Multi-hyphenates on the art of embracing their bodies

by Drishti Mistry

If you’re browsing through countless fashion magazines for style advice but can’t particularly relate to the cookie cutter models on almost every other page, then you’re just like us! In an effort to serve you some real fashion inspiration, we had a tête-à-tête with five very diverse women with five very diverse bodies and vocations. They spill the beans on how they’ve overcome challenges, professionally, sartorially and otherwise. Scroll down to read these empowering exchanges…

It all began when thirteen-year old Priyanka started a blog as a part of her class assignment. She had a lot to say at a very young age and this project was just the weapon she needed. Further, her admission to St. Xaviers fuelled her vocation. “I went to St.Xaviers for my Junior College and it was a huge cultural shift for me because I lived in Navi Mumbai and here, I met these really rich kids who came from Ivy-league schools. Everyone had a lot to say but they would all do it the same way, so I started making art, took a different route,” says Priyanka.
Considering the empath she is, it comes as no surprise that her work revolves around social justice and all the isms that pain the youth of today – feminism, casteism, racism to name a few. Through her art and poetry, she tries to spark conversations with the masses by means of the social media multi-verse. “Understanding social issues has always been in the realm of the academic elites so I try to make content that the average man can easily understand through Instagram,” adds Priyanka.
Reflecting on her personal style, she says “My style is at two extremes. I’m either really loud – very colourful and glittery or really laidback – monochrome and all-black. I also make my own clothes and style them the way I like! My style is constantly in flux as it reflects me, my gender, my expression and how I’m feeling on that day. Its intuitive.” Not only is Instagram her workplace, she is also an avid Insta-shopper, she attests “I shop from these amazing brands on Instagram like Pani Swimwear, Adah by Leesha, Filetmot and other upcoming ones.” Ask her who’s her plus-size pinup and she’s quick to answer “Can I say myself? It took a while to reach this stage!”. For someone who flawlessly flaunts shorts, bikinis and other skin-showing silhouettes despite being advised to do otherwise, her mantra is clear, “Wear whatever you want to wear, no matter what size or colour you are! It doesn’t cost anything to walk into a trial room and try something that you’re unsure about. You never know what might work for you!” concludes Paul.

In the fashion jewellery business for over a decade now, Nitya needs no introduction. What might come across as news though is her latest venture, Malai clothing “I launched the collection a few months ago after thinking about it for ten years. After all, I did my majors in apparel design from Parsons School Of Design, New York. The beauty of Malai is that it makes size-inclusive clothing so much more exciting through statement prints on pure fabrics. We have all the sizes – from 2 to 20 – it’s as size-inclusive as it gets,” says Nitya.
To keep her creative juices flowing, she also acts as a luxury consultant to many in addition to successfully running her jewellery label, Valliyan. Whether it’s her personal style or her work (case in point – her supersized jewellery), her approach is that of a maximalist. Speaking of style, as an Indian woman, she has always found herself in a fix when it comes to finding the right bottoms, “Hips have been a really big challenge for me because Indian women anyway are heavier on the bottom. I have struggled with finding pants that will give me a flattering fit. As result, I’ve turned to Lycra leggings and palazzos for their form-fitting and comfortable silhouette. I haven’t tried Good American yet, but I plan to.”
While labels like Dhruv Kapoor, Lovebirds, Zara, H&M, Bimba and Lola, Ankita by Ankita Choksey and Ragini Ahuja remain her constant go-to, Nitya admits to being a DIY person, “I make so many of my clothes myself – whenever I travel, I buy a pile of fabric and experiment with silhouettes during the making process.” Boasting a feverish obsession with Anokhee’s separates and Ashley Graham’s infectious energy, she signs off by letting us in on her sartorial secrets, “I mix prints with solids to cut my body visually and enhance the slimmer parts of my body. I suggest, if you have skinny legs then try a boxy shift dress or a high-waisted cinched skirt, if you have a slimmer upper body.”

She might have an envy-inducing line-up of high-profile celebrities and fashion magazines on her styling repertoire, but that alone does not satiate her creativity. When Vinita isn’t conceptualising mood boards for her next big cover shoot, she can be spotted writing snarky pieces or lending her expertise to various brands on the design and branding front. Her experimental approach to fashion is apparent in her personal style and her work, “As a stylist I have to dress my client according to what works for them. That said, I’m all for experimenting, whether it’s for me or my client,” says Makhija.
Has she experimented with something recently and loved the outcome? Makhija replies animatedly, “It’s actually something that I’m wearing for this shoot. I never thought I could do a tuck in as I wasn’t sure if it would work for me. But I realised that if you do it with wide-legged trousers and a slightly fitted top, it works out perfectly!” Emphasizing further on her personal style, she says, “I like clothes that give me some shape. I don’t believe in the concept of hiding my body. I like to flaunt parts that I feel more confident about. I do follow trends, but I personalised them as opposed to just following blindly – like this one time when I customised the sleeves of my Isabel Marant t-shirt to suit my sensibilities. I also love layering, wearing short dresses and pinstriped pieces.”
From Kallol Dutta and Huemn to Uniqlo, she swears by a slew of mostly Indian and sometimes international names. “What I love about Indian designers is that they’re willing to customise the outfit to your body,” she says. Turning to vintage art and viral influencers for body-positive inspirations, she adds, “If you look at the works of Raja Ravi Varma or other older artists, you’ll realise how fuller women are representations of beauty. I also follow plus-size yoga instructors and models like Palomija and Emma – they prove how fitness has got nothing to do with size!” With a final word of advice that she impresses upon every client, she wraps up, “Get the perfect lingerie! If that is taken care of, everything else will automatically fall better on your body. That’s the foundation of your outfit.”

While fashion came naturally to Ruchika, baking was something that she discovered accidentally, “I studied fashion styling and journalism from London College of Fashion as I loved being well put together since childhood. Later I worked with Vogue for a bit and moved on to movies and ads. It was then that I turned to baking. I would bake to de-stress myself in between breaks and weekends. I sent over some of my cookies to friends and relatives and they suggested I take it up on the side – that’s how House Of Cookies was born,” reflects Vyas.
On the fashion front, her style, she says, is a mix of vintage and androgyny, “I got obsessed with vintage jewellery from thrift stores when I was in London. I then started adding vintage accents to my otherwise androgynous ensembles. I love wearing loafers, boots or brogues with dresses and skirts and maybe have a few feminine elements here and there.” Styling herself, however, wasn’t as easy as she would like it to be, “I’ve always been a big child; I’ve never been skinny and so it was obviously harder to find clothes in my size. I would collect fabrics and design clothes for myself based on what I saw in the magazines as there weren’t many options, growing up. Even today, I feel like labels can widen their scope of sizes other than just the standard ones.” adds Vyas.
Food and fashion hold an equally special place in her heart. Elaborating on the close connect between the two, she says, “If you look at the way our branding is done, you’ll see that it’s got a very vintage aesthetic – it’s an ode to the 50’s American housewives. You’ll see a lot of pop colours, mint tones etc. The name actually came from the fact that I was from a fashion background and in fashion, you know how they say, ‘House Of something’? That’s exactly how House Of Cookies was monikered.”

You know Sabina is a doting mother when she quotes her daughter, even before we’ve started the discourse on fashion, “Yesterday, when we were going to a serious gathering of sorts and I was wearing a very short dress, my seven and a half year old walked up to me saying, mum you are not appropriately dressed for the event!” laughs Singh as she relays the sartorial schooling she received from her little one, recently. She is a full-time mother and a round-the-clock entrepreneur. She is not only the Creative Director of Olive Group of restaurants; she is also the brain behind her two fashion labels Horn Ok Please and Aksh.
If there is one way of putting Singh’s style into words, it would be carefree, kitschy and kaleidoscopic, “My personal style is quite bohemian and comfortable! I like a lot of colour and I enjoy anti-fit styles that can be dressed up with accessories. I also really love dresses” says Singh. Follow her work closely and you’ll see how her sartorial side spills over to her work, “If you look at some of the restaurants that I have designed, you’ll notice a lot of layering. You will never see a stark wall in any of the spaces – it’ll always have texture. I like layers and colours even in the way I dress. For instance, when I was working on Olive Goa, I had to keep it simple because the sea spoke its own language. Just by using the colour blue effectively without, putting too many prints in the place, I let the sea into the restaurant,” expounds Singh.
A Nykaa Fashion loyalist and a Gaurav Gupta admirer, the mother of two shares her antidotes to post- pregnancy pressures, “The body does not support size zero clothes anymore. My dresses have had to change with age and time. Clothes have become looser; the silhouette has become bigger. The key is to work with your body and choose clothes that make you look and feel gorgeous. Sometimes, though, you should experiment- like I tried on a dress that was more fitted. Since I’ve had my kids, I haven’t really been wearing fitted dresses. But this was a very interestingly done dress – it was fitted yet it had a sort of a flap, over it that covered all the unflattering areas. It made me look taller, slimmer and I really liked the whole look of it. So you never know what works!”

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