Smita Lasrado | Girl of colour

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Smita Lasrado | Girl of colour

After slipping away unnoticed from the modelling world here to Paris, France, and her first cover for an anniversary issue of Marie Claire India in 2009, Mumbai girl Smita Lasrado returned to walk at two recent fashion weeks. “It was a mental struggle to stay in Paris without work or money but the worst was the rejection,” says Lasrado. She finally nailed it, she says, because of unflinching family support and her persistent search for an agency that would cast her for her personality and body type, instead of limiting her to a fittings girl or a showroom model.

While a 2007 Dior show in Zurich, Switzerland, opened up opportunities of interesting and varied work, it was a Paris Fashion Week break for a Vivienne Westwood show that led to assignments from New York to London, Paris to Milan—and not just on the catwalk.

Now, with a client list that includes Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Chloé, Sonia Rykiel, Longchamp, Carolina Herrera, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Selfridges and Air Canada, among others, Lasrado wants to divide time and talent between the ramp, commercials and fashion editorials in India and abroad. She confesses, though, that the project she most looks forward to is singing for a music video to be produced by her Korean restaurateur husband, who is also a part-time DJ in Paris.

Here she tells us why plus-sized models are just hype and why girls of colour don’t have it easy in the West. Edited excerpts:

There is a perception that Indian models get work abroad because they look exotic. Did you experience this?

They definitely think of us as exotic. But it depends on what market you work in and whether you do high fashion or commercials. Since I do a lot of commercial work, looking like an Indian works in my favour. That said it’s definitely harder for a dark-skinned girl. There are indeed some castings I can’t do simply because I’m not white or get cast for French TV commercials and catalogues. It is changing but slowly.

Do European modelling agencies discriminate against you?

It’s the hardest when you approach agencies to sign you on, but once they do, it’s pointless for them to discriminate because they just lose time and money.

What are the most striking differences in professionalism, fittings and backstage dealings between India and abroad?

It is extremely professional in the West, and you can’t throw tantrums or you will be replaced. Systems are different too. For instance, there girls are called in separate slots for fittings to save time as each casting and fitting is done at a different location.

Designers are very particular about the look they want for a collection, so they decide which model will first walk out on the ramp and don’t bother about familiarity. Some may want strong faces, others may insist on pretty, fresh faces, so castings are based on such specifics. In India, a group of models is signed on for an entire fashion week because fashion weeks take place at one venue. The big difference, however, is that here a model takes precedence over the garment, but there the garment is usually given to who it suits best.

After Prada and Victoria’s Secret favouring plus-sized girls last year, do you now see different body types on the ramp?

I’m quite positive the advent of the plus-sized model is all hype. Yes, there are two-three amazing plus-sized girls but a majority I work with are extremely lean. I am 5ft, 11 inches tall and weigh 52kg. Even I’ve been asked to lose weight in the past, a request that I ignore of course. I’ve even had my breasts taped down for a show because they said the designer doesn’t like breasts. And I’m quite small! Unfortunately, most designers are still stuck with the idea of a 16-year-old boy’s body. Women’s curves are much more appreciated here.

What’s your daily diet and how much do you exercise?

I am an Indian married to a Korean who owns a restaurant in Paris so food is a big deal for us. We pretty much eat anything. I’ve only recently tried to avoid sugar because it doesn’t make me feel good any more. Otherwise I am pretty balanced. I eat junk sometimes but I also put a lot of good stuff into my body. I’ve tried to exercise on and off but I am hard to motivate since I am genetically lean. I used to train with Marc Gordon in New York (US), who works with Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls and some Victoria’s Secret girls.

Do you earn a lot more from your modelling work abroad than in India?

Yes, the pay is definitely higher. Even after taxes and commission (this varies between 50-70% depending on the country you work in), at the end of the day you are left with more. Plus, you are protected in the West with overtime and insurance. But while there are some months in Paris that are extremely quiet with no work, in India there is work all the time.

Are fashion models at all powerful in India’s fashion industry?

I don’t think fashion models here have any real power and I believe Bollywood will control the reins for a long time to come. Abroad, successful models use their fame and power to turn themselves into a business. The smart ones here do the same, don’t they?

How much are Western brands in awe of the “Hollywood celebrity”?

Hollywood, like Bollywood, is extremely important for business because celebrities move products. But designers there are also inspired by personal style. So even if you are not in the top five actresses but have great style you will be in the front row. In terms of endorsements, it is divided 50:50 between models and celebs. American designers are more celebrity-conscious than Europeans. In Paris, people don’t lose their minds just because Jay Z is in a restaurant.

What are your own wardrobe favourites?

I love clothes! I’m not brand-crazy but love one-of-a kind pieces. I find most of my coolest stuff on eBay and in thrift stores in New York and Paris. My favourites are a Tadashi dress from the 1980s bought off eBay, a 1980s YSL leather jacket and a Savio Jon white shirt dress. Shoes are my only obsession. I get them from The Outnet, Net-a-porter and Rue Saint Honoré in Paris. My favourites are Alexander Wang black, open-toe heels and silver glitter ankle boots from Giuseppe Zanotti that were a tribute to Michael Jackson after he passed away. I will wear them till I die.

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