Life & Style

The world is their runway

Radhika Nair

Radhika Nair

If you have even a passing interest in fashion, you will have realised that something big is happening. Indian models are grabbing the world’s attention. They’ve been signed by top luxury and high-street brands, booked for exclusive runway appearances, represented by the world’s best modelling agencies and shot by the biggest photographers. They have even breached that holy of holies, American Vogue .

Persis Khambatta, Anjali Mendes, Kirat Young, Marielou Phillips — the 70s and 80s, and well into the 2000s, saw only the occasional Indian face appear internationally. “Now there are dozens,” says Mumbai-based creative consultant and former Grazia India fashion director Ekta Rajani. Ever since Ujjwala Raut breached the fashion capitals back in the early 2000s, and Lakshmi Menon took over in 2007, the momentum has been building. Bhumika Arora and Pooja Mor broke out in 2015, but now there are Radhika Nair, Dipti Sharma, Diya Prabhakar (the Prabal Gurung campaign), Ravyanshi Mehta (shot by Tim Walker for British Vogue ), Monica Tomas (walked for Naeem Khan), Natasha Ramachandran (walked for Moncler), Rasika Navare (Smashbox cosmetics), Komal Gajjar (signed by IMG Worldwide), to name a few. There are even male models like Tuhir Brahmbhatt and Mustafa Dawood making a mark.

Foreign calling

The biggest amongst these are Kerala-born Radhika Nair, and Rudrapur (Chhattisgarh) native, Dipti Sharma. Nair, 27 — a commerce student scouted while she was studying in Bengaluru — was the first Indian to walk the runway for Spanish fashion house Balenciaga (Spring/Summer 2017). Since then, the now London-based model has hit the catwalk for the likes of Miu Miu, Loewe, Stella McCartney and JW Anderson, and appeared on the cover of British Vogue , Numero China and Harper’s Bazaar US and Arabia , among others, and featured in the Chloe Spring 2018 campaign shot by American fashion photographer Steven Meisel.

Dipti Sharma

Dipti Sharma

Sharma is another Balenciaga discovery. Now based in New York, she was exclusive for the Spring Summer 2018 show and then part of the brand’s paparazzi-style campaign. The 24-year-old — who participated in the Max Elite Model Look India competition (2015) and recalls bombarding agencies with Polaroids of herself — has been profiled in American Vogue , shot for magazines like Vogue Italia , Dazed and Porter , and walked for Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Alexander Wang and Dries Van Noten.

The Indian wave

Nothing signals the rise of the Indian model more than the December 2018 shoot in British Vogue . The 18-page story shot by leading fashion photographer Tim Walker — featuring eight Indian and Indian-origin models, including Nair and Ravyanshi Mehta — is evidence that Indians are the new wave. “We opened up to the world and now the world is opening up to us. The exchange is happening as much on an economical, equitable basis as in the zeitgeist of our times,” says Rajani. “Indian customers are buying international brands and want to see themselves being well represented. Inclusivity is being demanded across borders in this global market place.” With social media, travel, an expanding domestic market, growing professional modelling agencies, today there is exposure and preparedness in the world of modelling.

Launchpad to success

    Anaita Shroff Adajania, fashion director, VogueIndia — which featured Nair and British model of Indian origin, Saffron Vadher, on its September 2018 issue cover — can’t believe this has not happened earlier. “Magazines like Vogue have given models a great platform for the global fashion industry to take notice. Indian girls are gorgeous and they have diverse appeal,” she says.

    Diverse is the right word to describe our models. They are not connected by skin colour (not “dusky”) or a type of look (“sexy”, like Brazilian models Gisele Bundchen and Adriana Lima); what ties them together is something more, says Nair. “While everybody is proud of where they come from and who they are, they’ve got to have something more than just their country of origin. All the girls are here because they represent something that the industry needs [be it attitude, raw appeal or a distinctive personality].”

    Ravyanshi Mehta

    Ravyanshi Mehta

    Brown is looking good

    While the buzzword in the fashion industry for the past few years has been diversity — from plus-sized, older models and trans-gender to models of colour and those wearing hijabs — the majority booked by international fashion houses are still young, thin and Caucasian. But colour is seeping in and insiders believe, as more girls enter the field and are noticed, it will make it easier for the next generation. “The industry is changing, but slowly,” says Sharma, who walked for Dolce & Gabbana last July wearing a sari, after designer Stefano Gabbana gave her a piece of fabric to drape which he then customised. “Indian models are where black [and Chinese] models used to be a few years ago — from being exposed to international markets to finally being accepted.”

    Money matters

      In the last year or two, we’ve also been seeing more international scouts in the subcontinent. “Last year, IMG’s scouts came to Lakmé Fashion Week and Kiyara, an 18-year-old from Rajasthan who auditioned with us, won an international contract with the agency [that handles global superstars like Gigi Hadid],” says Jaspreet Chandok, VP and Head of Fashion, IMG Reliance. “It was an example of direct links between IMG Models and LFW. Now that Ivan Bart, the president of IMG Models [and poster child for inclusivity in the modelling space], is also overseeing the international agency’s global fashion events, I expect more integration over time.”

      Changing the business

      The success of the Indian model has much to do with the talent agencies behind them. “The business in India has changed, there are a lot of feeder agencies, such as Anima, Toabh or TFM (The Fashion Management) that are grooming girls [to meet European and American standards] and collaborating with international agencies,” says Adajania. “That’s the big change, and a huge step for male and female models. There are also more scouts visiting India looking for talent. So I think we’re definitely on their radar now. ”

      Radhika Nair

      Radhika Nair

      Anima Creatives, founded in 2008 by former Latvian model, Gunita Stobe, and her Australian model husband, Mark Luburic — the mother agency for Sharma, Mehta and Ahmedabad boy Tuhir Brahmbhatt — is the one many credit for bringing these standards to India. “It’s not enough to be good looking,” says Stobe. “There is so much more that’s needed to succeed. Professionalism, physicality, attitude are all important, but personality is a must as casting directors are always looking for more.”

      Mehta, 24, who has seen a fairly quick rise to fame — last year, India, this year, international editorials — credits her success to her agencies. “They know the industry well enough to gauge and grab opportunities at the right time. Their push and belief in me keeps me motivated in return,” says the erstwhile accounting student, who was scouted while working at a national newspaper in Mumbai.

      The more recently-founded Feat. Artists, which represents Nair — and is headed by creative force Nikhil D (Dudani) and model Smita Lasrado, who was Paris-based for years — also brings together international contacts and aesthetics while espousing an Indian diversity in its roster. “I think more and more models are understanding the importance of agents in the business, to build their brand and protect their interests. It’s definitely gotten more professional,” says Lasrado, who started the agency last July because she wanted “to represent people from all over the country and break stereotypes”.

      Are the criteria for model auditions abroad different from India? “Here, fashion weeks have model pools, so all the designers have to work with the same set, regardless of whether they fit the collection or not,” she says. “Internationally, each designer casts their own models. For example, some are edgier and require strong models, while others might make classically-beautiful garments that require a different type of model.”

      Tuhir Brahmbhatt

      Tuhir Brahmbhatt

      To add to the problem, individual designer shows rarely conduct auditions and Indian fashion weeks only select a few new faces every year. “The faces that often get overlooked in castings here, quite regularly go abroad and get a much better chance to be launched off the back of a big international designer show, and start their careers,” says Stobe. “Models like Dipti Sharma or Pooja Mor were offered a place on the Indian catwalk, but for rates which were quite frankly extremely low, and not fitting their talent or profile. A month later they were walking for Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga.”

      Men to the fore

      Given that traditional stereotypes are getting a solid dusting, it’s no surprise that Indian men are finally getting their share of the modelling pie. Brahmbhatt — an accidental model who decided to give the career a shot because he had the height (6’3”) and, as he admitted in an interview, “I wasn’t very good at studies” — was signed as an exclusive for Virgil Abloh’s début Louis Vuitton’s menswear show and has shot for high-street giant Zara. Hyderabad-born Mustafa Dawood has walked for Valentino, Prada and Alexander McQueen.

      “I think barriers are falling every day and the world is becoming a smaller place,” says 19-year old Brahmbhatt, who, in an interview with Elle India recalls how Abloh recognised him at the fittings and told him “it was his first time too, and that it’s OK to be nervous”.

      It has also helped that, with the rise of Alessandro Michele at Gucci, menswear and womenswear are being presented in the same (usually a womenswear show). Brahmbhatt acknowledges that the move to gender neutral has also helped. “I think every model has benefited from that. Nowadays you see guys walking in women’s clothes, and vice versa. It has opened doors that weren’t open a few years ago.”

      While there are many factors at play — from our familiarity with the international scene, a change in attitude towards modelling, a preparedness when going abroad, the use of technology, the global movement towards inclusivity — Nair best sums up the spirit of the age. “I am independent, self-made, proud of where I come from, I have no filters. Maybe that’s how I reflect the spirit of the age, just by being myself.”

      - Ekta Rajani
      creative consultant

      I hope activisim is here to stay. Of course, there is economics riding on inclusivity and diversity, and it is possible certain brands and companies will just ride it, as tokenism. But others who understand the shifting tide will integrate it across their workspace from design and branding to policy and management

      - Smita Lasrado
      co-founder, Feat. Artists

      We aren't there yet, but [the rise in interest in Indian models] is definitely gaining momentum. I think it's a combination of the buying power of the Indian customer as well as social networks like Instagram, which are showcasing so many interesting and beautiful Indian faces, that's leading to a growing curiosity


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      Printable version | May 22, 2022 4:50:45 pm |