In her kitschy spaghetti-strap dress, an amulet around her neck, long brown hair swept up into careless up-do, American-Indian singer and actress Monica Dogra looks like a flower child of sorts, tripping on idealism, dreams and rock and roll. “Fashion is important to me," says Dogra, who will be in conversation with rock singer and actor Courtney Love at Mint’s annual luxury conference on Friday in Mumbai. “People are making up their mind about you by what you wear," says the “accidental fashionista" over Skype. “It’s how they receive you, without language and without verbal communication."

Her first clothing line, an extension of her own personal sense of style which she describes as “eccentric, androgynous, edgy", was released in 2014 by multi-designer online store Stylista. “Anjana Sharma, one of the founders of Stylista, would always tell me that I had an iconic sense of style, a voice in fashion," she says. When Stylista was founded, I was the only non-designer called to contribute," says Dogra.

Her line of clothing for girls who are “feminine, sexy, bold and brave" also takes into account the environment in which they will be worn. “My style has changed a lot since I moved from New York. I have had to shift the way I present myself in order to be out on the street and feel safe—that is a huge factor in how deep a neck is and how high a hemline can be," she elaborates.

The decision to come to India was a sudden, if serendipitous, one, says Dogra, co-founder of Shaa’ir and Func, an alternative, electronic music duo formed in 2007. “I was bored and needed some money and I heard that designer Satya Paul needed Indian models. So I applied and was selected." At the show, she bumped into a partner from Lehman Brothers who offered her a job at the Rockefeller Foundation. “In finance, can you believe it?" she laughs.

She worked there for a month and a half before realizing that “this man kept hiring only really hot women. I am a feminist; so, that really started to bug me", she says, adding that one day she even spotted some horrific naked photos on his camera. “I confronted him with it. The next day in classic Hollywood style, when I went in to work, I found myself locked out."

Luckily enough, right before that confrontation, she had closed a deal for $3,000. “It was enough for me to afford a flight to India and to survive here for the next six months. So all’s well that ends well," she smiles.

Over the last decade or so since she first moved to India in 2005, Dogra has straddled many a role: musician, actor (she debuted in Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat in 2011), reality TV host, fashion designer and human rights activist, among others. “I didn’t have a good life in New York; I was in tremendous amount of debt from my degree at NYU (New York University, where she studied musical theatre) and was bartending, waiting at tables and baking cookies for an ad agency to get by."

Her memories of New York often find their way into her music. So does love, belonging, identity and gender, “When something matters to me, I write about it. We all want to be loved and accepted and exist in a world that allows us to be what we want to be," she says.

Simpler said than done, she agrees. “My experience of sex and identity as a woman of Indian origin has been one that has been very wrought with judgement and pressure to assimilate into roles and structures that have been imposed on me, rather than existing in a space where I can be who I am," says Dogra.

When she came to India, “I went to MTV, music video directors, Bollywood actors, music producers in Bollywood and everyone seemed happy to know me. I was suddenly meeting so many progressive Indians," she says. “Really powerful people in India started paying attention to my work and my career here took off; they were the wind beneath my wings, really."

Dogra started writing and playing rock music, she says, managing to upturn the prevailing perception of the time. “There was an unspoken acceptance of a school of thought that said that art, music and culture were not legitimate professional paths for people to take and make a good living. When I moved here, naturally I wanted to change that in the environment I lived in and I think I did," she says, adding that there has indeed been a positive shift in the way indie music in India is perceived today.

Much of Dogra’s music is culled out of poetry (she was a performance poet in New York) and that changes things a little, she believes. “As artists, we are in the business of creating but we also need to survive and thrive," she says. “You constantly have to dance with the devil to create the art you really want to make. The concessions I am willing to make to chisel out aspects of my identity are far less than what many other popular artists are willing to make. I will never make an item song, for instance."

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