AIN’T NOBODY LIKE DESI GIRLS...
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.