Looking at images of Freida Pinto descending the red carpet in some of the world’s hottest fashion labels, it’s difficult to believe that she once shopped at Fashion Street, a street market popular with Mumbai’s college students.
Here she comes: (clockwise from above left) Pinto in a white Grecian-inspired draped dress by Zac Posen. Dan Steinberg / AP; the periwinkle Marchesa gown. Lucy Nicholson / Reuters; a Chanel dress with an embellished neckline. Joel Ryan / AP; a metallic draped Posen dress. Stephen Hird / Reuters; a yellow sheath by Derek Lam. Danny Moloshok / Reuters; and her favourite -- a baby pink custom-made Oscar de la Renta gown. Stephen Hird / Reuters
The 24-year-old resident of the Mumbai suburb of Malad has been hailed by the foreign press as Hollywood’s latest It Girl as she does the rounds of the awards circuit with the rest of the cast and crew of Slumdog Millionaire. Pinto has come in No. 1 and No. 3 for two consecutive weeks on Vogue’s 10 Best Dressed, a weekly list of stylish women that the magazine’s online edition singles out. She’s also featured in the March issue of Vanity Fair. Blogs on celebrity dressing, such as Bellasugar.com and Gofugyourself.com, have raved about, among other things, her hair and eyebrows.
Pinto has worn everything from short, draped dresses and long flowing gowns to body-conscious sheaths. She’s been photographed in Christian Lacroix at the Golden Globes, Zac Posen at the LA Film Critics Awards and the Directors Guild of America Awards, Gaultier Couture at the LA Film Critics dinner, Chanel at the Elle Style Awards, Marchesa at the Screen Actors Guild awards and a custom-made Oscar de la Renta gown at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) awards—she says this was her favourite outfit. That’s not counting the Martin Katz, Lorraine Schwartz and Fred Leighton jewellery pieces, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo footwear, as well as the latest purses (and sometimes Dev Patel) as arm candy.
“I have been approached by many designers wanting to dress Freida. She is a beautiful young woman, so many designers are willing to loan to her,” says Pinto’s international stylist George Kotsiopoulos. He admits that the film’s success at the Golden Globes and other award ceremonies has made his job a tad easier. “No designers said ‘no’ before the Globes, but some designers became more available after that,” he says.
Anaita Shroff Adajania, fashion director of Vogue India and stylist to Bollywood actors such as Priyanka Chopra, Bipasha Basu and Hrithik Roshan, says Pinto, though petite, seems to be holding her own. “She almost looks to the manor born. I think it’s a proud fashion moment for India,” she says. Midway through the awards season, says Adajania, Pinto’s stylist probably had a roomful of clothes for her to choose from.
And indeed he did. Kotsiopoulos, a Los Angeles-based celebrity stylist who has previously dressed Heidi Klum, Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore and Christina Ricci, mentions in an email interview that he currently has a room full of clothes for his fittings with Pinto. He says he tries to choose looks that reference her Indian heritage and also show that she is an international beauty.
He explains his modus operandi for award-season dressing: “I go through all the current collections and make requests for specific dresses that I’d like to try on Freida. Most (fashion) houses only have one set of samples that are shared with magazines, buyers and retailers, so you must reserve them in advance,” he says.
“Fortunately for me, Freida can wear a large variety of colours because of her beautiful skin tone. She likes beautiful colours such as pinks, blues and purples, but she looks amazing in nude colours as well,” says Kotsiopoulos. Pinto says her favourite colour is black, “without a doubt”.
So far, the ensembles chosen for Pinto by Kotsiopoulos have been pretty much on trend. There’s been no experimentation with very fashion-forward cuts or styles. Pinto’s dressing has been classic on most occasions, such as the floor-length periwinkle Marchesa gown at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (where she was a presenter). Both her dresses by Zac Posen were short and draped, showing off her legs and portraying a younger, sexier image. “I like my gowns and dresses to be well fit with clean cuts, as I believe it suits me better than flowy garments. However, it should not accentuate the hips or overly accentuate the curves of the body. One would look weighty in a gown that has too much fabric,” she says.
But even as Hollywood cheers her on, there is one person Pinto turns to for unbiased advice—her elder sister. Sharon Pinto, a producer for a news channel in Mumbai, says Freida, who is younger by four years, did call her to ask which outfit she liked the best. “We are each other’s sounding boards,” says Sharon. “I told her I loved all the dresses which were shorter and fit closer to the body. I think yards of fabric don’t flatter her too much,” she says. Through the thick of the awards season, her now world-famous sister’s schedule was too busy for girlie chats about clothes, so Sharon says she just googled her to see what she had worn lately.
During the awards season, which culminates in the Academy Awards on Sunday, designers pursue the stars to wear their creations for various appearances. What has been the norm for years internationally is a trend that is just starting with foreign labels in India.
Fashion houses which have a presence in the country, such as Christian Dior, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and those under the TSG International Marketing Pvt. Ltd umbrella (Jean Paul Gaultier, Moschino, Lanvin, Alberta Ferretti, Marc Jacobs, DVF and Stella McCartney), have provided clothes for Indian actors for Indian and international awards functions and other appearances. Most recently, Aishwarya Rai wore a black Alberta Ferretti gown to the New York premier of Pink Panther 2, with a little co-ordination from TSG, the label’s representatives in India.
Charu Sachdev, CEO of TSG, says most labels have specially created celebrity dresses or couture pieces that are only for lending to stars. “The star tells us the kind of look they are aiming for—either fluid and feminine, or glamorous, or classic, and we try and give them a few options which are suitable,” says Sachdev. Most often, the dresses or gowns have to be flown to India from Paris or Milan—depending on where the brand’s headquarters are located.
Kalyani Chawla, vice-president, marketing and communications, for Christian Dior in India, says the label has a celebrity wardrobe in Paris and ensembles are flown all around the world for celebrity appearances. An indicator of how important these appearances are to the label: Chawla says they sometimes give out dresses to celebrities from the New Delhi boutique (prices for a ready-to-wear Christian Dior gown start from Rs10 lakh). Of course, these can’t be sold later. “The red gown Aishwarya wore for the International Indian Film Academy (Iifa) Awards (held in Bangkok in June) was from the boutique,” says Chawla. The dress was added to the international celebrity wardrobe after Rai wore it.
And fashion houses will fly one dress thousands of miles if they are convinced it will be good for the brand. Chawla remembers the praise heaped on Preity Zinta for an ice-blue Dior gown she wore to the Toronto Film Festival in 2007, which Chawla helped her procure. But she remembers even more clearly the logistical nightmare it was to get the gown to Zinta. “It had to be flown from Paris to New York and then someone had to put it on a plane to Canada. But it was worth it because she carried it so well,” says Chawla.
Sachdev says a few Indian actors, such as Zinta, have worn Alberta Ferretti gowns to the Cannes International Film Festival. “For these appearances, the fittings are conducted and overseen personally by the dressmaker. All the alterations are made on Mrs Ferretti’s yacht,” says Sachdev.
Just the kind of royal treatment Pinto would be receiving now; must be a bit like stepping into the princess diaries for someone who, like the majority of Mumbai’s students, has been street-shopping in Mumbai. “As a college student, Freida hunted for funky stuff at Fashion Street. She’s not very brand conscious, but more concerned about what works for her and what doesn’t,” says Sharon.
Sharon says Freida is (or was) a feminine dresser. “She loves girlie styles, the colour pink and bows,” she says. She also reveals that she isn’t too good at handling bad hair days, as she’s always had beautiful hair. “When she was a child she once said ‘My hair is so silky, you can make a silk sari out of it’. That’s now become a family joke,” Sharon laughs. For a girl who’s had problems finding shoes in India because of her size 10 feet, those Louboutins must feel super sweet.