Her deeply kohled eyes and dusky skin complement the dull silver hues of the chunky tribal necklace. If 34-year-old Nirmala Marandi was nervous, she didn’t show it as she faced the camera, an off-white, magenta and yellow linen sari draped over her small frame. A few minutes into the session, she proved herself a natural. As did Agatha, Hasda, Cecilia Tudu, and Seeta Hasda, all tribal women from the interiors of Jharkhand, who came to Mumbai to attend a workshop on design organised by designer Anavila Misra last October and ended up striking a pose.
“At first, we were very scared but after a few shots, it was great fun. Never before had we worn our hair in this manner or such make up. But now I try and style my hair like this sometimes,” giggles Marandi, as Seeta adds that given a chance, they will probably do it again. Misra, who is known for her graceful, understated linen sarees wanted “real” women to model her latest collection. “Here were women who help keep this traditional dress alive by wearing it all the time — in the fields, while fishing or travelling. I felt they deserved to show the world the saris we had created, instead of regular models who wear them just for a shoot or a one-hour ramp show and never go near them again,” says Misra. The 37-year-old designer from NIFT presented her four models with saris at the end of the shoot.
Far away in the serene precincts of Auroville in Pondicherry, Renu Niogi found herself in a quandary when designer Uma Prajapati called her to model for her organic clothing line Upasana. Niogi,who turns 50 in July, had done some shoots in her youth. “But they were amateur stuff and I had not modelled since I became a parent. I hesitated but went ahead anyway,” says the mother of two.
For Prajapati, Niogi was the ideal choice for her designs. “It’s easy to sell cool and sexy. But I wanted to position the Indian woman who has a language of her own. And that language is one of grace above all, along with wit and personality. When I called Renu for the assignment, she thought I was kidding. She told me she had grey strands, I told her that’s the reason she was selected!” says Prajapati, 44, also a NIFT graduate, who has been living in Auroville since 1996.
A little less than a decade ago, when Kolkata-based Kamal Ahluwalia was in her 50s, she walked the ramp at a society club in the city. It was the theatre actor’s first stint as a model and she was quite apprehensive. “I had never done anything like this before,” says Ahluwalia. As she turns 64 this year, Ahluwalia continues to “model”, infrequently though. Earlier this month, she modelled for Kallol Datta. “It was a shoot for a magazine and I wanted Kamal aunty to wear my saris. She comes the closest to my muse,” says Datta. “His clothes give respect and freedom to all kinds of women. She doesn’t have to be a certain age or size or shape; she is accepted so beautifully by his clothes,” says Ahluwalia, who modelled a red sari with a kimono blouse for the shoot.
If ordinary women have been drawn into the centrestage of fashion and glamour, regular men are not far behind either. Ask Vidyut Perti, the Delhi boy who used to imagine himself sashaying down the ramp. As he grew older, Perti realised that the fashion industry had no place for someone who was on the “heavier side of the scale.”
Till one day, Perti, 25, read an advertisement on a website by a Delhi-based fashion label looking for “normal folks for a photo shoot”. The ad had been put up by Bhane, an affordable everyday clothing brand formed in 2012. “I quickly wrote to them, sent some of my pictures and they called me,” says Perti. “It’s not every day that people like me are asked to be a part of a fashion catalogue. Here’s a brand willing to give me an opportunity without asking me to lose weight,” says Perti, who works for a Gurgaon-based housing company.
For Anand Ahuja, 28, founder, Bhane, regular people are the inspiration behind the label. “We create clothes for people with regular bodies of different sizes and shapes. So we want regular people to model them,” says Ahuja. The shoot is often a goodwill gesture without any payment involved.
If there is anybody who can take credit for the trend, it is Goan designer Wendell Rodricks. A decade ago, he used models ranging from ages five to 60, of all shapes and sizes, to sashay down the ramp for his show titled Fashion Democracy. “It was the first time India saw a show with people ranging from grandparents to a child and everyone in between. It was to prove that fashion is meant for everyone,” says Rodricks. Are there any disadvantages in having non-professionals showcase your designs? “None. There’s excitement, nerves and euphoria. The models thought I was joking… until we started taking measurements. To ease the nerves, we kept whistles on the seats and played popular ’70s music. It was a show where the audience, the press and the clothes on ramp all became one,” says Rodricks.
In an industry plagued by unrealistic standards of beauty, going against the grain has been rewarding for these design houses. “When the posters of the tribal women went around there was a flurry of appreciation. People remember them more than they would have remembered regular models,” says Misra.
With inputs from Somya Lakhani