Unlike a few years ago, if you happen to walk into Sephora now, there is a high probability you’ll spot a brown model on one of their marketing posters. In fact, a plethora of fashion labels and cosmetic brands are now moving toward hiring more diverse, ethnic models; abandoning the preference for Eurocentric features. This growing inclusivity in the fashion industry is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.
Punjabi-Canadian model, Bali Bassi, seems to agree on that note. Thriving in the field, Bassi is no stranger to brands such as MAC, ALDO, Bare Minerals, and more. Brown Girl caught up with the talented model to chat about being South Asian and a woman of colour in the cutthroat world of modeling.
Tell us a little about your background. Was modeling “always” the plan?
Although I was interested in the fashion industry and modeling, it wasn’t always the plan. I actually didn’t know that it was a career I could pursue. I grew up in a strict Sikh household and, at the time, there wasn’t a lot of South Asian representation in the industry. I was pursuing a completely different career path when a modelling agency in Toronto signed me. I went to university for a degree in Economics and had also spent some time volunteering at refugee camps through a non-profit. I wanted to go to Law School and study International Human Rights. But when I mustered enough courage to go to a bunch of open calls, I ended up being signed by one of the biggest agencies in Toronto. That’s when I decided to focus on modeling. But I still plan on working in the International Human Rights field, perhaps some time in the future.
How did you make space for yourself in this industry?
I really don’t know how to answer this, but by being my most authentic self as corny as that sounds. It took a lot of self-love to build the confidence I have now. It’s easier for me to walk into a casting now and show up for myself as I should. I also love connecting with other people on set, hearing their stories, having fun and creating art together. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some remarkable creatives in the industry and I love how I’m always meeting new people on set.
For me, I want to be known for how I made someone feel and gave them a safe space to be themselves and be heard.
Seems like networking is key to success then. What other tips would you give to someone looking to step into the modeling industry?
1. A lot of people assume you need to present an entire portfolio to agencies in order to get into modeling. That’s actually for clients once you get signed. To start off you just need a few basic, well-lit photos. Before the pandemic, many agencies had open call hours, where anyone could walk in and meet a scout. Now, it’s mostly all online through their website, although some agencies are starting to have open calls again.
2. When signing a contract, make sure you read it over with someone you trust and a lawyer. No agency will ever make you pay to be signed with them. If they do, it’s a fraud! The agency might have you pay for a test shoot to build your portfolio in the beginning. There might also be photographers willing to shoot for free to expand their portfolio. The agency will set these up for you.
3. Always be punctual and professional! I can’t stress this enough. If you’re late, you’re pushing back the production timelines.
4. Have a good model bag. Most of the time, if you’re required to bring something on set they will let you know, but in your tote you should have a few essentials ready, including a nude and black strapless bra and underwear, water bottle, small makeup bag (although more often than not, there are make-up artists taking care of that), hair ties, Advil, tampons, etc.
What should one avoid doing or saying as a brown model in the fashion industry?
Do not complain unnecessarily. If the working conditions are actually a cause of concern, you can call your agent and let them know. Or if you feel uncomfortable with a situation or haven’t had a break or lunch break, please speak up. I understand that it’s hard speaking up in these environments and sometimes demanding your basic rights can be misconstrued as you being a “diva.”
On the flip side, I’ve been around models who constantly complain about everything. Modeling isn’t always glitz and glamour. There are long hours involved, a lot of wardrobe changes, set changes, different locations, weather issues, etc. Everyone on set is just trying to do their job and if you’re not happy to be there, it’s harder for them to do so.
As an international brown model, how do you organize your daily schedule?
This can be a bit chaotic because a lot of bookings can happen last minute. I’ve realized that having a “floater” day, once a week, where I can catch up on missed work, when this does happen, helps a lot! Other than that I try to have a routine with the things I can control. Having a good morning and night routine, working out everyday, and making sure I nourish my body and soul.
Can you share some of your favorite shoots and/or brands you’ve worked with?
Some of my favorite brand shoots have been where I was able to speak up about my interests and other projects I’ve been involved with. I loved shooting with Uniqlo because of the work they do with refugees. I also loved my shoot with Sephora Canada. I was also interviewed about my experience growing up in Canada and what skin means to me, at that time.
How do you feel about tokenism which is often associated with ensuring diversity within the industry?
In the last few years, there’s been a push for the industry to be more inclusive. This includes size, race, gender, disabilities and more. The industry is making moves in the right direction, but there is stilla lot of work to be done. All aspects of diversity, with a focus on intersectionality should be considered.
Full inclusion is not about addressing one aspect of a business as a token. It needs to be built into the very fabric of a business. Design, advertisement, employment, creation of products, leadership and strategy are all foundational when progressing inclusion.
Brown models like Bassi, who are paving the way for South Asian representation in the modeling industry, are the reason why little girls can now finally relate to the standards of beauty around them and feel comfortable in their own skin. However, as pointed out by Bassi, inclusivity is not about identifying and troubleshooting one aspect of the business. There needs to be a push for inclusion on all fronts. If you’re reading this as an aspiring model, agent, photographer, or stylist, keep pursuing your dreams and jot some of Bassi’s tips down; they are sure to come in handy!
Making conscious decisions can, and should, go hand in hand with wearing fashionable pieces of clothing. Fortunately, South Asian fashion is making huge strides in the sustainable fashion department, and ace fashion designer Anita Dongre is at the forefront of this change; she’s so dedicated to making environmentally friendly choices in her collections.
Brown Girl Magazine has previously had the honor of featuring her Grassroots Collection; today, we sat down with Dongre to chat about her new vegan luxury line.
Her love for animals is parallel to her love for fashion and she does not sacrifice one or the other. From handcrafted purses to belts, the new collection is made of recycled materials and leaves a smaller carbon footprint.
What inspired you to “go vegan” both personally and product-wise?
I have always loved animals. When I was 13 my best friend talked me into being vegetarian and there was no looking back – Sangita and I continued to work together and since then we have both also turned vegan. When I started my business, I wanted the brand to be an extension of my personal philosophies so being a vegan brand was a forgone conclusion. My personal philosophy is to live a mindful life with kindness. This philosophy extends to respecting all life [so] we have chosen not to use leather for our line of accessories. For years I have wanted to create a vegan line of accessories that was high on quality, fashion, and kindness, and technology has only recently caught up with that desire.
Women have always expressed themselves through what they wear. In today’s time, carrying a bag that reflects their core personality is the default, and yet until recently, there hasn’t been a leather replacement that is cruelty-free and kind to the environment. With material sciences finally having the answer it was imperative to design an accessory line that women, like myself who care both about fashion and a world of kindness, could carry with pride.
What material is used in this new line? Why did you choose it?
With MIRUM® we found a partner who creates this beautiful, plastic-free material that mimics the touch, feel, and age of leather without cruelty. The line also features bags made out of recycled glass beads. We’re careful about delivering high quality [products] and both these materials deliver to that benchmark while being plastic-free.
How many pieces does this new line have and what is the importance of the animal symbols of each?
This collection is inspired by nature, my eternal muse. The Swan mini grab bag draws from a swan’s graceful silhouettes; the birds of a feather cross body bag borrow bird motifs that you see across my collections; the haathi belt uses my favorite — the Indian elephant, [which] is a symbol of strength and humility — every piece in this line of accessories is an elegant statement in conscious luxury living. The Anita Dongre brand has stood for elegance, timeless classics, and sustainability. We have always stood for handcrafted luxury while being mindful of the purpose it serves. These same principles extend into this collection of conscious, plastic-free, vegan accessories. While the shapes of these bags are distinctive, they are also functional – a design approach that extends across all Anita Dongre products.
How to promote sustainability in India versus let’s say New York City:
India’s lived culture is based on the practice of sustainability. From clothes that would be passed down to siblings and then cousins to eating seasonal fruits and vegetables, our practices until recently have always defaulted to conscious consumption. It’s exciting to see the rest of the world adapt to that way of living and [it’s] a good reminder for us Indians to go back to the way we were raised.
Anita Dongre allows her consumers to choose ethically-sourced pieces while letting them embrace sustainability as a part of luxury fashion. Soon enough, such cruelty-free products will be synonymous with India’s (and the world’s) top fashion couture brands. This is definitely not a step, but a huge leap forward.
Photos in the featured image are courtesy of Anita Dongre.
From humble beginnings, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna joined forces to create the worldwide fashion design brand Rohit + Rahul. Based in one of India’s fashion capitals, Delhi, the two take an eccentric approach to designing by utilizing geometry and modern art to build their design lines. This is commonly seen in some of their more recent design lines such as the ‘Fibonacci’ line. Also, the founding members of the brand Fashion Design Council of India, Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna insert new meaning into fashion by telling a story to the younger generation. With their bold pieces, Rohit and Rahul want consumers to feel empowered and individualized.
Tell us about your journey and where it all started.
We began our design journey in 1997. We saw a significant gap in the global market between Western and Indian couture segments and [so] amalgamated our personal style statements to merge it with our conviction to cater to this deficit, and launched our brand. The brand stands for contemporary designs and embodies an aesthetic of understated red carpet creations. As designers, we believe in curating garments that are timeless and decorous. Also, we have entered our 25th year of creative partnership as an established designer brand.
Ten years from now we see our company with corporate backing, more evolved with exponential growth.
Which client are you most looking forward to working with?
The client we most look forward to working with is the youth of today. The younger audience is experimental and bold; they don’t shy away from trying new trends. We look forward to dressing clients who are ahead of their time, love to explore the world and understand our structure and silhouettes.
What was one of your favorite showcases? What was different about this showcase compared to the others you have had?
We embroidered our surface textures and did a presentation with masks which was quite unusual. Another interesting project we did was inspired by art which is the ethos of the brand. It’s our sublime passion for art that reflects in the thoughtful craftsmanship of our brand.
What was it like having a partner?
Two is a team and it is great fun working together. We take various aspects from each other’s lives and put those thoughts into our design process. We both are different personalities and critics of each other which helps us understand things better. The journey so far has been exhilarating and challenging too; we were a two-man army. Back then from managing designing to marketing, merchandising, and sales, all of it was managed by the two of us. Now, we have a team working alongside us which makes us feel we have come a long way.
What interests do you have outside of fashion?
Outside of fashion design, our interest lies in art. Our design inspiration is derived from art and architecture. The heritage and the vintage lineage of the city of New Delhi where we are based are what instill our passion for finesse and immaculate grandeur in the minutest of details. We have been successfully running our art gallery, Palette, which houses modern contemporary artworks of young and established minds alike.
Where did the idea for the Fibonacci show come from? What’s one of your favorite looks?
‘Fibonacci’ at its heart, is a nod to craft — both structural and artistic — where every piece is a study in precision. The collection brings together this iconic designer duo’s dedication to the study of structure in art and architecture, transferring these learnings to design. The idea of the Fibonacci show was inspired by the artist named Zaha Hadid, who is known for her liberated architectural geometry. Our favorite look is a mosaic sherwani which was recently worn by Indian megastar Ranveer Singh.
The Astral Gala line is inspired by stars and galaxies. It is a reflection of our love for the cosmic universe which is surreal. The line is inspired by the old-age divas from the retro era fused with new modern techniques of boning and construction.
What is your favorite type of clothing piece to design? Which clothing pieces do you find most challenging to design?
Constructed jackets are our favorite piece of clothing; we pay a lot of attention to our finishing and construction. Constructed pieces are the most challenging to design but it also gives us more room for experimentation. Also, heavy ornamentation/surface textures make the garments difficult to mold and sculpt hence, we face challenges with those garments.
It would be Billy Porter for his unique fashion sense.
What do you hope to take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
It is inspiring to connect with a global community-building publication like Brown Girl Magazine which reaches out to a huge audience. One of the key takeaways from this conversation would definitely be the power of storytelling and narration as an individual from the creative industry and its influence on the upcoming generation of designers.
How has the power of storytelling influenced your past shows and how do you plan to utilize it in your future shows?
Storytelling is a key aspect and we utilize our runway sets to showcase our brand ethos and the inspiration behind the collection. We showcased the Fibonacci collection at Couture Week last season. The collection was inspired by the movement that marries precision with an architectural penchant for precision, guided by nature’s invisible rule — the Fibonacci wave. The intricate set for the show was built by artist Akon Mitra by combining thousands of origami pieces that arched over a ramp to depict a wave in perfect mathematical proportion. The set design reflected the beauty of patterns defined by Fibonacci’s irrational number, where every pattern is uniform and built with clear lines and divisions.
What do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
Brides and grooms should be comfortable and feel true to themselves when they choose to wear us. We want our designs to empower their true personalities and shine through on their big day!
Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna have taken a unique approach to fashion design not only utilizing storytelling to define the identity of their goal consumer, but also modern art to shape their clothing lines. The brand has been featured in GQ, multiple fashion shows such as Amazon India Fashion Week, and dressed famous clients such as Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, and many more. Rohit and Rahul aren’t just two fashion designers that came together; Rohit + Rahul is a team that gives you an identity with their design work.
Ever since we can recall, the Cannes Film Festival has been a merger of movies and glamour. On one side, there are hand-picked films — ready to premiere and make their mark in the world of entertainment — and on the other, audiences and paparazzi alike are served epic moments in fashion.
The festival, aimed to preview upcoming films from all over the world, invites a wide variety of guests that span the film fraternity, of course, but more recently, has opened its doors to many digital content creators, including renowned South Asian creatives.
With a more vast guest list comes a more recent debate: Cannes is a film festival and not a fashion showcase. Kickstarting the debate this year was none other than ace Bollywood director, Nandita Das, who in an Instagram post shared:
Sometimes people seem to forget that it is a festival of films and not of clothes!
In short, Das wants Cannes’ narrative to continue to focus on films.
But of course, there’s been a paradigm shift in the guest list over the last few years; this shift has allowed talents from various industries — including lifestyle content creators, entrepreneurs, etc., who showcase their work in fashion and beauty like fine masterstrokes — to walk the carpet and represent their craft, making space for others in their industry.
Influential names like Dolly Singh, Kaushal, Diipa Buller-Khosla, and Shivani Bafna — all of whom made a raging impact on the red carpet this year — weigh in on the significance of representing South Asian artists/influencers on the red carpet, and how they feel they’ve been part of this paradigm shift at Cannes Film Festival.
I believe that each step we take at events like Cannes sends a powerful message of diversity, cultural richness, and artistic excellence. Representation matters, and the presence of South Asian creators on the red carpet at Cannes helps broaden the narrative of beauty, talent, and creativity. It allows us to showcase our unique perspectives, narratives, and contributions, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive industry. By actively participating and making our presence felt, we help create more opportunities and spaces for South Asian creators, encouraging others to share their stories with the world.
Since 2015, the first time I walked the red carpet, till this year I have always been invited by L’Oreal Paris, one of the main sponsors of the event. It has always been such an honor to be invited to the festival through the makeup brand that I have been using for almost two decades, and, before my social media career began. Personally, I feel a sense of acknowledgment from such a prestigious brand, and its head office teams that sponsor Cannes Film Festival, and value the work I have done and continue to do as a South Asian content creator within the beauty space. Makeup, hair, and beauty will always play a big role within the film industry and it’s something I have always created my content around which is why I am proud to attend.
This is a proud moment not just for me but also [for] my peers and the entire content creator ecosystem given that we have reached such new global stages and presence. Of course, as you said, such film festivals, once considered as an exclusive hub for a congregation of the finest acting talents have, in the last few years, opened their arms to more people from the entertainment industry.
This is not just a sudden phenomenon with a burst of Indian creators at the festival this year but there is increased participation from non-film and non-South Asian celebrities across various spectrums from different sides of the world. Along with the many filmmakers, actors, producers, etc I also met some amazing influencers and entrepreneurs from other sides of the world. It’s amazing to represent India and celebrate and champion the advent of the digital ecosphere on such a prominent platform.
The confluence of actors and creators signified the amalgamation of traditional cinema and new-age digital influence, highlighting the transformative power of creative expression and how festivals like Cannes have become more forthcoming and progressive in their approach.
Cannes, like any other prominent festival, boasts of a red carpet that is synonymous with fashion and glitz, and I wanted to use this opportunity to represent all the amazing Indian fashion designers on the carpet besides, of course, attending the screenings. As someone who is just not an influencer but also an actress, I thoroughly enjoyed all the red-carpet screenings and meeting like-minded film talent from around the world at the event. At some point in the future, I would like to be attending Cannes for a film I’ve featured in.
Creators are often placed into boxes of where they belong and the rooms they can be a part of. Being on the red carpet dismantles the ideology that there’s a cap on how far we, as creators and as a South Asian community, can go and what we can achieve.
The Cannes Film Festival has always been viewed as the epitome of a glamorous event — everyone who attends looks like they’re living their best lives. I used the platform to share an authentic message of what the experience felt like for me. To represent all of us who doubt our potential, experience imposter syndrome, and are nervous to find their place, yet continue to push through to achieve their dreams!
As the first Indian American influencer to walk at Cannes, I hope I can inspire young women to confidently ask, ‘Why not me?’
There’s no doubt that the Cannes Film Festival is centered around films, and continues to be a unique space for the global film fraternity to bring their art and showcase their aptitude. But, creators like Bafna, Singh, Buller-Khosla, and Kaushal — a special shoutout to Raja Kumari for being instrumental in paving the way as well — have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill upon their invitation to the prestigious event. Their will to represent their South Asian identities, celebrate their industries, and continue to hold space for their peers makes their presence at Cannes more than just clothes.
All images in the featured photo are from the influencers’ Instagram feeds.