The Punjabi Princess Who Was A Fashion Icon In 1930s Paris

The Punjabi Princess Who Was A Fashion Icon In 1930s Paris
Cecil Beaton for Vogue

With a never-ending list of designers like Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and countless others French designers having created some of the most renowned and coveted fashion brands globally, few know of the 1930s Indian princess who was creating ripples right through the high-fashion community of Paris thanks to her impeccable aesthetic.

This enigmatic personality, Rani Sita Devi, also known as Princess Karam, daughter of the Maharaja of Kashipur appeared on the cover of Vogue, had an entire haute couture fashion collection inspired by her, and even enjoyed the attention of the editor of Harper Bazaar at the time.

So how did the princess of an Indian State become a fashion legacy in Paris, anyway?

The Making Of A Fashion Icon

Sita Devi was married in the house of Kapurthala; one of the five royal houses of Punjab renowned for its extravagant taste and glamour. Her father-in-law, the Maharaja, being a world traveller and Francophile, modelled his palace after the one in Versailles. During her frequent visits to Paris as the Princess of Karpurthala, she was rumoured to travel with no less than a thousand saris, with complementing shoes and furs. She was also often seen dressed in couture pieces by Mainbocher and Madame Grès; leading designers of their time.

This Maharani belonged to an era when most Indian women, even royalty, were photographed with their heads demurely covered. Yet she with her exquisite beauty and style entranced European society and quickly became a fashion icon during the Jazz Age.

Image Credit: Model's Own

The Rage In Paris

Sita Devi’s reputation as a fashion icon made Vogue call her the latest “secular goddess” when she was only 19 years old. While she became the muse for a number of international photographers who captured her beauty and style in an array of global apparel, the renowned french fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli created her 1935 collection of evening gowns based on the Maharani’s saris.

Image Credit: Jai-pur Journal via Pinterest
Image Credit: dnariyadh.com via Pinterest
Image Credit: Honey Or Tar via Pintrest

A monsieur Erigua, enamoured by her traditional wardrobe opened a factory called Saree & Co, to create French chiffon saris and faithfully closed its shutters upon her death. Perhaps the best way to describe Paris’ love for Sita Devi would be through Maharanee (At the Night Races in Paris), a Broadway production number, in Ira Gershwin’s The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 whose lyrics captured her essence:

“Even if you were just half as sweet,

It would still be like heaven to meet

Such a gay Maharanee…

Paris is at your feet!”

Her legacy that remains lesser known within the pages of history books shows little appreciation from the world of fashion. Perhaps in this digital age, her legacy’s fate might take a turn for the fairer–a tangible enough space for vintage fashion icons to thrive.

To know more about the Princess of Kapurthala visit the Jai-pur Journal here.

Note: This article has been corrected for factual errors since it was first published.

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