Q: You are one of the most successful women in the Indian fashion industry. How did your career lead to Elle?
I’ve been working as a political and business journalist, worked in the stock market, and Television. I also contributed to the newspapers on society and culture. When Elle was introduced to India they called me and asked me to take over.
I never saw it coming but obviously I said yes. From there on I saw the way fashion developed in India. And it has been amazing. It will be 11 years in June since I joined Elle.
Q: What was the first challenge you faced after becoming a part of Elle?
I began with the first fashion week in India!
Q: You are currently working with British Council Sri Lanka. What was your experience being a part of the Young Creative Entrepreneur Programme?
I conducted a workshop on how to work with a fashion magazine, how to do things differently, for example about image cropping. Everyone present was eager to learn and it was very exciting. I would like to be involved to a greater extent with the British Council Sri Lanka in the future.
Q: What is it like working in the fashion industry? What have you learnt?
Every morning I wake up and know that I would find something new. Understanding fashion is a lifetime experience. You see everything in a new light. What people eat, wear, their lipstick, hair, what they read, talk of, everything basically.
Q: In South Asia especially there’s a predominant view view that high fashion objectifies women. Do you agree?
No. Fashion empowers women. Not with nudity. But with the material they wear, the texture of cloth, their silhouette, and embellishments. It’s not about showing an arm or a leg, Sometimes when the idea of a fashion and a model is new to a culture this happens. When it’s new it’s controversial. But with time when people are constantly exposed to the beauty of fashion they begin to understand it better. In Italy, if a naked breast is revealed people will not be judgmental. It must not be the model that must be judged. It’s the clothes.
Q: What role does the model play in fashion?
The model’s role is to enhance the clothes. They must carry it. The entire team along with the designer, photographer, make-up artist, hair stylist along with the model have to create this dream of fashion.
Q: There is a lot of talk of photoshopping, airbrushing and altering the physical appearance of models. Is fashion photography centered on the superficial?
There is a lot of criticism of Photoshop. It is a tool that is useful to ‘clean’ the image, to edit a bit of a falling dress or a strand of hair sticking out. But we never try to alter the look of the model. The beauty lies in the way she looks. That is why a particular model is picked to carry a certain piece. So why alter her? Why airbrush her? If we try to change the way the model looks then it is the magazine’s fault for choosing the wrong model, the photographers, fault for taking the wrong shot and the model’s fault for not doing a proper job.
Q: Do you believe in stick-thin models?
I don’t believe in skinny models. Yes, the model must be slim because she needs to be healthy. We Asian women have an amazing shape unlike the western models. We should make use of our curves.
Q: Any advice on office attire?
Experiment and enjoy. I tell my office crew tomorrow is yellow and we all wear yellow! We have days, Bolloywood impersonations. And they all come dressed to a theme. It’s fun.
Q: But most people don’t experiment and enjoy. They like to follow rules and guidelines. What do you think lies behind this attitude?
People are most of the time intimidated by fashion. You must not fear it. You must own it.”
Q: Why do Asians cringe at a short hemline or an unconventional cut? Is it cultural?
I don’t think it’s cultural at all. It’s generational. Your mom was shouted at by her mom not to wear that. In turn she shouts at you and you too will shout at your daughter. It’s the same old dialogue. An argument, that is good. You must argue but you must also hear it. You must understand the views of both parties. It’s good because this keeps you grounded. But you know, when you are young it’s fun to break some rules. That’s being young. All of us have been there.
Q: What is your style?
I would say that my sense of style is actually quite boring. There is so much changing around me and I still stick with the classics. I wear classic with a hint of Indian. You know, give the classics an oriental twist. But I believe that the youth are the trend setters. They need to constantly update themselves.
Q: A lot of girls and young women in Sri Lanka don’t have the income to support designer wear or high-end fashion products. But they are still fashion conscious. What advice would you give them?
Invest in a few good clothes that can be mixed and matched. Not complete matching outfits but separate pieces. A great pair of blue jeans, a tailored shirt, a beautiful summer jacket, a smart black skirt.
Q: From what you have seen so far what do you think is the best thing about Sri Lankan fashion?
Both Sri Lanka and India draw heavily from culture and climate--a lot of hot, vibrant colours. Sri Lankan fashion is exuberant because it is new. Because it is new, it could go anywhere. I am very intrigued. So I am watching and waiting.
Q: What have you noticed the most about the average Sri Lankan woman?
I am just so happy to see Sri Lankan women still wear and love the saree. They are in such beautiful colours. They look gorgeous. The women are just as beautiful as any Indian woman. And that is a huge compliment.
Q: Accessories are important. What are you wearing right now?
I am wearing a Kundul ring, Chanel earrings and Gold kolha puris.
Q: Your favourite fashion accessory?
Rings. Yes Rings.”
Q: Rushing out in a hurry you have time to do one touch up. What will it be?
Apply mascara. Mascara will make you look instantly fresh and dressed up.
Q: What is the ultimate smart attire for women?
A black pencil skirt and a bright colourful shirt with a pair of great high heels.
Q: The colour that never fails?
Black. It’s not a colour. It’s so much more. It never goes out of style.
Q: What is the must have item in any woman’s wardrobe?
The classic black dress. Over and over again.
Q: Footwear you can’t do without?
A pair of good high heels, ballet flats and because of our weather opened -toed sandals, like a pair of silver kolha puris.
Q: Your wardrobe favourite?
A black Rajesh Pratap Singh dress. I think it’s four years old, but it has never gone out of style.
Q: Dressing up. What should you highlight?
Eyes. Always the eyes.
Q: Fashion is…?
Both Inspirational and inspirational.
Q: Your fashion mantra?
The clothes are the hero. You must remember that. That is what it all comes down to. It must be your mantra. I will say it again. The clothes are the hero.
Young designers get chance to shine through BC programme
Young fashion designer Kasuni Rathnasuriya, founder of the label ‘KUR’ was the winner of the Young Fashion Entrepreneur’s Award for 2011. This is part of the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur Programme presented together with the Sri Lanka Design Festival.
Impressive and creative entrepreneurs of the fashion industry between the ages of 25 to 35 are annually selected to celebrate the importance of Sri Lankan fashion.
Nonita Karla, Editor-in-Chief of Elle India, works with the British Council India and is a part of the committee of the Indian Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award. In Sri Lanka last week to be a member of the judging panel for the local award, Nonita said “What impresses me the most is the way British Council identifies talent and also mentors it. They are starting something like a legacy. That is what awards like this do. They bring the biggest talent of the island to the forefront, contributing so much to the country.”
Kasuni will travel to Britain on a study tour and will be given the opportunity to attend fashion and trade events while working with the renowned professional designers there.
The British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur Programme also held a three day workshop on Fashion Photography on March 25, 26 and the 27. “Three designers Kasuni Rathnasuriya, Lonali Rodrigo and Upeksha Hager were selected by us for the Fashion photography workshop,” said Randima Jayasinghe, Assistant Manager, Marketing and Communications at British Council Sri Lanka. The runner-up for the Young Fashion Entrepreneur’s Award for 2011, Sandun De Silva conducted the workshop sharing the technical aspects of fashion photography.
Nonita who also contributed to the workshop said she would be happy if Kasuni could be a part of the Fashion Week in India. “I am impressed with the talent of this country. It’s so fresh. I remember I googled Kasuni’s name and what I saw was really good. Her work made an impression. I would be great if Sandun could work with us too.”