Most Influential Indian Women in the History of Fashion
We are on a bit of a woman's power streak as women’s day is approaching. Today’s evolved women have overcome a lot of negative notions and proved themselves in different ways. They don’t limit themselves to proving their talent or influence in the industry they belong to.
Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Audrey Hepburn had one tying factor among them, their amazing fashion sense, and are remembered for their distinctive styles even after many years. While they rule the world of fashion, some Indian women too got acknowledged by world-renowned fashion magazines like Vogue, for their exceptional style.
Let's have a look at those figures whose fashion influence knows no boundaries! People look up to their fashion sense and style and will remember them for decades to come.
Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur
Known for classical beauty and her impeccable sense of style, Maharani Gayatri Devi was mentioned in “The Ten Most Beautiful Women of the World” by Vogue Magazine. Besides being known for her fashion influence among fashionistas across the country and also globally, in 1962 she ran for Parliament and won the constituency in the world’s largest landslide.
L: Maharani Gayatri Devi; R: Shalimar by Guerlain
Image Courtesy: Pinterest
A woman who dominates our public imagination, Maharani Gayatri Devi was considered a trendsetter of her time. Her chiffon saree, pearl necklace, and iconic bob became her signature style for the years to come as she served as a muse to designers like Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
Shalimar, an ode to the Shalimar Gardens by the iconic French house Guerlain, was a favourite of India's reigning queen. The perfume's name was inspired by the Mughals and the romance they provided. Enthralled by the Mughals, Jacques Guerlain created Shalimar, the world's first oriental fragrance, in 1925. The perfume is still in high demand, its glory as Maharani Gayatri Devi's signature scent unblemished over time.
Rani Sita Devi - Secular Goddess
Addressed as a “Secular Goddess” by Vogue, Rani Sita Devi of Kapurthala was merely 19 years old and was considered India’s most glamorous royal of all times. The world’s top-most fashion magazines named her among the five best-dressed women on earth. Her fine sartorial choices made her popular among many international photographers and Maharani served as their muse. Elsa Schiaparelli, the renowned French designer created her 1935 evening gown collection based on Maharani’s Sita Devi’s sarees.
Maharani Sita Devi
Image Courtesy: Pinterest
In the times when countless French designers like Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton are taking the world by storm, only a few know about the Indian princess who was creating ripples through the Paris fashion community in the 1930s, thanks to her impeccable aesthetic. This enigmatic personality, Rani Sita Devi, also known as Princess Karam also graced the cover of Vogue and even grabbed the attention of Harper Bazaar’s editor at the time.
The Maharani belonged to an era no one got photographed without their heads demurely covered, yet her style and exquisite beauty entranced Europeans and quickly made her a fashion icon during the Jazz Age. Enamored by her traditional wardrobe, a monsieur Erigua opened Saree & Co, a factory to create French chiffon sarees, and faithfully closed its shutters upon her death. The best way to describe how Paris loved Sita Devi would be through a Broadway production called Maharanee (At the Night Races in Paris) in Ira Gershwin’s “The Ziegfeld Follies" of 1936.
Our very own "Desi Girl", one of the highest-paid Indian celebrities of the time, a powerful woman in entertainment and media, she stands tall and only the sky's the limit for her. She carries her style in a classy fashion and never shies away from being experimental as her fashion sense revolves around confidence, strongly reflected in her attire. Whether Indian or western, she carries both elegantly to set a trend of her own stealing people’s hearts!
Be it any event on a national or international level, her looks are one of the most discussed among fashion enthusiasts over social media. Whether it was her eccentric silver gown at Met Gala 2019 or her deep burgundy velvet gown capped off with a stunning gold beaded hood, her experimental and courageous looks are always praised by experts. Apart from the exaggerated red carpet looks, she is well known for her stylish and comfort at the airport.
One of her most iconic looks, is her dancing in a slinky metallic saree with a sequined border for the song "Desi Girl" from Dostana. This outfit was so well received that it ended up becoming a go-to cocktail party look for all the women. It gave an edgy look in a more traditional way.
She is doing great with her outstanding acting performances and singing career, so just when you think it can’t get any better, she drops a stunning red carpet look. Is there anything this queen can’t do?
Ritu Kumar is one of the most respected designers in India today. Since 1969, she has developed her own distinct style, reflecting ancient Indian craftsmanship traditions in a modern vocabulary. Her understanding of ancient designs and innovative use of traditional crafts has resulted in the creation of a new classicism. The company is known for its unique color palette, intricate embroideries, high-quality fabrics, and a gloriously rich Indian aesthetic.
Kumar was the first female designer in India to introduce the 'boutique' culture under the brand name 'Ritu'. Her work is constantly evolving within a sophisticated aesthetic that is both eastern and western in nature, with each of her collections making a contemporary statement in a rapidly changing modern India. Couture, formal prêt accessories, and a fashion-forward sub-brand called LABEL, Ritu Kumar are among the items available.
Ritu's pioneering work in resurrecting master craftsmanship has earned her several honors, including the French honor "Chevalier des arts et des Lettres," a knighthood bestowed upon her by the French government in recognition of her contribution to Indian textile crafts and interaction with the French fashion world.
She has also received the 'Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award' for her achievements and contributions to the fashion industry. Previous recipients of which include Mother Teresa, Birju Maharaj, and Pt. Hari Prasad.
Ritu Kumar's book "Costumes and Textiles of Royal India," a thorough history of India's royal sponsorship of textile arts down the centuries beginning with the historical background of Mohenjo Daro to the present era of vintage royalty, was published in October 1999 by Christie's of London. The book, which is an academic work on fashion history, has emerged as a crucial resource for its subject in India.
The Ritu Kumar brand is well-liked and well-worn all around the world. Its supporters include both domestic celebrities like the late Princess Diana, Mischa Barton, and Anoushka Shankar, as well as international stars like Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, and Dia Mirza. Ritu Kumar has also created the Miss India competitors' costumes since 1994 so they can compete in international beauty pageants like Miss Universe, Miss World, and Miss Asia Pacific. These participants produced an astounding number of victors, which helped India gain international recognition for its beauty.
Ritu Kumar has also received the Padma Shri Award 2013, the fourth highest civilian honor in the nation, in recognition of her remarkable and noteworthy contributions to the fields of fashion, textiles, and workmanship.
There are Legends and then there is evergreen Rekha. Throughout the course of a five-decade career, Rekha has produced work with a distinctive style that is unmatched in its eccentricity, something that few of her contemporaries can lay claim to. Browse through her style archives from the 1970s to the present, and you'll see the diva in full flow with a sophisticated sartorial palette free of passing fads and passing trends. This is an icon whose aesthetic still has value today. It is gripped by snippets of weirdness but never entirely descends into unrealism.
From ivory Anarkalis in Umrao Jaan (1981) to layered temple jewelry in Utsav (1984), she does justice to all. After rocking anarkalis and sarees, she went on to prove her mettle with western silhouettes too in her movies like Khoon Bhari Maang (1988). The key looks? Top to toe metallics, statement hairstyles along with 80’s inflected approach.
Rekha in Umrao Jaan (1981)
Rekha in a still from Utsav (1984)
Rekha has exhibited her affinity for striking headgear across the pages of her filmography, from embroidered berets in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996) to dramatic lamé turbans that make it difficult for people to remember what else you are wearing.
Rekha and Akshay Kumar in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi (1996)
Rekha in 2005 film, Parineeta
In her 50s, she continued being the finest in the fashion world, grabbing attention from her appearance in ‘Kaisi Paheli Zindangani’ from Parineeta (2005) donning a stunning red saree. She is known among the younger generation for her distinctive Kanjeevarams, but moviegoers noticed that she was edging closer to party girl territory with a cocktail-ready sari and matched hand mesh. One should keep these pieces on hand for the next exclusive event on your social calendar.
In recent years, she has established a signature look without deploying an army of stylists. This veteran's wardrobe, which includes multicolored Banarasi weaves and Kanjeevaram silks, can be used as the definitive guide to donning traditional silk saris.
Rekha is less of a wallflower and more of a statement-maker; it comes naturally to her. The actor's clothing makes it very clear that just though your saree is show-stopping, the accessories don't have to take a backseat. In fact, the complete opposite. Rekha is so extra that "extra" might easily be her second name, and she doesn't mind boosting any aspect of her appearance.
All these women have gone above and beyond leaving an exceptional mark in the world of fashion influence with their personal style as well as artistic choices related to fashion.
Here’s to the strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
Happy Women’s Day to All the Women out there!