Lakshmi Menon is poised to become the first Indian supermodel. At 26, she just landed her first solo spread in American Vogue — twelve pages all to herself. She has also jump-started a dialogue about why there are so few Indian and South Asian models on runways and in fashion magazines. The ongoing conversation about the underrepresentation of black models has made way for more work for those models, yet the conversation is just beginning for their Indian and South Asian peers.
When Lakshmi started modeling in 2006, work was scarce. She tells the Independent:
"When I first signed with agencies in Europe and the US I barely did anything; it was one show here, another there. At that time it was completely dominated by Caucasian girls, particularly Russians. There were a few black girls, of course, such as Liya Kebede – and someone like Naomi Campbell would do the odd show-stopper – but there weren't many girls of colour at all."
Lakshmi thinks the election of Barack Obama created greater interest among Americans in non-white models. She also thinks the launch of Indian Vogue in 2007 (she appeared on the first cover) has something to do with increased diversity in the industry, since the issue circulates to Vogue editors worldwide within Condé Nast. But why has it taken this long for an Indian model to rise to the top?
"If there aren't many South Asian girls modelling, that's because the agencies haven't looked," [Lakshmi] adds. "I don't think anyone has really come to India to scout for girls, or at least not in the same way they go to South America or Eastern Europe. In a country of more than 1.2 billion, there are bound to be beautiful women – I mean, come on, who are we kidding?"
Storm modeling agency founder Sarah Doukas, who discovered Kate Moss, credits the glut of Indian and South Asian models to cultural differences.
Doukas thinks that if a barrier exists, it is a cultural one – modelling is simply not viewed as the glamorous, aspirational career that it is in the West: "Girls from Pakistan, ' Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India tend to come from religious backgrounds where traditions and sometimes old-fashioned ideals are upheld," she explains. "This is changing, slowly, as fashion and modelling gain a higher prominence in countries such as India, where the fashion industry is becoming more respected."
London stylist Nicola Formichetti, who cast Lakshmi for the cover of last month's Dazed & Confused, thinks it's a simple case of a fear of being different:
"It's a shame; there are even fewer Asian girls than black girls, which is why it's so exciting when you find a girl like Lakshmi," she says. "I think people are just scared of taking risks. They won't start doing it until everyone else does."
It's ironic — aren't great innovators in the fashion industry supposed to take risks and be different and not do what everyone else is doing? As Indian models rise in prominence they may have to fight ethnic stereotyping. Lakshmi's shoot for this month's Vogue depicts her at a Goan carnival while her shoot for Dazed was inspired by "ancient civilisations." And check out her Hermès ad, one of her first major campaigns:
Lakshmi started modeling to earn extra money while in college. "I don't want to be 60 and find I've spent my life doing nothing but modelling. There are so many other things to do," she says. In the meantime, only time will tell if she's finally forged a place in the fashion industry for the beautiful Indian women of this world.
This year's model: How Lakshmi Menon put India in Vogue [Independent]
Model Profile: Lakshmi Menon
Most Viewed Stories
I Tried Hillary Clinton’s Diet and Now I Sympathize With Her
Blake Lively Reportedly Just Gave Birth, and You’ll Never Guess Who’s Running to the Hospital
Brad Pitt Fights Back Against Angelina Jolie and Her Plot to ‘Destroy’ Him
Looks Like Kate Middleton Is Enjoying the View in Canada
Angelina Jolie Got Everything She Wanted in Temporary Divorce Deal With Brad Pitt
What It’s Like to Be a Female Reporter Covering Donald Trump
The Best Part of Being a Royal Is Getting to Pet Bunnies
The Mysterious Deaths of Two Sisters in a Luxury Hotel
22 Intimate Lost Photos of Marilyn Monroe
Megyn Kelly Roasts Trump’s Campaign Manager for Claiming He Doesn’t Make Sexist Comments
From Our Partners
powered by PubExchange
The Cut’s Latest Fashion FeaturesCiara's Wedding Dress Was Too Big for the Chapel
To be fair, it was a 13 foot-long dress.You and Rihanna Will Both Want to Invest in Dior’s New Bag
It's got something for everyone.Polo Shirts Have Turned Their Back on Ryan Lochte
Along with his other major sponsors.Ryan Lochte Will No Longer Be Paid to Wear Tiny Bathing Suits
Speedo remains committed to transparency.Laura Brown Is the New Editor-in-Chief of InStyle
After 11 years at Harper’s Bazaar.Tyra Banks Is Going to Teach a Class on Smizing at Stanford
"If I see somebody not paying attention, I’m gonna call on them."This Floating Pier Is the Most Zen Installation Ever
Walking on water in Italy.Nation Is Appalled by Matt Lauer’s Nude Ankles During Ryan Lochte Interview
What’s the opposite of “Jeah”?8 People at the Life of Pablo Pop-up Explain Why Kanye West Is a God
"I mean, Kanye West is just Kanye West. There's not more or less you can say about Kanye West. He's just Mr. West!"A T-shirt Is Enough
Simplicity, versatility, and cool. What more could you want?
She took a perfect pencil dive off a 30-foot yacht.American Apparel Is Being Sued by Former Workers
As the company considers putting itself up for sale.A Gendered History of the Tailored Suit
From Marlon Brando to Coco Chanel.How Zendaya Developed Such Great Style at the Young Age of 19
The star's best looks from Disney to now.Proof That If You’re Chic Enough, a Little Federal Investigation Doesn’t Matter
Is this the best they could do?5,300-Year-Old Mummified Iceman Probably Would’ve Been a Street-Style Star
He had several different looks and was “pretty picky.”J.Crew Has Identified 226 Shades of Pink
Even more than there are shades of gray.Gigi and Bella Hadid Merch Is Now Somehow a Thing That Is Happening
Today in Hadidiana.Gird Your Loins for the Return of Yeezy to New York Fashion Week
The season approaches.This Indie Brand Had a Great Response to Ivanka Trump
When she bought one of their cuffs, they donated the proceeds to the Clinton campaign.