Meet the supermodels behind some of ELLE’s coolest covers
Throwback to 20 years of striking a pose, and a chord, with ELLE
It’s difficult to pick just one high point in Ujjwala Raut’s career. Was it winning the Femina Look of the Year contest at 17? Walking the ramp for every big designer from Mumbai to Milan, maybe? Or still being called India’s most successful international supermodel, 20 years after she started out? Going by her record, one gets the feeling that it lies not in the past, but the future.
The Maharashtrian model exploded onto the scene in the late ‘90s, and ELLE was quick to cast her. Her first shoot, styled by Anaita Shroff Adajania, had her walking the streets of Mumbai as a reporter, chatting up taxi drivers and doing her darndest to look regular. Flash forward to 10 years later, where she was gracing the cover of our 10th anniversary issue, throwing shade in a monochrome Chanel number. And here we are, on our 20th anniversary.
The timeline of Raut’s career mirrors ELLE’s, and we were frequent collaborators. “We were all evolving, and in the 10 years that I worked in India, I did nine covers with ELLE. I’m lucky to have worked with diverse talents like Farrokh Chothia, Jatin Kampani, Nonita Kalra, Mohan Neelakantan… just so many lovely people who were so down to earth.”
“On my shoots with ELLE,” she adds, “I learnt to do make-up that wasn’t over the top. We were supposed to look more natural, and to me, that’s what ELLE’s always stood for – being relatable and real.”
There’s something elusive about Lakshmi Menon, a fluidity that makes adjectives seem nebulous. It combines intriguingly with a presence that’s punctuated by her signature steely gaze. So even when Menon slips into character, you never, ever confuse her with anyone else.
Sample some of her favourite ELLE shoots as evidence. In a couture editorial shot by Tarun Vishwa and styled by Malini Banerjee, she oozes a relaxed sensuality. It has none of the hyper dramatization that accompanies high-octane couture shoots, and Menon comes across as a goddess in repose. Contrast that with an androgyny-themed series photographed by Prabuddha Dasgupta and styled by Gautam Kalra. In it, Menon is all masculine nonchalance. It is, she says, her “favourite editorial ever! I was sporting a moustache, and they stuffed a sock down my trousers. It was a real gender bender, and something that had never been done in India before.”
But then, Menon’s brought several firsts to India. She’s fronted campaigns for Jean Paul Gaultier, Hermes, Max Mara, and Givenchy. Her “impressive personality”, says Riccardo Tisci, is integral to his shows. She’s a regular on the international ramp, having walked for Carolina Herrera, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, and Vera Wang. H&M featured her in its 2009 holiday campaign, while Dazed & Confused put her on its April 2009 cover.
Despite being bang in the middle of the fashion world, Menon’s own tastes veer towards the unpretentious. And that’s why she likes the magazine. “ELLE recognizes the diversity in the fashion world, and offers equal opportunities in casting. Its approach is more realistic.” Maybe we’re onto something there. Because, if Menon’s story is anything to go by, fact is indeed more delightful than fiction.
Before we’d heard of supermodels, we’d heard of Sheetal Mallar. She was trending without the internet, and beautiful without Photoshop. As someone who started modeling while still in college, it’s a no-brainer that Mallar calls photography an intimate experience, and is as at home behind the camera as she is in front of it. Mallar now captures images for the very magazines she once graced, and yet, her eye always looks for the realness behind all that glamour, the sweat behind the sheen. Her lens picks out the undercurrents that others miss; it’s an insider’s view of the fashion industry.
And she’s an insider, all right, which makes her a familiar face at ELLE. “My first editorial was probably a Valentine’s special shot by Farrokh Chothia. ELLE shoots always felt like I was working with a bunch of friends. They were always fun and fluid, and we had great times.” “I liked the story Bharat had shot at the Chennai Open on the tennis courts with my husband [Mosé Navarra] then,” she reminisces, “and all the stories I shot with Farrokh Chothia, which were usually in Bombay or in an exotic place, with a great team who knew how to keep it fun and get good results.”
And if she had to pick just one thing that she likes about ELLE? “ELLE was one of the first international magazines to hit the Indian scene, and had great visibility along with a diverse readership. It was appreciated then and has sustained its quality and creative content through the years.” And sustainability, that art of staying consistent while being relevant, is something Mallar knows a thing or two about.
Ask anybody who’s worked with her (and it’s a fairly long list), and they’ll tell you that Tamara Moss is a livewire. Vivacious, free-spirited, and never one to take herself too seriously, Moss has lit up more ELLE covers than we can count. Not bad for someone who grew up in a house where fashion magazines were outlawed. Her first memory of ELLE, therefore, is of “a very naive young girl goofing around and giving a candid interview to Ambika Muttoo for the May 2007 cover shoot.”
Moss became family when she met stylist Edward Lalrempuria at Fashion Week. Since then, it’s been one fun fest after another. Her most memorable episodes are the February 2009 cover with Tarun Vishwa, the June 2010 editorial shot by Tarun Khiwal, a psychedelic piece by Jatin Kampani, a playful feature shot by Suresh Natarajan, and a more recent series shot in Jaisalmer by R Burman. Whew!
On the personal front, Moss prefers a more natural, minimalist approach to life. “I find great interest in giving things I have no need for away,” she says. “I am deeply in love with slow cooking, slow travel, slow relationships, organic gardening, and an intuitive rediscovery of sensuality.”
And that’s where her sensibilities match ours. ELLE, she says, “presents Indian women with a more fresh, uninhibited, and empowered approach as consumers. By highlighting artistically sensitive and conscious designers like 11.11, it attempts to balance the inhumane and unnatural state of affairs in fashion.”
Moss’ current passion project is setting up a nursery and school in Jaisalmer with her family trust, Family in Action. That, and “gender equality, destroying the Indian 'culture-vulture' mentality, while promoting alternative education and self-motivated learning.” More power to you!
Photographs: Aneev Rao