Among the disposable excess of actress-designers, singer-perfumers, and reality-TV-memoirists vying for media coverage, Padma Lakshmi — the enterprising foodie-designer-author-actress-entrepreneur — has earned her slashes. The luminous Top Chef host originally launched her eponymous jewelry line in May 2009, pooling money from a Pantene endorsement and hiring on her best friend. Though she juggles Top Chef filming, writing, mothering (baby Krishna is nine months old), and managing Easy Exotic (her own culinary company, which produces spices, teas, and salts), she remains resolutely hands-on with her pet start-up. "We're not a trendy company. We don't use anything artificial or costume, whether it's something humble like sterling silver or precious sapphires," she says. "And I'll never make a piece of jewelry that I don't want to wear myself."
This winter is poised to be a typically busy one for Lakshmi. Season eight of Top Chef premieres on December 1 — the series's first all-star season — and the finale will be shot early next year. She previewed her spring 2011 Padma jewelry collection last week. And this month she's starting work on her third book, a memoir exploring her relationship with food. We caught up with Lakshmi to talk Top Chef, Parisian romance, and her enviable closet.
Top Chef season eight premieres in two weeks. Did the all-star cast up the stakes?
It's going to be so juicy — like the greatest hits of the last seven seasons. I spend so much time with these guys and got to know them so well the first time around, I get emotionally attached. It's like a fourth-grade teacher having to say goodbye to her class every year.
How has the Padma jewelry line evolved in the past year and a half?
When I first launched, it was much more delicate. I wanted to do something that was very basic, since it was all my own resources, from running up to 47th Street to buying the gold. Now it's bolder — I feel like I have a little more confidence to express myself as a designer. For this collection we looked at a lot of old images of Cher from the sixties and seventies. But it retains the same tribal ethos from fall, whether it's from Africa, the South Pacific, or southeast Asia.
Any impulse to expand into clothing or shoes?
I'm happy to leave shoes to Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik. I wouldn't mind doing denim, lingerie, or evening bags.
What about baby clothes?
I think there are enough people doing that right now. I'm just enjoying my baby — I don't need to turn her into something commercial.
What sort of woman wears your designs?
She's definitely a city dweller, someone who is very culturally savvy and aware. Our woman is a sensualist; she's very tactile. And she's probably at least in her late 20s — the average price point of the jewelry is around $1,000, so it's an investment.
Who are your favorite designers?
I have a lot of Alexander McQueen, Antonio Berardi, Rick Owens, and Martin Margiela. I like how fluid their clothes are and how they flatter the body; they're very womanly and strong. And even though Lanvin is known for its washed-silk dresses, I love their jersey pieces.
What's the first designer item you ever bought?
A bottle of Chloe perfume when I was 15. I make my own now, blending essential oils.
Where do you like to shop in New York?
Kalustyans for spices — that's my favorite. I go there to buy my fresh curry leaves and lentils. I was four years old the first time I went there; I grew up in the aisles. For clothes, I love NY Vintage, Resurrection, and Decades in L.A. I actually consign a lot of my stuff to them.
How would you describe your personal style?
I'm a kind of couture gypsy: I might wear a silk jumpsuit from Stella McCartney with slippers I bought at a market in Istanbul, a little wrap from J.Mendel, a classic 1920s Vacheron Constantin watch, and Tom Ford sunglasses.
What trends are you appreciating right now?
Whenever I'm in sync with the trends, it's always an accident. I still love wearing clothes I've had for ten years. I think understated luxury is the chicest thing.
Any trends you're ready to see retired?
Really high, high heels with high, high platforms in front. I feel like I'm going to turn my ankle. I can wear the highest heels possible, but not if it's a spindly stiletto or a towering platform. I like stacked wooden heels best.
What's one item every woman should have in her closet?
I know most people use their phones to tell time, but there's something very romantic and beautiful about a timepiece. I wear a Jaeger Lecoultre Reverso watch — it was a gift. I was in Paris with somebody, and that person had a men's version on their wrist. I said it was beautiful. They said they were going to buy a paper but went out and bought me this watch — it's very simple, with a black strap.
What's something you never leave the house without?
To be honest, probably my BlackBerry because I'm a mother now. I'm not attached to things at all. I'm very lucky to have quite a few beautiful things, but if I look back at my life, I was often happiest when I had very little.