Why Indian models are finally making it big on the global fashion scene
Our February 2017 cover star Radhika Nair leads the invasion
By Rochelle Pinto February 16, 2017
There been a curious development on international runways for those of us who follow fashion feverishly. Formerly awash with hues of California blonde and English rose — the occasional African ebony thrown in to make a statement about inclusivity — these ramps have turned an interesting shade of desi brown, thanks to our Feb cover star Radhika Nair and her gaggle of Indian models.
Radhika Nair became the first Indian woman to walk for Balenciaga
We're not talking about the era when a lone Ujjwala Raut made her mark around Y2K, or when Lakshmi Menon established herself as the go-to catwalker of the mid-noughties. This is a proper Indian-IT-brains-in-Silicon-Valley invasion, and Donald Trump and his fellow jingoists should be very worried.
Monica Tomas for Delpozo A/W 2017
“The first wave of Indian models getting international attention came with the arrival of big luxury brands in India. But with the recession, that wave quickly died out,” explains former model Gunita Stobe, who co-founded the agency Anima Creative Management along with partner Mark Luburic. “Now, with major international brands like H&M, Sephora and Zara entering the Indian market, the demand for local models is once again going up.”
Bhumika Arora for Balmain S/S 17
Like Stobe, photographer Rid Burman has seen an upwardly mobile Indian diaspora exert its influence on how companies execute their advertising campaigns and cast fashion shows. “Look at the big cities like Milan, London and New York, their populations are no longer homogenous,” says Burman. “The Indian communities in these places are very wealthy, and the fashion labels need to sell to them, which is why you’ll see more Indian faces in their campaigns.”
Rasika Navare for Smashbox
The increasing efficiency of homegrown agencies like Stobe’s has also helped models convert opportunities into results. She says, “There were agencies like Elite Modes in India before, but they didn’t really concentrate on building relationships with agencies abroad and making sure our girls got opportunities. We always had the talent, but the models didn’t get the support they needed to go abroad. Models like Ujjwala and Lakshmi had to make their own way.”
While modelling agencies and fashion brands can take much of the credit for this increase in avenues, it can be argued that the Indian model has also decisively taken control of her own career. Social media now allows her to court employers and fans directly, as photographer Colston Julian points out. “Whenever we’re doing a casting, we always ask the agencies for the full names of the models so we can check their profiles on Facebook and Instagram to see what they really look like,” he says. A model with a substantial following automatically skyrockets to the top of potential casting lists — think Kendall Jenner and the Hadid sisters — with clients looking to piggy-back off their popularity.
Natasha Ramachandran for Nicole Miller A/W 2017
Model Surelee Joseph, who notched up an appearance at NYFW for Azede Jean-Pierre, thinks her colleagues have different priorities from the previous generation. “Indian models have more drive to make it in fashion,” she says, a marked difference from a few years ago when ‘Bollywood or bust’ could have been a patented bumper sticker. “They don’t want to limit their view to India.”