India’s first Femina Miss India, Meher Castelino Mistry reminisces about her past, and the future of fashion in India
In the age of flower power came a young lady whose determination and strong will led her to partake and win the first edition of the Femina Miss India in 1964 in Mumbai, thereby paving the way for many a woman in the coming years to follow. She even went on to represent the country at the Miss Universe 1964 at Miami Beach, Florida. An icon of her time, the evergreen Meher Castelino Mistry never fails to capture the imagination of many young girls across the India. Her aura, charm, frank demeanour and grace are always a pleasure and a proven fact of her enriching persona. Known as a trendsetter, Meher continues to contribute to shaping public opinion and taking the ever-evolving fashion world forward through her witty columns in several periodicals and blogs. We recently spotted her at the India Beach Fashion Week 2015 in Goa, assessing the body of works curated by designers through her eagle eyes.
In an exclusive interview with Abraxas Lifestyle, Meher talks about her views on the fashion and lifestyle of today compared to the yesteryears:
Do you think trends in recent years are moving in the right direction? More so, are designers doing well commercially without compromising on their creativity?
I think today’s designers in India have definitely innovated as far as designing is concerned. But, it is now a question of whether they are heavily influenced by whatever is happening abroad. As far as ethnic wear is concerned I think they are the masters of it and are doing very well. Designers today are trying to create trends for different seasons. However, it is also the customer who is guiding these trends. Therefore designers must have to please them and do what clients want.
What do you think is required to take Indian fashion to the next level?
I would say that Indian designers should concentrate on innovative fabrics. Right now most designers are using chiffon, georgette, satin, crêpe and taffeta which is very common all over the world. Our Indian textiles which are so innovative and wonderful are not being promoted at all. In fact the West is looking at our textiles with great interest, but our designers are not promoting them. And if they want to be exclusive they should hang on to our fabulous weaves and textiles.
Is there any fabric which you would recommend to Indian designers to use?
The one fabric designers should push very hard for is khadi. Because khadi fabric is not only made from cotton, it is very versatile and comes in silk and wool as well. You can even mix it with blends and go in for a totally different look. That will give them an edge over foreign designers as well as educate the Indian public on the beauty of khadi and Indian textiles.
Which is your favourite fashion era and why?
I would say each one. I loved the 60s because of the mini. I loved the 70s because of the midi. I love the 80s and 90s. But I think it stopped with the 90s. After that, ever since the 21st century has come, people are just simply inspired by the previous fashion eras i.e the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. There is nothing specific or new coming out in the 21st century.
Any particular trend that you like or wish it could make a comeback?
The funny part is that all the trends of all these eras are in vogue. There was a time in the 60’s that if you did not wear a mini skirt, you were out of fashion. Or in the 70s if you did not wear a midi you were out of fashion. But thankfully, in the 21st century you have all these eras coming together very seamlessly and there is no rule that if you are not wearing this then you are out of fashion.
Do you think the organisation of the Femina Miss India contest has come along since it you first participated in 1964? How so?
It has definitely come a long way. But I have to say that the beauty queens who were crowned in the first few years had a distinct identity which was different from the girls who are taking part today. If you see the girls nowadays, they are very similar – they look more like assembly line products! Many of them look the same, walk the same and speak the same way. As such there is no character and an identity which they have which is different.
Do you have any advice for the upcoming Miss India participants?
Be yourself. Don’t try and speak in English if you are not familiar with the language. Abroad, when beauty contestants take part, they don’t speak in English. When I was representing India at Miss Universe, the girl who won was Miss Greece and she only spoke Greek. So you know, it is not necessary to speak English and that too with a bad accent or for that matter, bad grammar. It’s best to speak in Hindi. Because that would show your strength and the country you are representing.
What is your opinion about the Gionee Smartphones India Beach Fashion Week 2015 held in Goa?
I attended the India Resort Fashion Week in Goa in 2012 which was held on the beach. Compared to that, the India Beach Fashion Week 2015 was very well organised. I liked the mix of the designers because some collections were pure resort and beach wear and some were destination wedding wear. So I think each category had its own individual characteristic, as far as the collections were concerned.
Do you have any advice for the organisers of IBFW 2015?
The venue was perfect and so was the choice of designers. I would suggest that perhaps they could add more designers and make it a bigger event than what it is.
You are no doubt a big fashion critique. What is your opinion influenced by? What are the parameters you look out for?
When I am doing a critique I look at the wearability, the creativity and the commercial viability of the garment. Ofcourse there are garments like bridal wear which are meant to be high fashion and over the top, but if you are going to the mass market or high street market, then you would need to have wearability and commercial viability as the most important factor. Otherwise you are not going to succeed. You may make just one piece which might turn into a museum piece and nobody would end up buying it.
Who would you term as a fashion icon?
In India, Sharmila Tagore, and from the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy. I chose Sharmila because she is very well dressed, chic and elegant; and Jacqueline because her look was very understated, feminine and of course elegant!
Which designer’s outfits do you normally wear?
I wear Anita Dongre quite a bit because her designs are very practical. I also wear a lot of Nina Fidnis. Half my wardrobe is filled with Nina’s garments. I also have a lot of assorted Zara and high street brands. But I don’t go in for any label as such. If I like something and it’s not a brand as such, I will still buy it.
Is there any fashion designer who has grown in the right direction?
A lot of them have grown. I saw the first fashion week in 2000 when they were all very young and you know, sort of feeling their way around. But if you asked me to pick a couple of designers it would have to be Manish Arora. He did a drastic collection in 2000 and now he is an international name. Anamika Khanna, if you saw her clothes in 2000 you would not have looked at them twice. Now she too is an international name. Each one has evolved beautifully, so I think they are really doing very well. Manish Malhotra’s clothes were okay, he was not even a big designer in 2000. Now he is one of the highest selling designers in India. So each one has grown. There are very few designers who have not grown or have disappeared from the scene and that is probably because they are disorganised or are not moving with the times or not working the commercial angle.
Who is your favourite model?
I have always liked Noamika, she has been my favourite model for years. In fact she did her first shoot for me. I like Candice and Alicia as well, and of course in the past Anna Bredmeyer too, was an icon.
What in your opinion is the worst fashion trend?
I am a little tired of the floor length anarkalis. Because you have to be model height to carry them well and if ladies who are 5 ft 1 inch wear them, it does nothing for them. So I think anarkalis should be there, but not worn by every single lady just because it is in fashion.
Do you think Goa makes for a great fashion destination? What needs to be done to take it to the next level?
Goa as a destination it is fabulous, it puts everybody in a relaxed holiday mood. And for this particular category it is just perfect, because it has the sun, sea and resort atmosphere. So it is perfect for a beach resort fashion week. May be if the state promotes fashion, a lot can be done for this industry.
Do you have any advice for budding fashion designers?
I would say three things, i.e. discipline, creativity and finish. If you can hold onto these three things you would be a success. Most designers may have creativity and finish, but they are not disciplined. They can’t deliver their goods, which will most certainly not help them in the future.