An essential worldwide truth: People will do what they think they need to do to survive. Witness the sale of today’s Alternative Style Icon and his brother to the principals of the Theosophical Society, a group of Westerners come to India to search for some kind of mystical meaning, a meaning Krishnamurti’s father was only too glad to provide to these philosophical tourists. They were far from the first, following a trail beaten since the time of Alexander, a trail in search of differences in a perceived mysterious East, a quest to find differences between East and West that in my darker moments I fear will be the undoing of the world.
The desperately poor would be happy to provide these mysteries and ersatz mysticism, or whatever else the wealthy foreigner craved, for a price. In interviews with him, the boy Jiddu had demonstrated some sort of precocious self-confidence, enough to convince the Theosophists that he was the teacher and figurehead they had been searching for. Thus purchased, Jiddu and his brother were spirited away to a life of princely luxury in London, biographies reeling off the custom clothing the inseparable pair ordered and shared. Nothing but the best for the made-up messiah: suits from Meyer & Mortimer, shoes from Lobb of Saint James’s… the catalog life. Plenty of frauds have pushed the same doors, flush with cash fleeced from the easily fooled. However, Krishnamurti was no self-appointed guru, but more a pawn than the flock that had appropriated him, uprooted him, nurtured him in a mad and artificial luxury. Who could survive living as the object of others’ delusions?
Lest the above be too vague about my convictions, I have no truck with mysticism, with the search for occult meaning so foolish it must make up its own misbegotten cosmology when there are so many ridiculous ones already out there. Krishnamurti, in the end, did what he could to break out of others’ institutionalized madness. Perhaps it was the early death of his brother, the only remnant of family at the center of the cult that, in the end, had not deified him. It had kidnaped him.
He left the Theosophists, even if it was to go to the new promised land of ersatz and syncretistic mysticism, California. To survive sometimes, we have to do what we know. In Krishnamurti’s case, that meant providing meaning to those who came to him seeking it. Freed of the institutional shackles around him, he provided guidance a lot closer to common sense, with the occasional Pythian insight to tantalize the credulous or the spiritually needy.
It was in California that he intersected with a far better-known style icon, Terence Stamp, filming Blue. "In India,” Stamp recalled of his later days in an ashram, “I was thought to have an interest in apparel which constituted decadence. But Krishnamurti was one of the sharpest dressers I ever met. One of the things we shared was an interest in gear.” In Stamp’s memoir Double Feature, he reminisces about Krishnamurti’s ancient, gorgeous shirt, a two-tone red and green raw silk shirt that had been made for him as a youth by Beale & Inman, back when they were a tiny custom shirtmaker instead of a retailer of expensive Italian ready-to-wear. Stamp recalls Krishnamurti offhandedly laughing off the shirt and, by extension, his old days as the isolated and insulated philosopher-princeling… He kept the item, using it simply as a shirt and not as the majestically colorful ceremonial plumage of his gilded cage.
We adapt, we use the pieces of our past delusions in our current-day incarnations. People seize the opportunities they have – or are forced to take. Even Stamp had to stepped out of his old George Cleverley custom shoes after making Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The shoes he had to wear as a transsexual drag queen reportedly deformed his feet to the point where his 1960s bespoke no longer fit. I, too, changed my drag – a decade ago I drove one of my shirtmakers nuts looking for an iridescent red and green raw silk like Krishnamurti’s. That cloth is long extinct, and if they didn’t have it, no one would. I compensated with two-tone cotton twills that today seem to personify my flamboyant silliness of those days. I still wear them sometimes, though: survival is making do with what we are and what we have been.