Delhi-based designer Rajesh Pratap Singh’s Spring-Summer 2014 campaign surprised many with its unconventional look. Instead of professional models, the campaign featured Singh’s Faridabad factory watchman and a gym instructor — two unpredictable profiles that were devoid of pretension but had character. “I have, since the inception of my label in 1997, avoided professional models, especially the chocolate-faced, beefed-up boys who are quite quotidian,” says Singh. “I wanted intelligent and intellectual faces that have a certain unexplained purity and exude rectitude.”
There is something real, down-to-earth and homespun about regular people — they don’t pose, don’t care much about makeup and don’t have perfect bodies. That’s why designers are slowly but steadily abandoning size-zero models in favour of regular faces that people can connect with instantly.
Singh prefers musicians and artists as models. He had even managed to pull veteran photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta from behind the camera to model for his menswear collection. This sensibility extends to the catwalk as well where Singh has paraded members from bands such as Parikrama and Advaita to artists like Subodh Gupta, advertising gurus such as V Sunil, architects, product designers and rickshaw pullers, among others. “I wanted a diverse mix. Most people think that
designers are obsessed with beautiful bodies. A lot of musicians are my clients and this prodded me to do a rock ‘n’ roll show, in which I replaced the pretty boys with real men,” he says.
He is not alone in his penchant for using ‘real’ people as models. Five years ago, when Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango began his journey in fashion from a small village of Mubarikpur in Rajasthan, he knew that models with their toned figures and porcelain faces weren’t for him. They didn’t suit his philosophy of minimalism. Today, his forte is hand-woven and organic textiles and his creations are as unconventional as the faces that he uses to promote them — be it Purnima Rai, president of the Delhi Crafts Council, ad agency J Walter Thompson’s strategy officer Bindu Sethi or photojournalist Devika Bakshi.
Each of these women defies what would normally be termed ‘model-esque’ — someone who conforms to the established standards of beauty. “Whenever I see a model, I feel that she won’t wear my sari in real life as she has no connection with the product,” says Garg. “And a lot of buyers wonder whether the creation that looks good on a model will look equally good on them or not. When real people, who may be size 10 or 14, model the clothes, you feel that the collection is for everybody.”
According to Garg, Raw Mango’s philosophy is rooted in austerity and the models need to reflect that as well. “Real and regular people add freshness to the shoot as they possess a unique body language. I often see photographers telling models, ‘keep your hair forward’, ‘tilt your head like this’, ‘give me only a half smile’ or ‘hold your breath’, which I feel is synthetic and orchestrated. But with real women, who don’t understand camera tricks, their original, uncut, raw personality shines through,” says Garg.
Aneeth Arora, founder of the fashion label Pero, subscribes to this trend as well. “People feel that what you see on the ramp can’t be worn in real life as you have gym-toned figures flaunting the designs,” says Arora. “When you have Arundhati Roy and Mira Nair wearing the clothes, there is no need to do photoshoots with them. We prefer them to choose what they like organically, much like the philosophy of the brand.” Pero is all about understated elegance, and hence Arora would prefer an unknown girl, who works 9 am to 5 pm, to wear Pero designs and feel good about herself when she takes the metro to work. “That’s real success,” she says.