The inescapable duality of figure skating champion, Emanuel Sandhu
He describes his style as 'avant-garde or overtly sexual'
“I have a couple,” is Emanuel Sandhu’s response when I ask him about his earliest fashion memory, and I think nothing of it. However, later in my conversation with the 2-time Olympian and 3-time Men’s Canadian Figure Skating Champion, I realize it’s foreshadowing. “A lot of my life has been a duality, whether my heritage, my ethnicity, my career, or my ideas.”
And his style. “Italian designers have always been a big influence on me because I’m half Italian,” he explains. His mother, an opera singer from Rome, idolized ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Sandhu describes him as the pop star of his generation and his mother’s impetus for enrolling Sandhu in the National Ballet School of Canada at age 7, along with figure skating. Sandhu believes she and his Indian father, an engineer who enjoys singing and playing instruments, imparted his sense of performance. “I would do cartwheels in the parking lot to the chagrin of my parents, more my mom than my dad,” he laughs.
To that end, one early fashion memory is of a lime green Versace shirt gifted by his figure skating coach, of whom he also has fond memories. “She was like a second mum to me,” he says. A second early fashion memory is the polar opposite. As a teenager, Sandhu remembers leaving a shop on Queen Street West in Toronto with a high collar, short sleeve crop top by Belgian designer Dirk Bikkembergs. He paired the top with women’s — “I think they were women’s, but to me they were unisex” — pinstripe, wide leg trousers from Montreal retailer Le Chateau, and army boots by Giorgio Armani.
Sandhu sums up his style as “avant-garde or overtly sexual, but I would never limit myself in anything in life,” he finishes.
Hand sewn costumes fostered Sandhu’s appreciation of fashion as an art form and a garment’s construction and fit. A top purchased a decade ago by then-fledgling Toronto label Greta Constantine is a perfect example: the gunmetal grey, long sleeve design with thumb loops is athletic but body con, fluid but structural due to a strip of fabric that can be wound any which way, like a mummy. True to form, it reminds Sandhu of a favourite costume.
Additionally, Sandhu has always loved highly editorial fashion spreads and advertisements. “I would wear looks on the street as if torn from the pages of a magazine,” including his hair — Riccardo Tisci’s fall 2009 advertising campaign for Givenchy inspired his exaggerated widow’s peak haircut at the time. And the sidewalk is not his only catwalk. At the closing gala of a figure skating competition, he recalls wearing a white-on-white checked Moschino dress shirt, a pair of bright pink Club Monaco trousers, a white, patent leather Fendi belt, and matching boots. The finishing touches were “a bunch of crosses made out of rhinestone beads, and my hair was crazy,” he laughs.
At the exact moment Sandhu mentions Moschino, I turn around and remove X Anni Di Kaos! 1983-1993 from the bookcase behind us, a rare compendium of Franco Moschino’s decade-long tenure at Moschino before his untimely death. A long forgotten, pink sticky note flags a page on which we find a model, possibly Caucasian, wearing a denim sari, red bindi, and traditional jewellery in an advertising campaign for Moschino Jeans.
The image predates the ongoing debate surrounding cultural appropriation, which doesn’t excuse its existence, but Sandhu demurs. “It’s mixed with Christian iconography. It reminds me of the Pietà pieces that Michelangelo would have sculpted.”
Some might call it duality.
Photographs: Ace Amir
Styling: Rahul Vijay
Hair: Errol Karadag/The Industry Mgmt
Makeup: Christyna Kay/Art Department La
Models: Monica Tomas/Anima Creative Management, Wilhelmina; Kiran Kandola/Storm Models, Emanuel Sandhu
Assisted By: Akshita Singh, Pujarini Ghosh, Riya Khanna, Mansi Kandoi (Styling) And George Veve (Photography)
Location Courtesy: 7 Line Studios, New York