Dressed in a black and red lehenga, with her hair in its patent wavy curls, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan - who has successfully completed her transition into a 'yummy mummy' - talks about her fashion evolution from the Miss World pageant to her most recent Cannes outing, and how it led to the rise of professional and non-professional 'opinion-makers'.
I wanted to be more than just another face who's getting photographed
The actress, who was in town to launch the Longines Conquest Classic, as its Ambassadress of Elegance, has been associated with the brand for over a decade. She said, "It has been for 13-14 years now and when I first came together with them I wouldn't have dreamt that it would have endured as long as it has. It simply continues because at that point of time, brand associations were regarded as another endorsement and you're doing photo shoots, you're doing ad film work, it's the way the industry regarded it. Whereas when I associated with brands, my idea was always to come on board on their journey ahead. Then, Longines was just coming in to increase the awareness. Today, the brand has only grown from strength to strength. You know, when I come on board, it's not just about another face who's getting photographed, with images across magazines and ad films. It's about brand association. It's about becoming a brand ambassador. That has that much more validation for me and I am glad that it is mutually recognized and expected and cherished."
Fashion was the last thing on my mind as a student
She has also been the ambassadress of sorts for the Indian entertainment industry at international film fests, movie premieres and racing events. Though eventually, most of those appearances have boiled down to her fashion choices. She says about her style evolution, "I think experience is a huge factor. At the end of the day, I always say - the night before, I was a student. And then overnight, you become Miss World and you're out there on that public platform. So, when you start out, what is your experience? You were going to college in your jeans and your T-shirt - that too, I went from science to joining an architecture school - the last thing on your mind at that point is fashion, and overnight, you're there. I met a few (professional designer) friends in the beginning, who you just got to know and provided you with the best. I really enjoyed my mother's saris. I personally have always enjoyed our traditional weaves and I felt if I was out there, on the world platform, as an Indian woman, I'd have the opportunity to share that with the world. Again, from a very earnest place of sharing what I know, what I had been exposed to, and I had experienced."
Stylist industry boomed because of Cannes
But Cannes was a whole new chapter for Ash, who says, "Through the years, this entire aspect of dressing and of fashion, has catapulted to a fervour - I daresay - since my first experience at Cannes, because suddenly there was literally a slot dedicated in the print and televised media from then on to this aspect of being on the public platform. Before that, it was just your personal sense of being out there, of course you'd get photographed, but it wasn't so intense. I think, after that, with me going to Cannes and that kind of media attention, brought about a whole lot of opinion-makers and opinionated people - professionals and non-professionals - getting that platform to express themselves and then with the kind of intense scrutiny, with the internet, with the world becoming so much smaller, I think, this entire aspect of being a public figure has just drawn that much more attention that it's thrown the entire fashion business into top gear. It's thrown in a lot of professionals, this entire aspect of stylists in our part of the world boomed."
Post Cannes, she says, "My experience of being on the public platform got more multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, and my place in the public eye, I think, has always been a little more than just what is going on in that time in my life. Like, if I was a model, I was always Miss World. If I was joining the movies, I was also the personality who was out there very strongly on a lot of social causes, so with this multi-dimensional aspect of my life there has been this sense of, I believe, realism that I like to always bring to the table. A sense of who I am, and that is probably why I recognize that this incredible fashion industry, and it's an incredible one, and it exists because people enjoy it and I respect it and I bring that to every one of my appearances or jobs - be it photo shoots or film."
Can't deny racism exists, though i haven't faced any
"It's unbelievable that people have the time and inclination to be as negative as they are on a public platform about people who accomplish whatever they do in the public eye," she says, while weighing in as a former Miss World on the Nina Daluvuri incident, where the latter became the first Indian-American to be crowned Miss America, only to be attacked in racist tweets accusing her of being an "Arab terrorist". "Shockingly, it's a reality. One can't deny its existence. Having said that, I feel very blessed and fortunate that I have never quite firsthand experienced this within India or outside. I haven't faced biases or prejudices as strongly," she continues, and then adds in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, "Though I have faced a lot of opinions, that vary from time to time."