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2023: the year of OG supermodels

As designers looked beyond celebrity showstoppers this year, the supermodels of the 1990s and 2000s returned in full force

Nayanika Chatterjee in Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla's 'The Return Of The Muse'
Nayanika Chatterjee in Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla's 'The Return Of The Muse' (Courtesy Abu Jani Sandeep Khosla/Ram Shergill)

As Indrani Dasgupta walked the velvet grey-carpeted runway on 18 December, wearing a necklace and a pair of earrings of sherbet-toned tourmalines, old-mine cut diamonds and brilliant-cut diamonds, my neighbour whispered, “Look at her walk. That’s the reason they rule.”

She was referring to India’s supermodels. That evening at Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s first jewellery show, held at Delhi’s Oberoi hotel, a number of supermodels now in their 40s, including Dasgupta, Lakshmi Menon and Sheetal Mallar, showcased a collection of over 20 opulent pieces. While the show was a glamourous closing to the 2023 fashion calendar, it also served as a reminder of the absolute return of supermodels this year. These models, who were household names in the 1990s and 2000s, known for their individualistic personalities, charisma and confidence, were back in full force in fashion weeks, shows and brand campaigns.

Indrani Dasgupta for Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s first jewellery show, held at Delhi’s Oberoi hotel, on 18 December
Indrani Dasgupta for Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s first jewellery show, held at Delhi’s Oberoi hotel, on 18 December

Earlier this month, Payal Singhal presented her first demi-couture collection in Mumbai, with supermodels Ujjwala Raut and Carol Gracias, among others. “The show was called ‘Fashion In Motion’ to show the cyclical nature of fashion, to show that what many may call ‘vintage’ is still new, fresh and relevant. That’s why I wanted to have supermodels,” says Singhal.

“For years, there’s been this tremendous pressure from media, PR, to get a Bollywood person (on the ramp) so that your clothes get talked about. It might make sense for a young, emerging brand that wants instant eyeballs, but after 20 years in the industry, I can afford to change the narrative, and have people meant for the job,” she says.

Ujjwala Raut in Payal Singhal's ‘Fashion In Motion’ show
Ujjwala Raut in Payal Singhal's ‘Fashion In Motion’ show

Designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, who rarely participate in fashion weeks and often have supermodels in their standalone shows, are taking a slightly different route to make the point that couture should be about the clothing. They recently released The Return Of The Muse, a documentary in which Jani and Khosla reunite with 90s supermodels like Arjun Rampal, Mallar, Dino Morea, Dayanna Erappa and Nayanika Chatterjee.

They discuss their journey into the gruelling yet glamorous world of fashion. “Fashion has become so boring and commercial, we wanted to have some fun, bring in some drama and perhaps start a conversation,” says Khosla. “In fashion, the most important thing is that your clothes should talk. Then comes the model who shows them to the world. Nobody can walk like our supermodels. They have what a lot of younger models of today don’t—experience as well as the discipline and desire to keep learning. That’s what makes them so relevant.”

It’s not a stretch to say that having experienced models is a marketing stunt, especially when age inclusivity is a trending hashtag. There is no denying, though, that such strategies help start important conversations. A Vogue cover in September featured ’90s supermodels Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell, a month before an Apple TV+ documentary about their careers was to drop. The cover worked like a charm, equally gathering fire emojis and nasty social media responses. Back home, it raised a question: why have we erased our supermodels from our front pages?

“Bollywood,” is former Miss India Liza Varma’s answer. “India has always been fascinated by actors. My mother wore what Madhubala wore. I wore what Madhuri (Dixit Nene) wore. Today’s children wear what Deepika Padukone or Ananya Pandey wear,” says Varma, a show director who runs Gurugram-based Liza Varma Academy for models.

“We are a glamour-struck nation, where fashion trends start on the movie set, and not on the ramp—the opposite of the West. Perhaps that’s why established designers are now trying to bring a change and include older models,” explains Varma. She adds that the supermodels of yesteryear are still in great shape and know exactly what they are doing. “The younger models of today are in a rush. They are hoping to be part of Bollywood or OTT shows some day, so the focus sometimes is not where it should be.”

From the documentary 'The Super Models'
From the documentary 'The Super Models' (Courtesy Apple)

Dasgupta, who, besides being a supermodel, is a writer, stylist, choreographer, fashion show producer and a mother, doesn’t believe 2023 was the year of supermodels. “You can’t even call it the year of comeback since we were always present, may be not often, but we were always there. When we were modelling in 90s, I wasn’t thinking about Bollywood or social media; it wasn’t even an option then. It was a small, intimate world,” says Dasgupta, who was part of Riddhi Mehra’s 2023 campaign, The Icons, which also featured Ujjwala Raut, Carol Gracias, Archana Akil Kumar and Kanishtha Dhankhar. “But, yes, 2023 was the year when we were present more often than not, and it’s because of several reasons, like the West influence (Apple TV docu), the recall value, the nostalgia and the long relationship we have had with the designers and brands.”

Also read: Is it the end of the road for Indian models?

It’s also a return to the basics, says Ujjwala Raut. “People say we aged out. Age has nothing to do with modelling. It’s all about the attitude. Designers now want to go beyond Bollywood. They want to see their clothes on models because when you have actors wear clothes, only one garment shines. When models wear your collection, all the clothes grab equal attention,” says Raut, who was part of the runway show for the opening of Jio World Plaza, the Tira Beauty campaign, the Singhal show and Delhi fashion week this year. “I am not saying Bollywood will disappear, but it seems the fashion industry is hitting a refresh button.”

Also read: After the ramp or the red carpet, where do designer clothes go?



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