.

Shopping Stroget in Copenhagen

Stroget shopping Copenhagen

Taksim Square, Istanbul (Turkey)

Back in 2010 when I visited Turkey, the famous Taksim Square was THE PLACE to be on a Saturday night. Crowded even in the day, the place came alive on weekend evenings, with thousands of people partying, shopping and grabbing a bite well past midnight. The streets off the square became a no-car zone, dozens of food and souvenir vendors set up shop and the “party” began. The atmosphere was pulsating with high energy, and I felt like I’d just had two Red Bulls. After a quick pizza, I made my way through the packed streets to go shopping, spending at least an hour at the multi-storeyed Mango store. The best part—shops were open till midnight!

PS- Due to the changing political situation in Turkey, I’m not sure if the late-night shopping continues.

Kurfürstendamm, Berlin (Germany)

Who would’ve thought that the staid German capital would have such wonderful shopping! Kurfürstendamm (quite a mouthful no?) is the center of most tourist activities in Berlin and a great place to shop. The street has all the high street brands you could name- Zara, Diesel, Uniqlo, H&M, Pull & Bear… you get the idea. I shopped till I dropped at Pull & Bear, and got a great leopard print backpack from Zara for just €10. I also bought kitchen appliances at the German department store KaDeWe, which was stocked with unbelievable appliances in the German aesthetic: clean design and high-tech precision. Also the souvenir shops are worth checking out for cool tees, shot glasses and Berlin messenger bags that look great and are easy on the pocket.

Berlin Kufustendamm shopping

La Rambla, Barcelona (Spain)

Being in Spain, you expect to see local fashion brands at every corner. And well, they are! In and around the 1.2 kilometre-long La Rambla, you have the choice of the world’s best-known fashion and beauty brands, and you will never want to stop. I shopped at Zara, Mango, H&M, Bershka, The Body Shop, Shana… This was in 2011, and the Euro was not as frightfully expensive as it is today. At the Plaza Catalunya end of the street (north end), there’s the Spanish department store El Corte Inglés, where I bought Bobbi Brown makeup and tons of accessories. El Corte Inglés is a quintessential part of the Spanish life and each store is different from the others. It’s a must-visit anywhere in the country.

Barcelona shopping La Rambla

Barcelona shopping La Rambla artists

Sunday Street Stories: Nay Pyi Taw’s golden pagoda

All Myanmar cities and towns have at least one pagoda worth a visit. Now Nay Pyi Taw may be the ghost capital of Myanmar, but the military has made sure there’s a fantastic pagoda there.

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The Uppatasanti Pagoda is built on the lines of Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, but with an open hall within for prayer. There are Buddha idols in the centre and marble carvings around the inner circumference depicting scenes from Buddha’s life. And then there are the magnificent carvings and texts on the inner dome.

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With this stunning place of worship and 16-lane highways, clearly no stone was left unturned to make the Myanmar capital as grand as possible.

Date: October 31, 2015
Location: Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5

Living in an art gallery

There’s something about Chiang Mai. This Thai hill town seems to have me in its grip. When I visited Chiang Mai with my mom last December, I didn’t know I’d be back a year later. There were no omens or portents, just the nagging feeling that I hadn’t explored the city well enough. Call it fate, call it provident, but yes, I was back mid-December 2015. And this trip was completely different from my earlier one a year ago. I lived in another part of Chiang Mai, and as a result, I got the opportunity to explore the artsy side of the city: I stayed in an art gallery just off Nimmanhaemin Road.

No, I mean hotel.

Oops, I mean an art hotel.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

Art Mai Gallery Hotel houses an art gallery on the ground floor, but the art is not restricted to exhibition space- it’s everywhere… on the walls, in the corridors, and oh, in the guest rooms too. And the artsy touches are everywhere.

As you’ve guessed it, this recently-opened hotel is paradise for art lovers. From the painting exhibition on the ground floor to the art-themed rooms, you will see paintings by Thai artists at every corner you turn. I must say, this is such an enterprising way to promote Thai art to people from around the world.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

The hotel’s décor was in the vein of industrial minimalism. See these exposed pipes and the shades-of-grey colour scheme?

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

The decorative accents blend in perfectly with this look. Like this side table.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai

But much as we’d like to, we can’t really sleep and shower in an exhibition. So we were assigned a room on the second floor.

Review of Art Mai Gallery Hotel art rooms

Each floor in the hotel has a different art theme, and we got nude art:

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai nude art painting

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai room painting

Then there was this cute easel. To which S said, “Why does it say P-O-D?”

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai art easel

And I said, “It’s an illustration, see? They’ve drawn two eyes. They want us to draw a face around it, or a cartoon or whatever we want.” It’s an art hotel after all. I didn’t have the courage to express my (non-existing) artistic side, but it got me thinking about learning drawing again. (Maybe a 2016 resolution?).

The industrial theme continued in the room, like this old-looking desk and “aging” bathroom tiles look too, with some hints of modern design.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai desk in room

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai bathroom

Anyhoo, a hotel is not just about art. So we had a large comfy bed, big screen TV (which we unfortunately didn’t have time to watch), a kettle station, mini fridge etc. Pretty much the standard stuff. My favourite amenity? The powerful shower. 😀 And my favourite service? The evening snackie the housekeeping lady left on my bed. 😀

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai bathroom shower

As for food, the hotel restaurant Jarid may seem a bit on the smaller side, but they put up a good breakfast spread, making the most of the buffet table space and using cute chalkboard-style placards for dish names.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai Jarid restaurant

There were the usual suspects of cereal, breads, fruits, potatoes, Thai staples like rice, noodles, soup and we could ask for our choice of freshly-cooked eggs. The food was freshly cooked, packed with flavour and a very satisfying start to the day.

Hotel Art Mai Gallery Chiang Mai breakfast

Just what the doctor ordered before an action-packed day in Chiang Mai- trekking, river rafting, visiting the 3D museum, shopping and exploring the boutique stores around Nimmanhaemin.

Chiang Mai 3d museum giant foot

I’d stay in this hotel again if I could: tres chic, great location (in the heart of the hip part of town) and fabulous art.

To know more about Art Mai Gallery Hotel, visit the hotel website.

How to be a fit foodie

You’ve posted those food pictures on Instagram with cool filters, you’ve tweeted your 160-character restaurant review, and you’ve written a longer opinion on Facebook, tagging the friends you dined with, and all those you missed. And oh, you’ve used a dozen hashtags with all your updates.

Lettuce salad with dressing

Congrats, you’re a foodie! (And yes, I’m guilty of all of the above).

But alas, being a foodie comes with a great burden. What to eat, what not to eat. Watching the waistline expand is not anyone’s favourite activity but with dozens of amazing restaurants to visit, hundreds of appetizing dishes to try and so many big fat weddings to attend, what is a foodie to do to never gain weight? Or avoid clogged arteries and spiked sugar levels?

Simple. First, you get fit: jog, run, dance, swim, do pilates or yoga or whatever you fancy. Next, you continue being fit while enjoying your food. Here’s how.

Stop counting calories.

Think in terms of nutrition instead. Is this deep-fried gobi pakora nutritious, or is it too heavily loaded with transfats to cancel out the nutrients of the humble cauliflower? Will this lamb burger help me get my daily dose of much-needed protein?

Figure out what doesn’t work for you. And avoid it.

I’m not lactose intolerant but I know my body doesn’t like too much of it- it makes me bloat and builds up congestion. So I skip cheese-laden dishes. While I do enjoy a good pizza once in a while, it’s not high up on my list of preferred foods.

Pizza L'Opera

Skip sugar.

No excuses on this one. S and I have been following this mantra for a few months now, and it’s working wonders for us. It’s not just the crazy amount of calories that sugar adds, but the spike in glucose levels and the addiction that comes with it (you can never have just one bite of cake no matter how much you try to resist). So yep, skip it completely. And if you can, skip the hidden sugars too (ketchup, mayo, processed and packaged foods… you get the drift).

Desserts at Masala Library

Order less.

When you’re in a restaurant where you’re not sure about portion sizes or how much you can eat, order just a dish or two to start with. If you’re still hungry, you can always order more food.

Don’t fall for tempting promotions.

Happy meals don’t make happy waistlines, but bulging bellies. Unlimited platters may give you bountiful joy today, bad stomach tomorrow. And free flow of booze may give you a nasty hangover the next day. So all those crazy food offers are just going to mess with your digestion, your focus at work and your arm fat.

Food promotions - high tea

Cook cool stuff at home. Even if you don’t cook.

If you or your cook (read: mom, spouse, sibling, roomie) already prepare delicious food at home, great. If you don’t, learn. Once you realize how much fun it is to make your own scrumptious kebab or burger or lasagna, you won’t want to eat them outside. And you can control the amount of refined flour, bread, and other ingredients that go into your food. And oh, your own food makes an excellent photo op for Instagram too. The compliments will soon come trickling in.

Baked Spaghetti in tomato pesto

Go seasonal.

If someone offers you mango-based dessert in December, you know the fruit’s been frozen or preserved, right? You’ll skip the mango dessert and opt for the strawberry instead. Anywhere in the world, choose the dish that uses seasonal or fresh or easily available local ingredients.

Desserts at Sassy Spoon

It’s okay to waste.

When you just can’t eat anymore, STOP. It’s your body telling you that enough is enough. Eat anymore and you’re at risk of adding unnecessary pounds, getting a stomach ache, getting sick right there at the party, unable to drive comfortably back home, or having a terrible bathroom emergency. My rule is: Better waste than to the waist.

5 hot fashion lessons from Shahrukh Khan & Kajol

I’m an SRK fan, so despite the wonderful reviews (heh!) by critics and FB friends, I headed to downtown Yangon to watch Dilwale last weekend. The show was housefull and ticket scalpers were making good money. I was mostly interested in the Kajol-SRK on-screen romance, and their crackling chemistry and emotive eyes are the only bits of the film that I liked, even though it was shoddily scripted and directed. Anyways, somewhere amidst the plot twists, overtly-comical characters and extreme suspension of disbelief, I picked up some fashion tips from Shahrukh Khan and Kajol (or Kaali/ Raj and Meera).

Even if you abhorred the film or won’t watch it for a million dollars, these style lessons will hopefully inspire a tiny style upgrade or whole new look.

BTW, there is not one, not two but FOUR costume designers credited in the film so I have no idea who did the clothes for Shahrukh Khan and Kajol. If you do, let me know!

Lesson 1: Match your jacket with your shirt

SRK in Dilwale blue jacket

Jackets that match your shirt are the ultimate cool in men’s fashion. Just like what SRK’s wearing in the Bulgaria flashback. I say it’s the “ultimate cool” because it looks oh-so-mature and contrasts is so college-boyish (remember Kuch Kuch Hota Hai?). SRK sticks to black, grey and other muted colours, portraying a very chic European look.

Lesson 2: Skip the skinny

SRK in Dilwale blue jeans

So skinny jeans are all about showing off your shapely legs and there’s no doubt that SRK is superfit. But he’s dunked skinny jeans and chosen to wear straight fits instead. Why? Here’s a secret: skinny jeans are on their way out the trend door, especially since everyone and their grandma is wearing them. Meanwhile, jean legs are getting wider for both men and women and straight-fit denims or a slightly-flared bootcut is what you should wear like, right now, if you want to be fashion-forward.

Lesson 3: Go long if you’re a pear

Kajol in Dilwale

What do you do when you’re heavy in the lower half, but still want to look great on screen? One, you create the illusion of a waistline, and two, you go for longer lengths. So Kajol’s worn some gorgeous printed midi skirts- they cut off at just the right section of the waist, and they draw attention away from the bottom. Paired with blouses and sky-high heels, Kajol is rocking these skirts. And oh, she wears a printed maxi dress in a Goa scene. Fabulous!

Lesson 4: Smart blouses should be your daytime LBD

Kajol in Dilwale

I’ve always thought smart buttoned blouses to be a highly underrated garment. It makes anyone, and I mean anyone, look feminine, sophisticated and classy. If the blouse is a solid pastel, even more so. I especially loved Kajol’s gold-smuggling accident outfit- jeans, light peach blouse and matching open cardigan. Paired with a strong lip colour and pulled-back hair, it’s an easy peasy way to elegant style.

Lesson 5: Neutrals are nice

SRK Kajol in Dilwale

When in Europe, dress as the Europeans. Their colour palette may seem more restricted than ours, but even neutral tones can translate to great clothes if you pick the right garments and style your ensemble well. While SRK sticks to black and greys, Kajol opts for light pastels and blues, though she also adds some colour with her printed skirts.

BONUS: A lesson in colour: Less is more

Alas, the colour scheme changes drastically when they move to India (including the set design!) and the tad bit of tastefulness disappears as dozens of bright colours pop everywhere, even in SRK’s garage. Too many colours. Sigh! And then one day SRK heads to church in a parrot green shirt with matching jacket. Urghhh…. Why, why, why?!

Sunday Street Stories: Chocolate sandwich, anyone?

Mumbai’s food vendors are an innovative lot. Their street-side inventions and adaptations of local dishes would perhaps put MasterChef contestants to shame. The latest surprise they’ve sprung is the chocolate sandwich.

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This vendor at Nariman Point tried hard to sell me a chocolate sandwich. Besides putting the chocolate-y condiments on display, he tried to entice me by rattling off the ingredients in the sandwich- Nutella spread, chocolate flakes and Hershey’s syrup. Very, very tempting but I had to give this one a skip. Too sinful for me!

Location: Nariman Point, Mumbai
Date: November 16, 2015
Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Chiang Mai’s arty district

Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand, may not be a beach destination like Phuket or Krabi, but it’s developing into quite a cultural hotspot. Nimmanhemin Road is the city’s chic quarter, with art galleries, decor stores, indie boutiques and, of course, a vibrant night life. This building had an attractive facade.

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And another building round the corner that housed a cafe (Mango Tango) had a very creative form of advertising their location.

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If you’re in Chiang Mai, don’t forget to visit Nimmanhemin Road and explore the sois (lanes) that lead to spas, cafes and restaurants. There’s so much to see!

Pictures taken on: December 11, 2015
Location: Nimmanhemin Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Device: Google Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Mumbai’s old and new

Mumbai, like most Asian cities is a contrasting picture of heritage structures and modern high-rises. Very often, these lie adjacent to each other and people pass by hurriedly without marvelling at the interesting juxtaposition.

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While waiting at a traffic light in south Mumbai, these two buildings struck my eye. A three-storeyed stone tires building barely conceals the tall giant behind. The latter may be tucked away in a tiny lane, but it sure catches the attention of people passing by.

Location: Kemp’s Corner, Mumbai, India
Date: November 14, 2015
Device: Nexus 5 phone camera