Indian Models: Fashion's Next Love Affair?

They've been around since shortly after the beginning of time. But only now is the modeling world finally taking notice of Indian women, realizing their potential and versatility in selling high fashion.

The buzz in the industry claims India is the next Brazil, the country to comb to find a budding Gisele Bundchen or Adriana Lima. Lakshmi Menon, a Ford model, recently scored campaigns with Givenchy and Hermes. Kangana Dutta, newly signed with IMG, posed for the September issue of Harper's Bazaar.

That Indian women embody style and beauty is not news. But according to Padma Lakshmi, the current "Top Chef" host whose past modeling work turned the industry's eye to the subcontinent, the so-called trend is a long time coming.

"We're clearly having a moment," she said in a recent interview with ABCNews.com. "You're seeing more diversity in advertising, not just in the magazines, but also editorially.

"When I started modeling, a lot of people didn't really know where I was from," she continued. "They were so unfamiliar with Indian faces that they didn't know if I was mixed, or Brazilian or Indonesian or maybe Hawaiian."

"A lot of times, when I would be booked on jobs for editorial, it would be a lot of ethnic clothing," Lakshmi added. "Or a photo shoot on an island or Morocco, or something ... many times, they would book me when they were looking for someone quote-unquote exotic. Now, we just have a broader definition of beauty."

It may not have the cache of France or Italy, but India has provided inspiration for fashion types for decades. Before emerging as a player in Indian politics in the 1960s and 70s, the princess Maharani Gayatri Devi, Rajmata of Jaipur, was named in Vogue's "Ten Most Beautiful Women" list.

So, to Barney's creative director and "Eccentric Glamour" author Simon Doonan, it seems insulting that the industry is only now embracing Indian models in a big way.

India: New Definition of Beauty

"We're talking about a country where women wear pink saris and jewels just to do ordinary tasks," Doonan said. "It seems like a no-brainer to me. I can't believe people are touting it as a new thing. Style and India are inseparable. Go to an Indian wedding, hello."

And frankly, times are tough. Mainstream designers and brands have to reach out to regions like Asia and the Middle East, whether they like it or not. The rising popularity of Indian models parallels the rising status of India as a global powerhouse, with a growing middle class of consumers who want to see themselves reflected in advertising and marketing.

"I think as corporations look at their bottom lines, particularly now as our economy is failing, they're going to look to other countries for models," said Marvet Britto, founder of The Britto Agency, a New York-based PR and marketing firm. "Maybe Americans don't have money, but they sure have money in the United Arab Emirates, in China, in Korea."

Britto also believes the fact that President-elect Obama is of mixed race will force designers and brands to diversify, fast.

"You're going to see more and more faces of color in advertising than we've ever seen, particularly now that we have a man of color in one of the most important offices in the world," she said. "Everyone's going to want to say, 'Hi, look at me, I'm diversifying.' Any company that doesn't diversify won't be seen as a forward thinking, progressive company."

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