Text by Shefali Kulkarni, a
24-year-old student at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia
University. She is concentrating in Digital Media -
Photos by Jehangir Irani is a former pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s now a broadcast student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism - ji2168[at]columbia.eduSouth Asian Women's Leadership Forum, could count on one hand the number of men in the audience at the first Women in Fashion panel discussion at the Asia Society on Park Avenue. "I'm still impressed," she said.
Friday's panel hosted by SAWLF and Asia Circle brought fashionistas, boasting rich pashmina scarves, bold autumn-colored dresses, and sassy rain boots--to accommodate the poor weather.
Panelists included jewelry designer Rosena Sammi; New York Post fashion writer Raakhee Mirchandani; and Mili Dutt, manager in sales forecasting, new products and leather goods at Louis Vuitton.
(from left) Mili Dutt, Simi Ahuja, Raakhee Mirchandani, Rosena Sammi, and Manjula Charles, head of the Women in Fashion Committee at SAWLFIn a culture dominated by engineers and medical professionals, the three women spoke about the slow and steady stream of South Asians in the fashion industry. All three mentioned Naeem Khan and Rachel Roy as some of the designers who broke through the barriers of the fashion industry. But they also agreed that there are cultural setbacks that prevent India from becoming the new Italy. "I think it's going to be difficult to make that New Delhi-New York transition," said Mirchandani. "The best thing about India is its infinitely flexibility, and I don't think that could translate here." Though Mirchandani, clad in black and white leopard printed t-shirt from Gwen Stefani's Lamb collection, urged the audience to push for more South Asian fashion, "If you see a 'Made in India' label, don't say 'I can get it cheaper in India,' buy it here, it starts with you guys."
While the jewelry business works differently than clothing, Sammi said there is still a major push to get more South Asian designs into the public eye. Sammi is of Sri Lankan decent but was born and raised in New Zeland. Her work is primarily constructed in India and she draws upon Indian artwork and design for her inspiration. Sammi worked as a lawyer while taking night classes at the Parsons School of Design in New York before shifting gears as a full-time jewelry designer. Her pieces were showcased in Harper's Bazaar, Glamour and Lucky magazines, and on a segment on CNN International. The mom-to-be, sporting an arm full of her designer golden bracelets, said that New York is still the staple of fashion, even as India emerges onto the fashion scene. "I don't think a lawyer could be a jewelry designer anywhere else but in this city," she said.
Dutt focuses on the business aspect of fashion for Louis Vuitton. She travels across the country routinely to find products, styles and designs to incorporate into the brand. She was appropriately wearing a Louis Vitton mauve dress, knee high black suede boots from their shoe collection, but admitted that she bought her leggings at Express. After graduating from Columbia Business School, Dutt knew she wanted to work in the fashion business. "I could be doing the same thing selling soap," she said. "But I'm selling handbags and clothing."
Among the audience members included freelance textile designer, Sheena Sood, and Joya Dass, freelance reporter and former business reporter for Eyewitness News. Dass has been fundraising for several months for her trip to India to document rural heath care. She leaves next week with a team of six to create a documentary about Sankara who was ready to head to India next week to film a documentary on rural health care in India. "We are going to be out in the sticks, giving people health care when they need it most," she said. Dass plans to put on a fashion show when she returns as another means of fundraising, but "it's just a germ of an idea right now."
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