On screen she is Shai from Dhobi Ghat, on stage she is Shaa’ir from Shaa’ir + Func, and at her apartment in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb, dressed in a casual blue playsuit, she is Monica Dogra. The lead singer of one of the most popular indie bands in the country, Dogra is strong, sexy and engaging on stage as a music performer.
Just as it is difficult to slot the band’s music in one clearly defined genre, so it is with Dogra’s sense of style. She is usually seen rocking the stage in skirts or shorts and boots that have become her trademark. Off stage she prefers organic fabrics and loose silhouettes in independent labels such as Kimchi and Blue and Miz Mooz. Dogra says she likes her clothes to match her state of mind. “And I love kajal. Everything in life can be fixed with a little bit of kajal,” she laughs. We spoke to the singer-actor to find out how music has influenced her sense of style and her look in Dhobi Ghat. Edited excerpts:
Bandwidth: (clockwise from top ) The bright sunglasses that Dogra owns, One of the few pairs of heels that Dogra owns; she is a fan of colourful beads and loves these shoes and the jacket and long skirt are two of her favourite performance outfits. Photo Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
How different is Shai’s style from your personal style?
My character Shai is a freethinking but corporatized woman, completely unlike how I am. She’ll wear a tank top with business slacks and her clothes will be crisp. You can tell her class only if you really know your brands. She doesn’t flaunt her designer clothes. I am a lot funkier in my sensibility. For example, I would wear a tank top but with something fatigued, and add boots instead of the comfortable heels that Shai would wear.
What was fashion to you when you were growing up?
I grew up in Maryland, US, and was that girl who was cutting up her dad’s old 1960s clothes and wearing her mum’s sunglasses. I really enjoyed creating my own stuff. I would buy things and then alter them. I took my mum’s dresses, cut off the top and made it into a skirt. I would often steal my father’s pants from when he was thin. They fit me perfectly. I would rub them with rocks to make them even softer.
How has your sense of style evolved through the years?
In my college years in New York, I wore tight-fitting clothes and was constantly dressed up. I was subsequently insecure because I was only defined by the way I looked. I followed every trend. Now, I own the bare necessities, six pairs of shoes and three bags. I really like clothes so I have a lot of clothes. I like collecting rare things. Vintage garments, or shoes made by artisans who make their own designs. My style has become more free. I buy organic clothing and make an effort not to wear brands that stand for a way of life I don’t agree with. I do have punk tendencies. I wear flowing stuff such as long skirts or loose tops with denim cut-offs. I’m not a brand person. You’ll never see me waste a $1,000 (around Rs45,600) on Chanel or Louis Vuitton.
Do you have separate sections for on-stage and off-stage clothes in your wardrobe?
Yes. You dress up a bit more when you perform. My clothes on stage are defined keeping our music in mind. The very premise of Shaa’ir + Func is that it is exploration and bending people’s definition of things. We actually style our sets. Sometimes I wear long skirts, shorts, boots that I can jump around in. I have started using paint on my face. It’s a more striking look and better on stage than wearing accessories that might fall or hurt me. I’m learning Indian classical dance and inspired from that I wear long skirts and sari blouses.
What are your style influences?
I’ve always been very attracted to strong women. Since a young age I have been impressed by Ani DiFranco; her style has changed over the years so much. She has been sexy, androgynous, hippie, punk. Now, I admire Bjork. Just the way she looks is a work of art. In the modern day, I think Lady Gaga is just killing it. She’s so innovative and if so many people can identify with something that strange, it says something about where the world is at right now.
Where do you shop?
I really like Bombay Electric but I don’t go there too often because I cannot afford it. I go to Attic, Golmaal, and export surplus stores in Bandra. I really like flea markets in Goa and collect clothes wherever I travel. New York is the best shopping on the planet. I go to H&M for basics. Otherwise I like going to SoHo and to the smaller designers. But my favourite store on the planet is Urban Outfitters in the US. They source vintage pieces, redo them and restyle them, and sell them at affordable prices. I love Manish Arora, Narendra Kumar, and Kunal Rawal’s stuff too.
Any skeletons in your closet?
I give away stuff that I don’t wear and things that I love I wear till they fall apart. These boots by Miz Mooz are my favourite. I have worn them so often they have holes in them but I keep repairing and wearing them.
How has music influenced your style?
Music and fashion go hand in hand. You are going to a rock concert, you put on your distressed jeans, wear boots and a studded belt and get ready to bang your head in the mosh pit. When you’re in a club, with low ceilings and banging sound systems, you’ll naturally gravitate towards darker colours. You go to Glastonbury and everyone’s rocking in their gumboots. It’s a mud pit and you are with 250,000 people, it’s crazy and even then fashion changes. Stores in London start supplying interesting stuff right before June. Those supplying us with fashion have to know what’s going on musically.
So what do you plan to wear for your first Bollywood red carpet season next year?
I have a couple of designers in mind. I like Nor Black Nor White because they present old textiles in modern silhouettes. Otherwise I really like Masaba Gupta and Gaurav Gupta. I hope they give me their clothes to wear for free on the red carpet. I don’t believe in buying expensive clothes and hoarding them.