Doll, Diva, Digital Whiz – Will the Real Sunny Leone Please Stand Up?

Being the most Googled name in India is a double-edged sword, as Sunny Leone would well know by now. As possibly the world’s most famous porn star and definitely the only one to be a successful Bollywood actress and reality TV star in India, the 35-year-old is the only Indian woman who can claim to straddle the universe of the sleazy and the respectable at the same time. Is this the fairytale ending success stories are made of?
Notwithstanding the scathing moral policing she has faced in her rise to fame, Sunny’s porn-star past has been a stepping stone on her path to Bollywood success. In fact, she does great business off both till today – her porn site is easily available to anyone who wishes to view her body of work (with several other non-desi actresses as bonus) and going by her own estimates, she has a reach of about 100 million people across her digital universe.
To put that in perspective, that’s almost twice the readership of the Bhaskar group, which is read across 16 Indian states in 4 languages. Of course, sex has no language or literacy restrictions.
Indeed, it would be hasty to assign Sunny to the titillation hall of fame for her jaunts on the Internet and in adult Bollywood comedies. This lady’s much more than eye candy.

10 Lessons Today’s Fashion Journalists Can Learn from Bill Cunningham

The fashion world mourned the death of famous photographer Bill Cunningham at the age of 87 this month. A legend in fashion media circles, his portraits of real people wearing real fashion on the street of New York became a regular and most-loved section of The New York Times, where he worked for over 40 years.

A recipient of several photography awards, Bill was loved and cherished by the fashion fraternity as he cycled about town looking for fashionable people to immortalize with his lens. “We all dress for Bill,” said Anna Wintour, the famous editor of Vogue US, adding that the worst thing to happen to a New York fashionista was being ignored by Bill Cunningham.

Bill served in the US Army in the Korean War, and later became a milliner designing hats under the label William J. He then turned into a fashion writer, working for top New York dailies and magazines. In the 1970s, he began taking candid street style photos, which later went on to become his signature and indeed spawned a whole new genre of fashion journalism.


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Clothes in motion

athleisure-trend_14522455In 2012, when Paula Reed worked as fashion director at Harvey Nichols in London, she noticed curious things taking place on the menswear floor. “Our buy of Givenchy, Kenzo, Raf Simons and (Alexander) McQueen sweatshirts, T-shirts and bomber jackets were being snapped up as eagerly by the girls as they were by the boys,” she recalls. Her team took the obvious next step: they shifted a selection of the menswear stock to the fourth floor where contemporary women’s wear lived. “And it has gathered momentum every season,” says Reed, who now works at luxury e-commerce retailer Boutique 1. She affirms, “I guarantee that this decade will be defined by athleisure.”
Equated with sporty casuals, ‘athleisure’ is the coming together of activewear and leisure clothing, and is predicted to be one of the most pervasive and longest lasting trends our generation will see. It’s everywhere—from the catwalks, with couture and ready-to- wear collections blending sophisticated tailoring with sportswear detailing; to million-dollar popstar collaborations with sports brands; and down to our daily lives.
Half the time, it has nothing to do with sport: the Indian working woman with leggings replacing the churidaar; the bachelor preferring track pants to jeans while stepping out to buy bread and eggs; the college student in gold-glazed keds; the wannabe socialite who picks up her kids from school in a Juicy Couture bomber jacket and tracks; the fashion editor in a little black dress worn with sneakers instead of high heels at the front row of fashion week; the young executive in a chic polo with formal trousers. Like falling in love, the coupling of sport and fashion is a result of various forces at work, from chemistry to biology to social aspirations. Athleisure is irresistible.
Unlike other mainstream fashion trends that start from the silver screen or the most prestigious catwalks in the world, this movement is defined by street cred and an emphasis on individual comfort over obligatory social codes. Driven by selfies on social media and paparazzi- shot images of film stars in their casual avatars, its icons range from Instagram sensations like Kylie Jenner—the youngest of the Kardashian clan is usually seen in a sports bra and leggings accessorised with a designer bag and sunglasses—to Bollywood stars like Kangana Ranaut who pairs sneakers with cocktail dresses, and Ranveer Singh who made printed trackpants legit daywear.
Even Russian strongman Vladimir Putin isn’t immune— he was photographed in a cashmere- and-silk sweatsuit by Loro Piana estimated to cost around $3,200, having post-workout tea with his prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev.
This year, athleisure even finds place in the Merriam-Webster dictionary with the definition ‘casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use’. “The top searched fashion item last year was ‘jogging pants’,” says Reed, who was one of the panelists at P&G Future Fabrics 2015 in Barcelona, where the world’s authorities on fashion, textiles and fabric care came together to discuss how athleisure was changing the dynamics in their fields. Reed refers to surveys that say roughly half of the buyers of activewear buy it for non-active use.“Today, entire wardrobes are built around upscale sportswear for day and knockout cocktail wear for the evening. Wearing high-end sports clothes is the new status symbol,” she says.

Menswear, Ungendered

Prescience is a wonderful thing. The fact that the fashion industry showcases trends several months in advance means that you have no excuse for not being ‘with it’. Men, especially, need to take note this year. Whether you like it or not, this season’s biggest movement in fashion is going to not only redefine your wardrobe but also perhaps your notions of what it means to be a man.

Androgyny is certainly not a new word in fashion circles, but so far, it’s been mostly bandied about in women’s wear. Decades ago, women adopted pants and blazers. Then came boyfriend shirts and jeans, and today you can see aspects of masculine dressing in nearly all areas of women’s clothing, from the shirt-dress to dungarees to jacket saris. It is completely acceptable for a woman to wear a suit and tie for a board meeting, and the Indian police force abounds with women officers wearing unisex khaki shirts tucked into sexless pants.

But hints of feminine dressing in menswear have, so far, been something of a joke. In 2003, when the undoubtedly macho action-movie star Vin Diesel wore a leather skirt for a performance at an awards show, it was all taken in good humour. The same happened when in 2008,iconic American designer Marc Jacobs took to wearing ‘skorts’ (skirt + shorts), and hunky pop star Kanye West began sporting feminine garments such as a Celine blouse and Givenchy skirt— which ended above the knee, naturally— for his performances. Male superstars Gerard Butler, Ewan McGregor and Sean Connery have also been seen in skirts, except they’ve called them kilts—the most invaluable Scottish contribution to male comfort after malts.

But these men will now be called ‘early adopters’, for androgyny has decidedly become a two-way street. Gender- neutral clothing has been sitting pretty in mainstream menswear this past year, and it’s getting serious. From lace shirts to feminine bow-necks to even dresses, major fashion houses presented gender-fluid collections all through the year, the world over. The Prada fall-winter 2015 show— which featured both male and female collections at the same time—made its creative head Miuccia Prada’s manifesto clear: ‘Gender is a context and context is often gendered.’ Colours and cuts were unisex, the keywords being ‘uniform, severe, elegant’.

At Gucci’s menswear show, the new creative head Alessandro Michele—he of the multiple vintage rings, hippy-long hair and 320 pairs of shoes—presented male models (and some female) with long, straight locks wearing pussy-bow blouses, girly berets, blazers with piping, plenty of finger rings and a scarlet crochet top. The show created a flutter in the fashion world—until his spring 2016 show came along with even more risqué womanly elements: crochet shorts, three-fourth shirt sleeves, lace pant-suits, and embellished strappy sandals. Saint Laurent offers high-heeled boots for men. New York-based Hood by Air, a cult label that has broken several style barriers, had male models walk down the ramp in dresses and wedge heels, and women in baggy pants and puffed jackets. One couldn’t even tell whether the clothes designed by its creative head Shayne Oliver were for men or women. And let’s not even talk about the eccentric Rick Owens, whose winter garments were designed with ‘penis holes’ and displayed the models’ genitals for all to see.

For India, where androgyny is as old as the epics, the male-female divide in clothing has never been as marked as in the West. Practically every garment has been used and modified by both sexes over the centuries—the Maharashtrian nauvari sari drape is similar to the male dhoti; the Rajasthani matron wears a masculine shirt with buttons and collar over her traditional ghagra; the Malayalee man wears a skirt-like lungi folded up—to end above the knee, naturally. The ancient dances of India depict gender-fluid garments and postures; kings wore earrings and necklaces; queens wore turbans; grooms still wear henna; Sufi dancers wear anarkalis withdupattas. You’ll find variations of kurtas- kurtis, churidaars, salwar-kameezes, pyjamas- palazzos, shawls-stoles and Nehru jackets-bandis in both male and female wardrobes even today. Indian clothing has been a product of class and social function rather than any gender-specific role.

Once Western culture made inroads into the Indian closet, however, our fashion tastes and choices became as vulnerable to global fluxes as oil prices. The shirt and trouser became the uniform for the working man across India, a sign of professionalism and manliness. Shapes, fabrics and colours changed with the times, but the idea of the collared, button-down shirt, tailored trousers and formal suit remained intact. To be a man, you had to dress like a man. But what do you do when the idea of men’s Westernwear is changing at its very roots?

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Retouch Me Not! Kate Winslet and 8 Other Celebrities Against Photoshop

Everyone knows celebrity images are Photoshopped before being published or released online. Some celebrities even hire their own personal Photoshop artists to ‘fix’ their so-called spontaneous Instagram pictures. But award-winning actress Kate Winslet’s new stance against Photoshop has brought the topic to the fore, and has ‘retouched’ an old conversation.

The 40-year-old Oscar winner recently signed a contract with beauty giant L’Oreal, in which she included a clause that forbids them from Photoshopping her advertisements. The star has spoken against retouching earlier as well, notably when she was ‘touched up’ for a ‘GQ’ magazine cover. “I think we have a responsibility to the younger generation of women. I think they do look to magazines, they do look to women who have been successful in their chosen careers. I want to be one of those women who are telling the truth about who I am,” she said.

Well, Kate is not alone. Here are other celebrities who have spoken up against excessive retouching in the past.

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Luxury Fashion Now in Hindi at a Store Near You


“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Several eyebrows shot up when launched as India’s first and only multi-lingual fashion website, available in English, Hindi and Gujarati. “Is the Hindi- or Gujarati-speaking mass market interested in fashion?” was the question on several skeptical minds.

Despite the naysayers, we of course went ahead with our vision of making India fashionable. It hasn’t been easy. Much is lost in translation – how do you describe an outfit’s ‘silhouette’ in Hindi? How do you translate ‘cleavage’ or ‘trousseau’ in Hindi while still being politically correct? How do you explain ‘androgyny’ or ‘couture sari-gowns’ to a new audience that may not be familiar with such terms? The challenge flummoxes us. But then, if something doesn’t shake you out of your comfort zone, it’s not worth doing.

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Eina Ahluwalia Show Review: Jewellery that Opens Your Mind

eina-2_1441084770To my left is a 40-plus woman in dangerously high Louboutins and a short designer dress, her face caked in professionally done makeup, her highlighted hair stiff around her face in textbook curls. Her body is taut, her bust appears unnaturally large for her age, and her diamonds scream of Bentley cars and five-bedroom apartments in the poshest locales of Mumbai and London. To my right is a junior reporter from a fashion magazine I once worked with, an ingénue turned femme fatale wearing five-inch high platform heels, her face done up with statement eyes, straightened hair, wearing a maxi gown with a low neckline, and holding a designer bag she must have begged her working parents for. She reeks of perfume and ambition.

Both are in line with me to attend Eina Ahluwalia’s conceptual jewellery installation called ‘Pilgrimage’ at the Palladium Hotel during Lakme Fashion Week.

It is dark and the first sight we see is the gold bust of a fat woman. At the base lie jars of hair removal creams, tweezers and razors, along with flowers and candles. It is an altar for a Venus statue discovered several thousand years ago. The sight appalls and shocks you momentarily. Venus, fat? The death of hair removal? (A subconscious aside comes to mind – isn’t Philips, the epilator brand, one of the sponsors of this fashion week? They won’t like this. Uh uh.)

The next installation is another gold Venus, another altar with flowers and candles, this time for a huge, chaotic pile of makeup – from lipsticks to eyeshadows. (Poor Lakme.) This Venus has bulbous breasts and a bulging abdomen. A cloud in your brain begins to clear – was this the ideal of beauty 20,000 years ago? Does one not really need makeup to look pretty?

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The 3 Ultimate Fashion Accessories That Money Can’t Buy

She was wearing a plain purple fitted T-shirt with blue jeans. Her bun had made a valiant effort to hold in all her curly hair but failed in most part. She wore no accessories besides simple strappy flats and chudas on her wrists. A newlywed with her husband out to get a honeymoon visa, I mused, since they were outside the VFS offices in Delhi. Her face was bare; she wore no makeup – a minimalistic style statement. And yet, walking past slightly perturbed on a sunny summer morning, she looked the epitome of fashion.

It struck me that there are three fashion accessories money can’t buy. You either have ‘em, or you spend all your time buying stuff to make up for the lack of ‘em.

Youth: The cosmetic-surgery industry in India isn’t valued at Rs 460 crores for nothing. There is nothing like the glow and bounce of youth when it comes to your overall style statement. As we grow older, marry, or begin to make our own money, fashion accessories load our dresser drawers and wardrobe corners with greater alacrity – covering up for the wrinkles or age spots on our neck and hands, brightening up what we think is our dimming light. But the young need no embellishment. Their youth is sparkling enough.

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Niharika Khan: Dressing Up the Stars in ‘Bombay Velvet’

Niharika Khan feels lucky when she gets a few months to research the looks for a film – usually, it’s just weeks before shooting is to begin. In fact, she says she also got into costume design by luck – she was hired for Khoya Khoya Chand (2007) because she claims she came cheaper than her famous brother Arjun Bhasin. But going by her track record with hits such as Band Baaja Baaraat, Delhi Belly, Rock On!!, Kai Po Che, and The Dirty Picture (for which she won a National Award), she seems to be living out the Coleman Cox quote: “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”

Born in Jamshedpur and brought up in Lawrence School, Sanawar, Niharika moved to Mumbai to study at the prestigious Xavier’s College. She later did her post-graduation in HR management and public relations from Seattle, US. “Then I got bored of all that and did a silver-smithy course and began making jewellery,” she tells F101. In what seems like another lifetime, she joined Tanishq and helped them open up stores all over the country.

Now the mother of two adolescents, both of whom also study in a boarding school like she did, Niharika found the siren call of Bollywood irresistible. “Khoya Khoya Chand was period styling, all about 1960s Mumbai. It was rooted in culture. As my first stint in films, it was quite overwhelming but then I did a whole range of films after that,” she says. Bombay Velvet was by far the largest production she ever worked on. “People are shocked when they hear the budget I got – they ask me, ‘How did you manage with just that much?’ See, that’s the thing with period films. You have to make it amazing but you also have to work within your budget parameters,” she explains.

She speaks to F101 about “how she made it happen”.

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