Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - COVER STORY - By Ananya Ghosh

Ten years ago, few In­dian mod­els made it to in­ter­na­tional ramps. To­day, our girls are rul­ing fash­ion run­ways in Paris, Mi­lan and New York. How did this hap­pen?

con­sumer-driven mar­ket, only the ho­moge­nous sells.

Cut to to­day, and sud­denly an In­dian model on an in­ter­na­tional cat­walk is not such an un­usual pres­ence any­more.

Women of In­dian ori­gin such as Nee­lam Gill, Kelly Gale, Sab­rina Behl, and home-grown girls like Pooja Mor, Bhu­mika Arora, Natasha Ra­machan­dran, Smita Las­rado and Rasika Navare are tak­ing the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion world by storm. So, when and how did this hap­pen?

Ac­cord­ing to Nonita Kalra, edi­tor of Harper’s Bazaar, In­dia, global stan­dards of beauty are now more in­clu­sive. “You no longer need to be a blue-eyed blonde or an­drog­y­nous. You can be from any part of the world and suc­ceed,” she says. “To­day, thanks to the In­ter­net, we all ac­cess the same in­for­ma­tion and dress a cer­tain way which lends a sort of uni­for­mity.”

How­ever, this doesn’t mean that the In­dian look has be­come main­stream, Kalra adds. While cou­ture de­sign­ers are by­pass­ing eth­nic­ity for beauty, brands are not, even when In­dia is part of their tar­get mar­ket. “You won’t see Zara or H&M us­ing In­dian mod­els,” says Kalra. “It is still more con­fined to the ramp.”

But, ac­cord­ing to fash­ion stylist and chore­og­ra­pher,

Prasad Bi­dapa, more and more in­ter­na­tional brands are in fact re­cruit­ing In­dian mod­els, a trend that be­gan with L’Oréal sign­ing Aish­warya Rai.

“She was the first In­dian face to find global recog­ni­tion. Al­though she was a film star, she had a global con­nect and proved that the In­dian look can work world­wide,” says Bi­dapa.

Bi­dapa be­lieves in­ter­na­tional brands signed In­dian girls first, and the ramps fol­lowed more slowly and with greater cau­tion. “Al­though Paris had a lot of In­dian sar­darni mod­els at one point, they were all NRI girls,” he says. “No one re­ally went from In­dia and be­came a huge suc­cess there, ex­cept Ujjwala Raut, who had bagged some very good in­ter­na­tional cam­paigns, and of course Lak­shmi Menon, who had a very in­ter­na­tional look and was the first In­dian to be­come a Pirelli cal­en­dar girl.”

This was partly be­cause of the dif­fer­ent-ness of the In­dian look. It was also be­cause, to truly suc­ceed in­ter­na­tion­ally, mod­els have to move to Europe or the US, lock, stock and bar­rel and work their way up the ca­reer lad­der.

“Girls like Shyamoli Verma, Mehr Je­sia and Carol Gra­cias, had stints abroad, but with­out much suc­cess,” says Bi­dapa. “Be­cause you have to give up your en­tire life and shift to a for­eign coun­try, where you just join the queue. And th­ese girls were al­ready su­per­stars in

In­dia. I don’t think they en­joyed be­ing rel­e­gated to that al­most new­comer sta­tus there and go for au­di­tions. If I had taken 20 girls to Mi­lan and sat there, I could have got work for all of them. But, back then, none of the girls were re­ally that in­ter­ested.”

This is the big fish in a small pond syn­drome, though to be fair, the In­dian fash­ion scene has not been a small pond at all since the 1990s. “Ev­ery­body was get­ting more than enough work. Girls who were suc­cess­ful here were mint­ing money, so much so that they could buy a house in Bom­bay within five years. They were sorted. So they were not re­ally miss­ing out on any­thing,” says Bi­dapa.

In­dian mod­els still need not look for suc­cess abroad. In­dia’s fash­ion scene is mas­sive and can ac­com­mo­date al­most as many mod­els as there are women with as­pi­ra­tions.

But for many mod­els, Paris, Mi­lan and New York are big at­trac­tions, and for them Bi­dapa has a word of ad­vice: Go there be­fore you make it in In­dia. Go be­fore you’re al­ready a star. Be­cause how­ever big you may be here, you’ll still start as a be­gin­ner there.

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