The dictionary meaning of the word icon is “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.” How often we’ve looked at Audrey Hepburn and thanked her for putting the LBD on the fashion map or Coco Chanel for making pearls and Breton stripes cool. But who are the Indian style icons? In our 66 year history, we’ve seen plenty of fashionable women but here are 5 women that have influenced the way we dress and whose style continues to influence us.
The Baghdadi Jewish community is extremely tiny in India, but they’ve given us one of the most path-breaking actresses to grace the silver screen. Born Ezekiel Nadira on December 5th 1932, Florence, or Farhat as she was commonly known, was one of the few women to play an independent, bold character during her time. Debuting at the tender age of 19 against Dillip Kumar in the movie Aan, she won the role owing to her European features and luminous skin.
She often sported pants and power shoulders, at a time when wearing western clothes on-screen wasn’t considered an option. Often playing the vamp, she would be seen carrying cigarette holders and bold jewellery.
Nadira broke the mould and greatly broadened the possibilities for Indian women, not only sartorially but professionally as well. If it hadn’t been for her, Bollywood would be a very different place today.
Ok – she may not be the first person that comes to mind when you say the words “style icon” and she might not technically be Indian. And we’re not commenting on her politics here either. But when you talk about Indian style, you cannot ignore the sari, and Sonia Gandhi has arguably done more for the traditional handloom sari than anyone else. Born in Italy, Sonia landed up in India after marrying Rajiv Gandhi, political scion. She entered politics in 1998 following the demise of her husband and mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, and is now president of the Indian National Congress.
Her style is utilitarian yet she displays a sense of elegance in the way she handles herself in India’s national costume. Gandhi is known to favour Chanderi, Maheshwari saris and styles them with demure sari blouses that often have 3/4th sleeves and high necklines. During Delhi’s cold winters, she wears thick coats or pashmina shawls. Gandhi is also a fan of saris from the brand Raw Mango by Sanjay Garg, a label that focuses on reviving traditional weaves and fabrics. In pop culture, Sonia was the inspiration behind Katrina Kaif‘s role in Rajneeti. Don’t they look similar?
If there’s a term best describing Zeenat Aman it would trailblazer. She along with Parveen Babi broke the rules of the typical sati-savitri roles in Bollywood. With her natural good looks, a career in the limelight was destined for Zeenat. She entered the Miss India pageant and went on to be crowned Miss Asia Pacific in 1970. Bollywood soon came knocking and she landed small roles. Her break out moment was when Dev Anand cast her in Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Her look in the song Dum Maaro Dum was a bright kurti paired with Rudraksh beads and oversized sunglasses. A perfect blend of fusion dressing.
Zeenat Aman personified hippie chic in the song Chura Liya Hai Tumko – check it out:
It was her risque dressing in Satyam Shivam Sundaram that ushered in the trend of showing some skin on screen. The white sari she wore titillated audiences and has remained as one the most iconic moments in Bollywood (and a subject of seduction). Most of her roles had her wearing flared pants and shirts, setting a precedent for more actresses wearing western clothes onscreen.
Once hailed as the one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world by Vogue magazine, Maharani Gayatri Devi epitomized grace and timeless style. Born into the princely family of Cooch Behar, she became the third Maharani of Jaipur owing to her marriage to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II.
Her style reflected the dress of Royals in India: French chiffon pastel saris paired with a string of pearls. While most royal ladies always covered their heads with their pallu, Gayatri Devi very rarely did that, preferring to show off her short hairdo instead. Ahead of the curve, she was photographed wearing trousers at a time when Indian women wouldn’t dare do such a thing, at least not in public.
Although she passed away in 2009, her style legacy still lives on. Sabyasachi, arguably India’s best couturier, paid tribute to her style with a special collection.
Would you believe that Sadhana‘s fringe was created to make her forehead look narrower? Her husband Nayyar directed the movie Love in Simla and suggested that she get the same look as Audrey Hepburn. The look sparked a frenzy and was copied by legions of women. The fringe was renamed the “Sadhana cut” and became her claim to fame. She later got rid of it to essay the role of a simple, village girl in Mere Mehboob but director H.S Raiwal instructed her to bring it back since film goers related to her fringe. Talk about the power of a haircut! Recently, Deepika Padukone sported the same fringe in the film Chandni Chowk to China.
Is there anyone you feel we missed out? Let us know!