Padma Lakshmi: “I got to a point where I didn’t want to just smile and look pretty anymore”
With her first M.A.C make-up line, TV personality, cookbook queen and activist Padma Lakshmi solidifies her status as a beauty icon
Padma Lakshmi has unending reserves of energy and infectious enthusiasm. It comes through even over the phone, after she’s finished 12 hours of press interviews in Hollywood. The author and Top Chef host is warm, attentive and unhurried. She is genuinely excited about her global make-up collection, co-created with M.A.C Cosmetics. For context, landing a major make-up collaboration at 47 is no easy feat, especially when you haven’t been connected to the fashion or beauty world for a while.
But the former model has reinvented the meaning of a modern beauty icon in many ways. Besides playing host, she is also the executive producer of the Emmy-nominated show Top Chef, which is in its 15th season now. Her two cookbooks have been quite popular, just like her much talked-about tell-all memoir, Love, Loss, And What We Ate (Harper Collins, 2016). She is not only co-founder of The Endometriosis Foundation of America, an organisation that raises awareness about endometriosis (a condition she has been suffering from for the last 20 years), but has also been a voice, IRL and online, in the ongoing conversations about body acceptance and female sexuality.
Like with every project she works on, Lakshmi has made sure her collaboration with M.A.C, too, reflects these values. The 17-piece collection is a nod to her Indian roots, and she’s made an active effort to pick several colours that are suited to brown skin tones — something that is, but for a few exceptions, still quite an anomaly. With the global launch in March, the jewel-toned eyeshadows and bright lipsticks have already got the Internet’s vote of confidence. We reckon it’ll be a bestseller once it reaches Indian stores in April, too. Lakshmi spoke to ELLE about her process with M.A.C, growing more beautiful with age, and why she feels freer than ever before…
On collaborating with M.A.C:
“It feels really good to have a make-up campaign at this point in my life, especially with M.A.C. I’ve been using their products since I was a model in the ’90s, and they make really good shades for our skin tones. Developing the collection with their lab, designing the packaging, and creating something people in different countries could relate to, was an exciting process.”
On creating make-up with a global appeal:
“As a young girl, I remember shuttling between my grandparents’ home in India and my mother’s in America. And my mum would always send cosmetics for my aunt or grandmother because they never found the right colours for themselves. When you have dark skin or a skin tone that’s not Caucasian, it’s really hard to find colours that don’t look ashy on your faces. I wanted to do this [collection] for all these women, like my family and me, who struggled to find rich, flattering colours for themselves.”
On the inspiration for the line:
“There’s a story behind each of the colours and the names I have picked for them. One of my favourites is the Mumtaz eyeshadow, a beautiful metallic, aubergine shade in the 70’s Sunset palette. I called it Mumtaz to mean beloved, after the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built — and it’s perfect for a colour I always go for. The eyeshadow Hopper Blue is named after a famous painting called Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper. It’s the colour of the blue sky in the painting and of the walls of my home, too. I’ve also really liked the name Mittai Pink since I was a child. It used to mean something tacky, but I’ve claimed it as my own with the fuchsia lipstick. Another favourite is Sumac, which is inspired by a spice that is often used in Middle-Eastern cooking and has a dark, cranberry shade.”
On her secret to ageless beauty:
“When I was a model, I was aware I had the job because I had won the genetic lottery. But the scar (on her arm, sustained after an accident she had as a teenager) taught me that beauty is transient, in a real, palpable way. It’s easy to have a great body and [good] skin at 25; it generally depends on genetics, and how much you take care of yourself. But when you see somebody who understands their strengths and knows how to best manifest them into actions, those people become beautiful in a much more expansive way — and I’ve tried to follow that.”
On staying true to herself:
“I’ve realised that the things that make me different are actually my assets, including my skin colour and heritage. I could have never written The Encyclopaedia Of Spices And Herbs (Harper Collins, 2016) if I hadn’t grown up with my mother and grandmother’s influences. The fact that I was raised differently from my American peers helped me. And as a woman, I also got to a point where I didn’t want to just smile and look pretty anymore. I realised my power lay in speaking my mind and what is true, and not looking the other way — that’s when I feel most confident and alive. It’s very gratifying and liberating.”
For a vibrant take on the typical smoky eye, meet the metallic version. Kabuki layered complementary shades of Natural Brown shadow and Mossy Green Powerpoint pencil, then applied a creamy frosty green (Cardamom eyeshadow) only towards the inner corners with a wet brush “to bring out any shimmer in the shadow, and add a luminous quality to the eyes,” says Kabuki.
Silk georgette skirt (worn as dress), Johanna Ortiz. Gold-plated sterling silver necklace, Misho
“The ombré lip is a good way to make narrow lips look fuller,” says celebrated make-up artist Kabuki. “Start with the darker lipstick (like M.A.C’s Sumac). Overdraw the top lip, going a little higher on the cupid’s bow and extending outwards, just above the natural lip line. Next, fill in the centre with a brighter, lighter shade (try M.A.C’s Mittai Pink) in a circular shape and blend where the two shades meet. A little gloss in the centre of the lip will add to the effect for an evening event.”
On Lakshmi: Silk dress, Atsu
In the spirit of all the love bright eyeshadows are getting this season, wear multiple shades across your lids. Make-up artist Kabuki recommends picking colours that you would match together in an outfit.
He paired the matte Sand & Clay shadow with Hopper Blue on the lower lid, and finished with the shimmery Indian Moon on the outer corners of the eyes.
Silk dress, Céline
The ubiquity of the red lip has given it the status of the new neutral lip. If you can’t find your perfect shade, mix two for a more flattering tone like Lakshmi’s, which is a customised blend of the vivid red Blue Blood and the hot fuchsia Mittai Pink from her M.A.C collection.
Wool blend jacket, 3.1 Phillip Lim
Photographs: Takahiro Ogawa
Styling: Malini Banerji
Make-Up: Kabuki Using M.A.C Cosmetics
Hair: Jeanie Syfu/Atelier Management
Beauty Editor: Mamta Mody
Production: Isabel Scharenberg
Location Courtesy: Hotel 50 Bowery NYC, New York
Assisted By: Divya Gursahani and Tanvi Gala (Styling)