The fashion and modelling industries don’t have reputations for being welcoming towards anyone who doesn’t adhere to the Eurocentric idea of beauty– tall, thin, and light-skinned. This exclusive nature of fashion and modelling is a cyclical phenomenon: the more society is shown a certain standard of beauty, the more it is conditioned to believe that only those appearances should exist and be aspired to. In India, the problem is compounded by intersectionality; dark-skinned, curvy (we’re still aeons away from reclaiming the word “fat”), curly-haired people or those who have ‘north-eastern’ and ‘south-Indian’ features (not that they can be so easily typified) are hardly represented in mainstream fashion shows, modelling campaigns, commercials or any other kind of visual media. Feat. Artists, a modelling and casting agency, is looking to change just that.
Founded by Nikhil Dudani, a well-reputed Mumbai stylist, and Smita Lasrado, an accomplished international model, Feat. Artists is actively looking for models who believe in individuality and humility. “Most of our models are first-timers. We like to make them unlearn any ideas they might have about being models and start over… we work with them on their individual style but are careful not to try to mould them into anything they aren’t,” say Nikhil and Smita. To celebrate this forward thinking modelling agency and its diverse models, Homegrown and Feat. Artists came together for a vintage-themed photoshoot shot by Harshvardhan Shah, who perfectly captured not only their individual personalities, but also their camaraderie as a group.
On why an initiative like Feat. Artists is necessary, Smita, who has been modelling for over 10 years in Paris, New York City, London, and India says that her personality and beauty is treated as unique, which is an accepting attitude that she’s always found lacking in the Indian fashion industry. “India is such a diverse country. I felt that we missed that hunger for being different... It felt like most models or agencies here felt they had to be the same,” she explains.
Kangkan Rabha, a student pursuing his Bachelor’s in Guwahati and model at Feat. Artists, would agree with her. An 18-year-old novice, Kangkan said that although his north-eastern features challenge traditional ideas of beauty in India, he views his appearance positively. “I have learned that if you are confident and proud of your roots, people start celebrating your uniqueness,” he says. These are the kind of values Nikhil and Smita are hoping to inculcate in their models: a strong sense of self and a passion for making waves in a traditionally exclusive industry.
Nikhil’s enthusiasm to work with newcomers is refreshing too. “I’ve always loved finding and working with new, interesting models and have cast for quite a few [for] the campaigns I’ve worked on as well. So, this felt like the right next step,” he says. Under Nikhil and Smita, Feat. Artists is an outlet of individual expression and non-conformism that’s been bubbling under the surface for quite some time. Joshua D’mello, another model signed by Feat. Artists who is pursuing a Master’s degree and is interested in geoinfomatics, says, “I wish people would focus more on a person’s individuality rather than looking for the conventional traits in them.” Joshua is not alone in feeling like this. Who amongst us has not been insecure of our bodies, doubted our physical attractiveness, and questioned whether or not our inner beauty truly mattered?
Feat. Artists is flipping this internal doubt and insecurity on its head by trying to find the perfect blend of confidence and awkwardness instead of moving away from it. “We want [our models] to be on billboards, fashion magazine spreads and covers, TV commercials, runway shows, designer campaigns, and all sorts of visual art projects,” say Smita and Nikhil.
Other than creating tangible changes like increasing work opportunities and bookings, establishing good professional networks, and polishing modelling skills for people who would otherwise be excluded from the industry, Nikhil and Smita are working on redefining what it means to be beautiful. Feat. Artists model Roselynn, who recently moved to Mumbai from Ahmedabad and has a background in advertising, is one such person. She comments, “Being beautiful at 13 meant just being fair, as I wanted to stop getting bullied for my dark skin colour. Over the years, I have realised that external beauty is unique in so many ways and each one is beautiful.” Smita agrees and said that it was time to promote Indian beauty in a major way and have this kind of celebration be the norm, not a revolutionary exception.
But is the Indian fashion industry ready for this change? Feat. Artists model and a passionate photographer from Delhi, Priya Singh also says that fashion shoots are now veering towards organic and real looks and styles. She added that the photographs that come out of fashion shoots are more relatable and go against the “glam-doll” vibe to embrace more natural appearances. Nikhil, who is optimistic about the future, adds, “[The Indian fashion industry] is growing fast and, with so many brands and design houses, there’s enough work to go around for everyone. It’s also exciting since the Indian faces being well represented now internationally. What would be nicer is to see them doing well here first instead of after.”
Feat. Artists, under Nikhil and Smita’s guidance, is cutting across several intersections of beauty: region with models like Kangkan, who is northeastern, size with plus size women like Runah, age with elderly women like Janette, hair types with Madhur, who sports dread-locks, body modifications with Alisha, who wears her piercings proudly, and skin colours with Roselynn, who loves her dark skin. Although Feat. Artists is still building its roster and working hard to establish itself, it is sure to bring non-conformism to the forefront of India’s fashion and beauty industries.
Credits for Homegrown x Feat. Artists:
Makeup Artist & Hairstylist: Eshwar Log
Nail Technician: Maddi Dogra
Styling & Production: Homegrown
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