At 5 pm on Monday, Rhyan Kimbrel Atrice fought off an irate monkey to save a journalist outside the audition venue in Okhla. For the next two hours at the Fashion Design Council of India’s (FDCI) office in the Capital, this incident was the highlight. Rhyan was anyway the centre of attention at the casting of male models for the upcoming India Fashion Week (IFW) autumn-winter 2016 edition to be held in March. At 6’3, his walk oozed confidence and charm, his broad shoulders and chiselled face made many envious, and he was probably the first African-American male model to audition for IFW.
Of the 150-plus boys who landed up at the audition, 24 were selected, Rhyan being one of them. The five-hour-long gruelling session had its fair share of dull moments but it was also a revelation in terms of the diversity that the Indian fashion industry now wants to represent. “We want to be more international now, be inclusive, and this is what brings the ramp alive,” said Sunil Sethi, President, FDCI, as he introduced Arjun Lam to the bunch next to him. Lam is a Nepalese student at Delhi University, a lanky fellow with east Asian features that stand out in this group of typically north Indian faces. He too was selected to walk the men’s fashion show at IFW next month. Then there was 21-year-old Stas, a Russian model, who changes cities every few months to participate at fashion weeks across the globe. “At some places, I am considered unique, at others, like here, I look Indian, so much so that the judges didn’t know I am Russian till the final selection,” he said.
With designers Rohit Bal, Varun Bahl, Divyam Mehta and choreographer Anu Ahuja on the jury, along with Sethi, the auditions were split into three rounds, with 100 boys being eliminated after the first round itself.
This time at IFW, a menswear show will take place on March 19, where Ujjwal Dubey’s label Anatar-Agni, Rohit Kamra , apart from Mehta, will participate. Apart from looking for the perfect walk, it was evident that the jury was looking for faces and physiques that didn’t conform. From bulkier frames to lean bodies, bearded, ultra-masculine jawlines to clean-shaven chocolate-boy looks, from the basic 5’11 height to going as far as 6’4 — not one model was like the other.
It is this desire to choose a unique face that worked in Rhyan’s favour. “I have been rejected in my own country but here I know I am different. It’s my weapon but I am not going to be pressured by it. I am going to change the game here, plus I have a nice smile,” said the 25-year-old, excitedly. Modelling for 10 years now, Rhyan grew up in Atlanta, and has travelled across the US, Milan and Paris for work. His India agent, Rajan Kapoor, who runs Strawberrifox model management company in Delhi, has taken this up as a challenge. “I want to break the myth that a black male model cannot find work in the fashion industry in India. He has been here for three days and there are people already calling me to shoot with him. He’s been selected for this fashion week, and we are flying to Bangalore for a print shoot tomorrow,” said Kapoor.
Before leaving for India, Rhyan had people telling him to rethink his decision, and the same holds true for Lam and Stas. “They said how India is unsafe, and I would be kidnapped or racially abused. But that can happen anywhere. I am yet to face anything brutal and when I do, I am sure I will know how to handle it. Plus, fortunately I work in an industry that is accepting of all things different and unique,” said Rhyan. For Lam, his Nepalese features often earn him derogatory titles but years of living in India have taught him how to manage it. “I just ignore now,” said Lam, who started his career with a Varun Bahl show in Chandigarh last year.
Apart from these three, models hailing from Kashmir, Bhopal, Delhi, Jaipur and Punjab made it to the auditions, each with the aim of impressing the judges to get a slot at the fashion week. There was enough talent for the judges to make tough deliberation. So much so that they selected 24 instead of 12, which was pre-decided.
“We had to ask about 50 models to leave towards the end of registration, there is so much talent, so much eagerness. Next fashion week, we should have more shows dedicated to men, probably revive the men’s fashion week at some point of time too,” said Sethi.