Ola! from Brazil

13 to 25, life has been a whirlwind for Mayara, a Brazilian model, who has been an avid world traveller

By Asmita Aggarwal

Coming from Brazil’s most prosperous financial centre Sao Paulo, for Mayara Fonseca modelling is the only things she ever knew. Since the age of 13, when she was discovered by a photographer back home and made a photo series that won her many more contracts, there was no looking back.

Mayara’s journey back home soon ended, as since the age of 16 she started travelling all over the world, from Italy, Germany to Mexico working with coveted brands like Moschino, selected from an array of girls due to her towering height, almost six feet. “The biggest drawback in modelling is that you are far away from home, and I miss my family. The good part is that I became independent from an early age and can cook, clean, learn new things and have travelled almost all over the world and got a chance to see many cities, giving me an exposure of a lifetime. However, my parents are very supportive and have encouraged me to chase my dreams,” she adds.

Language has never been a problem for Mayara, but food often poses an issue, so she sticks to salads, non-fried, and non-spicy cuisine to make sure she eats healthy, even though she is not a regular gym-goer. “Italy and India are quite similar, both are culturally rich and if we talk about safety like a lot of people warned me when I was coming, it is the same in Brazil. My parents used to accompany me everywhere there also. I don’t feel unsafe here at all, in fact, I’ve lived and worked here for three years now,” she adds.

The interesting part is that Mayara never wanted to be a model, in fact, due to her height she was bullied in school, but when she entered modelling it was a chrysalis. “I am close to my older brother who is 27, two years older than me, he has really helped me through some tough times,” she confirms.

The future seems like a blur currently even though Mayara finished high school, she hasn’t gone to university and feels there is no age to get educated. “The focus now is modelling and I’m loving every moment of it. My mom completed her nursing degree in her 40s and now works in a hospital. I too would like to pursue interior designing as working with spaces interests me. The other option is international business as I have been to so many countries for work, it would be fun to know how businesses work,” she concludes.

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The Other Eden

From a village where girls aren’t educated to making it to the spotlight, Nisha Yadav is a story waiting to be told.

By Asmita Aggarwal

No one would have even heard of Shuklawas, Rajasthan, a tiny hamlet tucked away unlike its more popular magnificent havelis, but maybe one-day people might associate it with Nisha Yadav, who made it to the list of new faces this year. Born to a farmer-turned-activist, who had to support five children with a meagre income, Nisha remembers a tough childhood where new clothes were a novelty and hand-me-downs, a norm.

“I think I was in class 11 when I got my first new salwar-suit, and we never had electricity at home, no roads, and I used to walk almost 2 km daily to study in a government school which was only till class 10. After that for high school, I used to walk 8-10 km to a nearby village to study walking amidst mustard fields. In the winter, due to the dew, we would get so wet by the time we reached school that we would return home with a terrible cough and cold,” she remembers.

The beauty of fashion is now it is no longer a reserve of the rich and famous and in the true sense of the word is really inclusive, as it is embracing women of all backgrounds. “I am really tall and we had absolutely no exposure to style of any kind, and my family never supported me in my endeavours of making it to the catwalk, in fact, they resisted it constantly,” she adds.

In fact, they wanted her to be a judge or clear the UPSC, so she studied economics and did her bachelor’s in computer application from Jaipur where she was exposed to the world of modelling. “Glamour kind of attracted me and seeing my photos published in many small publications got me hooked,” she explains.

Interestingly, Nisha was never exposed to a laptop till she got into college, her mom being illiterate; her dad ensured all her five sisters got education. Most of her siblings are government servants and they really don’t care about modelling. “My dad, I would say is intrigued about my new life and I’m typically from a Hindi medium school, so it took me some time to understand what people around me were saying when they converse. But today I would say I am not an expert but I can find my way around English speaking fashion people,” she smiles. Without a godfather the struggle was enormous and even though Nisha admits she never won any pageant, it didn’t affect her morale. “My family felt I was wasting my time so I was in a dilemma and I left modelling in the middle for some time,” she says.

At 25, she believes modelling is not about a good height or pretty face, but more to do with confidence and personality, so her dreams are big…maybe New York Fashion Week someday. “My sister is an IAS officer and she has always supported me emotionally and financially. She wants to see me on the ramp at London Fashion Week,” she confirms.

Though her goals are quite clear, she wants to open an NGO for girls like her, who want exposure but have none, have dreams of making it to the gilt-edged world of fashion, but can never do it. “I will give free classes on modelling, posture and building personality based on what I have learnt,” she concludes.

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Bank on her

A former banker armed with an engineering degree and an MBA, Pavitra admits fashions charms were irresistible

By Asmita Aggarwal

It doesn’t matter if you have studied engineering and topped in it or also equipped yourself with an MBA degree to make sure your job prospects are high if you give it all up to be a catwalk princess. That’s just the story of Pavitra Malaiappan, a new face at LMIFW, an army kid who grew up with progressive parents, who rather than holding her back and forcing her to continue a job at a leading bank gave her the wings to fly. “I had this insane love for clothes, styling, and fashion, and if you look at it, this is something that you just can’t wish away, it stays with you. Honestly, I came into my own when I began modelling,” she says.

With her father, a mechanical engineer and older brother an IT professional, belonging to a Tamilian family, academics was always encouraged with a mom, who is an educationist. “Modelling has changed in its dynamics as the acceptance of it as a profession has grown due to social media, which has helped aspiring girls,” she explains. However, Pavitra believes it is a tough space to operate as you need the most important ingredient “drive” to reach the summit. Having faced intense criticism, she kept her chin up and always found strength in her family. “I kept my sanity by doing things that I love—painting;  Thanjavurs and I rescue pets, as animals have been my first love. Though I am an avid reader and writer, it is something I hope to develop further in my spare time,” she informs. She admits she gets her creativity from her mother who teaches kids in the most unconventional ways, opening up their minds rather them pressurising them to perform for grades.

Though, professionally she would like to do something that combines her two areas of interest—fashion and management. “I was a really shy person and fashion helped me embrace my body and let go of my inhibitions. The challenges made me grow into a strong, bold person and to be on the catwalk where you are open to scrutiny,” she says.

Meeting former Ms. Universe Sushmita Sen changed her life, and among those who she has admired on the catwalk include, Noami Campbell and in India, it was Sonalika Sahay, who during a show made her feel part of the contingent. “I’ve worked in a bank and I would say that it taught me many useful things—time management above all and quick decision making. But I am an artistic person and I can’t see myself doing an am to pm job for the rest of my life,” she concludes.

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Size matters

Zenia Boga, is a model of many talents, from styling to acting, glamour makes her heart sing

By Asmita Aggarwal

At six feet one inch Zenia Yazad Boga, literally and almost metaphorically looks down on the rest of the world! But this is actually part of a genetic lottery that she won thanks to both her maternal and paternal grandparents who are more than six feet two inches tall. “I moved to England for my higher studies so there everyone is already so tall, I wasn’t considered an anomaly; in India, a lot of people just stand and stare at me,” she giggles.

Zenia, from a Parsi family, began modelling almost two years ago and came back to the country to complete her Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM), and pursue modelling full-time. “My mom has been pushing me to take up modelling after I won the May queen contest, which helped me in grooming and was my first attempt at the spotlight,” remembers the young model selected this year.

Though fashion has been her calling since she turned 16, and the UK helped her observe behind the scenes when she interned with matches.com, Clark’s and L.K. Bennett and worked with a stylist for Indian magazines. At 23, she was ready to finally come out of the shadows and face the camera, as she believes she is not cut out for a corporate job like her father who is the CEO of Intellika. “My younger sister is training to become a chef, both of us chose career paths that made us happy and luckily my parents are extremely supportive, especially my mom who is a teacher,” she admits.

Interestingly, Zenia has a passion for art and has been sketching which she hopes to develop in the future with a fashion line, as styling was a big part of her journey. “I love the catwalk more than the staid print campaigns, in fact, people often come and ask me where I get the confidence to pose so effortlessly. But when I’m up there I really own it and I want to create a beautiful image,’ she explains.

Taking acting classes at Jeff Goldberg, Zenia wants to explore different facets of her personality and being a trained Bharatnatyam dancer she also wanted to learn Western dance from Shiamak Davar, but her first love is freestyle, as it lets the body find the rhythm. “I really can’t tell you what I will do in the future, as I live my life one day at a time, but I do know I will continue to model till it gives me happiness,” she concludes.

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Wheels of Fortune

For Sneha Ghosh, 27, who found meaning in life through yoga talks about why the body and mind need to be in tune

By Asmita Aggarwal

Her tryst with glamour came when she was selected for the Femina Ms India Eastern round, but due to strict attendance in St Xavier’s College, Kolkata had to give up her dreams to winning the crown. But destiny has its ways to compensate and in Sneha Ghosh’s life, it appeared serendipitously when she had no passport and had to fly to Malaysia for the finals of Asia’s Next Top Model contest in 2014.  “I met a lady IAS officer, who helped me when I told her that I need my passport in a day and it did come to me. I told her I am going to represent my country internationally and she understood,” says Sneha.

The contest taught her co-living with girls from different parts of the country, almost 20, sharing cultural experiences and dialects as well as food and clothing. She faced racism and people made fun of her accent, as many came with pre-conceived notions about India, though she survived all of it with courage. Making it to the top 10 was an achievement, and what kept her out of the race, in the end, was a momentary lapse of confidence. Sneha always had long, lustrous hair, the contest posed a challenge where without a mirror they chopped it all off and almost shaved her head from one side leaving her shocked. “I didn’t do my photoshoot well as I couldn’t work my new hairstyle. But I realised that you can’t let one element of your body decide your demeanour—whether it is your tresses, waist or legs. Confidence is more internal than external so let your personality shine through,” she adds.

And just observing was a learning curve when during the lingerie round at freezing temperatures the contestants managed to pose, while Sneha hesitated, leaving her inspired. “I never wanted to be a model, I hit upon it by chance, my dream was to be an IAS officer, but I was bullied in school and had no self-confidence. Modelling really helped me get that back,” she admits.

Initially, parents didn’t support her, they wanted her to choose conventional paths, they would shy away from telling people that she was a model, but there is a lot more to Sneha than just ramp walk. She is a practising yogini, it has been the fulcrum of her existence, and she also keeps fit by kickboxing, weight lifting realising that the body will change at every age, from 16 to 86, so you need to keep fit. “Yoga calmed me down, I had many body issues, and also taught me self-love, it has been an enlightening experience for me,” she confirms. What upsets Sneha is that when people talk of yoga it is only Baba Ramdev or Shilpa Shetty, but yoga, she feels needs more ambassadors. “When people think of yoga I want them to think of me as I know its true essence,” she affirms.

In her spare time, Sneha loves riding her bike and would love to sing on stage or take up playback singing as she is a trained classical singer. “This is for my mom, who loves to see me croon,” she smiles.

Her motto remains, “grow” through life, not “go” through life… and listen to yourself and your body. “You have to stop looking for validation from the outside world and deal with our insecurities by loving ourselves, without caring about judgements of the world,” she concludes.

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Dusty Town, Big Dreams

Modelling is witnessing a chrysalis of sorts with small-town girls becoming coveted faces on the catwalk. One such tale is of Pragya Bais, a lawyer…

By Asmita Aggarwal

She grew up in a small town—Singrauli, in Madhya Pradesh, in a joint family, she had five siblings and her dad used to also support his brother’s family as her uncle refused to work. Such challenging circumstances kind of polished the rough diamond— Pragya Bais. “It was hard for my father, but he did all this without ever complaining. I had two pairs of clothes one for home and one for when we went out, which was seldom. We travelled in general compartment and mom would make us rotis which would dip in tea and enjoy, on our train journeys,” she smiles.

So today when Pragya made it to the list of models to walk for LMIFW and took a flight to get to the city, she remembered those humble days with family. “I used to watch fashion TV when I was young, that was my only knowledge of fashion and no one in my home is even remotely connected to this field. In fact, they don’t even consider it a profession worth talking about. My dad always told me not to join, as models he felt are not respected. So today when he sees me do well, he talks about my success to our relatives. I am happy to see him change his view of what women are perceived to be like in fashion,” she laughs.

Pushed to studying law, Pragya completed her degree from Pune University, (also she was committed to help people in dire straits), but her heart was set on modelling so without telling her parents or asking them for any financial help she would go for auditions. “I was keen on constitutional law as that really connects you to the grassroots. But life under the spotlight fascinated me. To earn money, I joined a company and worked as a customer assistant for Rs 18,000 a month that would help me join a gym, buy clothes and pay for travel,” she adds.

However, life kind of metamorphosised, and from an introvert, who had no self-confidence and could never face anyone, fashion instilled in her the will to succeed and chase her dreams. “Now to be a model it is not about just ‘beauty’, you need individuality. And I hope to also do theatre as acting interests me and I am saving up for it. With family acceptance things are now easier,” she admits.

In the future, Pragya hopes to start her own business as she has been smitten by certain aspects of designing, and maybe later would like to pursue it. “I think what has brought me here in life is my optimism and never-say-die attitude. I tried many times for India Fashion Week, but I never made it, however, it didn’t dim my enthusiasm. Unlike many other girls who were crying and complaining when they didn’t get selected, I took it positively and came back next year, with a better version of myself,” she concludes.

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Fashion Design Council of India