Behind a fashion image, a legion of creators.

Photos by:

Avani Rai

Words by:

Pronoti Datta


A Character Comes to Life

Discover the finery of India, delicate weaves tailored into the smartest of silhouettes featuring Kirandeep Chahal.

The idea was just a word: textile. From it, emerged a story told in photographs. The story is about craft and construction, about people and the human imperative to create. The players are manifold: designers, who produce narratives in fabric and embellishment; the model, who breathes life into the garments; the discerning stylist who arranges the bouquet of clothes; the hair and make-up artist, who transforms the model into a character (a person both real and fantastical); and the photographer, through whose eyes the story is distilled. Then there is the legion of support functionaries: the styling assistants, the hair and make-up assistants, the ironing professional, the person who meticulously unpacks and packs clothes, the lighting technicians, the cameraperson and many more. It takes a small army to make images that stay in the mind’s eye.

The mise-en-scène is a space in Mumbai that once housed a store known as Bungalow 8. The walls and ceiling are white, the fittings black, and the door, a collage of textured surfaces. The set is simple: a changeable roster of backdrops in rustic hues—washed-out ochre, military green and asphalt.

The model walks onto the canvas and performs a series of motions before the camera and the assembly of players. For a few moments, there’s a feeling of watching a piece of theatre, a pantomime to which each individual might attach meaning.

Her name is Kirandeep Chahal. On the backdrop canvas she has the aura of a moody, melancholic character, moving to a soundtrack playing in her head. Her frame is lanky and androgynous, and her face is all edges and plains. She’s a tomboy, by her own admission. Like a lot of models, she fell into her line of work by chance. Raised in Jabalpur and Ludhiana, Chahal moved to Mumbai three years ago to work as a journalist. She was introduced to a modelling agency a few months after arriving. Two and a half years later, Chahal notched a career milestone. She walked the ramp for Dior at Paris Fashion Week in January this year. The trip was Chahal’s first outside the country. Her mother had never heard of Dior, and Chahal had to explain to her over a call in her native Punjabi.

Kirandeep wears a handwoven silk brocade dress with cropped, ankle-length trousers and jewellery PAYAL KHANDWALA. Footwear INOCHHI.
Kirandeep wears a forest-print pantsuit SUKET DHIR, the Ranthambore Trench KSHITIJ JALORI, brown shoes KILCHU. Earrings and cuffs MANIFEST.Kirandeep wears a forest-print pantsuit SUKET DHIR, the Ranthambore Trench KSHITIJ JALORI, brown shoes KILCHU. Earrings and cuffs MANIFEST.Kirandeep wears a forest-print pantsuit SUKET DHIR, the Ranthambore Trench KSHITIJ JALORI, brown shoes KILCHU. Earrings and cuffs MANIFEST.
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The event was significant for another reason. She had just razed her long hair and was anxious about what her agency would think. “It was a rebirth moment for me … to be accepted in such a manner,” she said. 

Chahal’s spiky buzz cut draws the eye. Hair and make-up artist Elton Fernandez transforms it by spraying her hair with blue and later, bronze and copper, and decorating it with silver bindis. “I wanted to make it unpretty but still beautiful,” he said. The aim was to “celebrate her femininity and fierceness and bring a subversive quality to the image-making.” The make-up is a play of textures, from a matte mouth and shiny cheekbones in one look to a glossy mouth and a wet brow with “just-bathed texture” in another, he said.

The colours of Chahal’s hair riff on the hues of the clothes put together by stylist Devanshi Tuli. Since Object is committed to covering craft, Tuli chose designers known for their work with hand-crafted textile in contemporary silhouettes. The indigo hair goes with Akaaro’s blouse and blue jacket and pants. Later, the bronze and copper tints complement the metallic colours of Rajesh Pratap Singh’s kaleidoscopic dress and sharp-shouldered gown. 

A steady eye follows Chahal’s movements, that of Avani Rai. The photographer, cinematographer and actor has made a name for herself for both her documentary and fashion work. In this case, her imagination was spurred by the space itself, which, like all great theatres, even the simplest ones, offers a sense of possibility. “I think everything in the space we were shooting was inspiring, from the walls to the windows to the floor to the canvas to the way the canvas was folding to the light. We weren’t looking for anything in particular, which is why it worked so well.”

Kirandeep wears pleated trousers, blue Kinji-panelled top and metallic belted jacket in Merino wool, all handwoven, AKAARO. Nose pin BAKA and earrings PAYAL KHANDWALA.
Kirandeep wears an exaggerated-shoulder, floor-length dress in handloom zari RAJESH PRATAP SINGH. Jewellery DEVANSHI TULI.
Kirandeep wears an asymmetric seam dress RAJESH PRATAP SINGH. Rings and earrings DEVANSHI TULI.

Model: Kirandeep Chahal; Photographer: Avani Rai; Stylist: Devanshi Tuli; Hair and make-up: Elton Fernandez; Styling assistance: Shivika Paliwal, Ishita Sanghavi, Shristi Mishra; Talent management: Akshay Khurana Deol at PURPLE THOUGHTS, Rahul Bathija at INEGA; Photographer assistance: Harman Achint; Set assistance: Sadik Sharif, Sampat Lal Saroj‍

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A Broken Home

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress.

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