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Nayanika Chatterjee : The Supermodel Who Ruled The Fashion World For 3 Decades

While most people around the globe just follow the trends, there are a few who believe in setting trends and Nayanika Chatterjee is one of them. Making an entry into the modeling world at a time when dusky models were not too welcomed, Nayanika Chatterjee used her beautiful expressions and curly mane to carve a niche for herself and change the face of fashion.
A well-known name in the Indian fashion industry today, Nayanika Chatterjee, was for 3 decades, the most popular face on the ramp and it is said that most top fashion designers even refused to do shows without her presence!
With a walk worth millions and a face that appeared on numerous cover pages of magazines and hoardings, Chatterjee has always been in a league of her own.
The HIMALAYAN BUZZ team caught up with the beauty to know more about her life, both in fashion and beyond. Here are a few excerpts from the interview

Could you tell us something about your childhood, early life, and family?
I was born in Kolkata but when I was 2, my family moved to Mumbai as my dad had a government job there. I’ve done my schooling and graduation from Mumbai.

When did you decide to become a model and how did you get started?
I had never actually thought I could be a model. In fact, I didn’t feel that my face was apt for this profession at all. Because, back in those days, curly-haired girls with a dusky complexion were really not considered to be ‘model-like’. One fine day, in 1988, a fashion choreographer spotted me in college and offered me a show. That was my first show ever and that’s how my modeling journey took off.

When did you get your first break as a model?
Right then. A fashion designer from Paris really liked my look at the show and offered me some work in Paris. But in those days, people didn’t really take ‘modeling’ as a serious career option and so my dad refused to let me go to Paris. I didn’t make it to Paris but my pictures from the show did make their way to the newspapers! Those pictures created a stir in the fashion world and since then I regularly started getting lots of shoots and shows.

You’ve been part of the fashion world for almost 3 decades now…since the early 90’s…what in your opinion, has changed in the modeling scene over the years?
When I started off my modeling journey, shows would be quite entertainment-oriented and things wouldn’t be as organized as they are now. Models had to do their own makeup. Unlike now, ‘modeling’ wasn’t thought of as a serious career option back then and there was no support from the government for the modeling industry.
At that time, the modeling industry in India was quite new, and ‘modeling’ wasn’t considered to be a ‘nice and safe’ career. There was a lot of interference of the underworld and parents were extremely scared and skeptical about letting their children be part of this industry.
Today, the scene is completely different. The fashion industry in India is pretty well-recognized. The Fashion Design Council Of India has been formed that works with the support of the Ministry Of Textile. The modeling industry is very safe for women now…in fact a whole lot safer than the other industries.

In your 3 decades of being part of the fashion industry, which has been your favorite decade, and why?
My vote would go to the ’90s for sure because it was during this time that the fashion industry started to get organized and systematic. National Institute Of Fashion Technology (NIFT) opened and other fashion institutes also started coming up. Lots of young designers who studied fashion overseas returned to India with a lot of new ideas. Unlike the big productions that happen in today’s time, the 90’s were more about solo shows where everyone worked very closely. There’d be like 20-30 models and we worked and grew together. Now there are hundreds of models and you can barely tell who’s doing what!

Did you ever wish to be part of movies?
No. I was actually never interested in movies and neither do I know how to act!! Me getting into movies would just confirm the much-debated fact that ‘models can’t act’! Though I did play the role of a model for the movie ‘Fashion’. Priyanka Chopra had approached me for this role. I had trained Priyanka for the Miss India pageant so we knew each other. At first, I thought I will say no, but when Priyanka said to me that there would be no dialogues for me and that it’s the first movie to be made about the fashion industry of India, I agreed to do it. But otherwise, I’ve never really thought of working in films.

After 32 years of working in the industry, you still look so stunning and positive! How do you manage that?
Lots of people, for various reasons, work in sectors or such jobs that they are truly not interested in. In my time, anyone who was good in academics was expected to become a doctor or an engineer, irrespective of whether or not they would be interested in choosing that career path or even if they wished to be a painter or a photographer! In that aspect, I got lucky because I found work in the field that made me happy. In fact, I was so happy being a part of the modeling industry that, unlike some other models, who wanted to move on and do films, I just wasn’t interested. I was happy and content with what I was doing. I believe that when you enjoy your work and don’t feel like it’s a burden on you, it helps you stay happy, positive, and beautiful.

What possibilities do you foresee for the fashion industry after the COVID-19 situation?
Look it’s not always going to be like this. The vaccine will be out eventually and things will normalize. People are saying that everything will move online but I think that this is possible only to a certain extent and not completely. When buying clothes, we like to touch and feel the fabric quality, the fit of the clothes…things that are not possible while making online purchases. Most of the time in online purchasing of clothes there’s an issue of incorrect fit or fabric. I personally feel that even though ‘ready-to-wear’ and casual clothing may shift online, but it’s not going to happen for couture or bridal wear. Once this pandemic is over, people will once again start attending shows and visiting stores.

We’ve heard that there are some designers who don’t wish to do shows without you?
(Laughs)…That was the case earlier, not now. But yes, even today, when a couture collection or heavy dresses need to be showcased, designers look for models with a strong personality and someone who can carry those well…so yes, they come to us.

You moved from Mumbai to Delhi after your marriage. Which amongst the two cities do you like better?
If it’s about living alone then I prefer Mumbai and if it’s about living with family then Delhi it is. Delhi has a lot more greenery, the roads are wider…we live in Sainik Farms and I get to see peacocks and other beautiful birds…In Mumbai, all you can see is buildings!

What are your plans for the future?
It’s only very recently that I’ve opened my own grooming academy where I’m training young girls.
I do some events too like Femina Sytlista, Mrs India etc ……

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