Men's style: three Indian male models who are walking the fashion ramps of Milan and Paris for LV, Prada, Valentino

Nineteen-year-old Tuhir Brahmbhatt and 17-year-old Amar Direnzo look like boys next door. They’re neither muscular nor the embodiment of Greek gods. Yet their luxuriant locks and razor-sharp features produce a compelling picture. And their suave moves make even a bland T-shirt look cool.

“Models can now be all types of people from different backgrounds, of different ages, with different looks…” —Amar Direnzo

It’s this innate talent that got Tuhir on the ramp for 164-year-old French luxury label Louis Vuitton, dressed in the couture house’s first ever African-American creative director Virgil Abloh’s streetwear-inspired creations. The same goes for Amar, who presented fashion provocateur and punk icon Vivienne Westwood’s creations, in addition to those of British menswear prodigy, Grace Wales Bonner. Clearly, the two of them represent something more than good ol’ good looks.

The golden age

(From left) Amar’s family moved to the UK when he was three. On Him: Shirt, Dhruv Kapoor; pants, Akaaro by Gaurav Jai Gupta. Tuhir was not interested in modelling. On him: Shirt, Dhruv Vaish; Overlay (outerwear) and pants, Akaaro by Gaurav Jai Gupta. Location courtesy: Vis À Vis Experience Centre, New Delhi
(Dolly Devi)

Why would Abloh, the most talked about designer of 2018, choose a boy from Ahmedabad to walk for his debut collection? Especially when the boy concerned once had no interest in fashion at all?

“Some long-lost friends, including some girls, have a new-found interest in me…”—Tuhir Brahmbhatt

“I wasn’t interested in modelling,” chuckles Tuhir. “But my uncle, Harshad, is a London-based stylist and producer, and his stories fascinated me enough to spark an interest in fashion. When he saw how tall I had grown (almost 6’3), he suggested that I try modelling. I wasn’t very good at my studies, so I thought I should definitely try.”

“When I was told that Louis Vuitton wanted to book me exclusively to debut for their show in paris, I was in total shock!” —Tuhir Brahmbhatt

Urged by that interest, Harshad helped Tuhir send his photographs to modelling agency Anima Creatives. “The very next day they called and asked me to come to Mumbai,” says Tuhir. “My first campaign was for Zara and my first show was for Louis Vuitton. So, I think I’m extremely lucky. I didn’t have to struggle at all.”

The call from LV was a huge surprise for Tuhir. “I was in London and I went to my agency for fresh digitals. When I got there, I overheard my managers telling a client over the phone that I would not be available tomorrow. And then they told me that Louis Vuitton wanted to book me exclusively to debut for their show in Paris! I was in total shock,” he exclaims.

Crossing borders

Tuhir knew that signing an LV show was a huge step in the world of fashion. “A couple of hip-hop artists like Kid Cudi were supposed to walk for the show too, so I knew it was a big deal,” he says. “I was pretty nervous at first and my agency gave me a few tips on how to walk. I also looked critically at campaigns and watched the documentary on Alexander McQueen to know more about the industry I was entering. And I met another Indian boy, Mustafa, who was also supposed to walk for the show. We started hanging out and became friends. After the rehearsal, I felt more confident. And, the music certainly helped. It gave me power,” he remembers, starry-eyed.

“I was scouted on Instagram, and I was 16 when I walked the ramp for Vivienne Westwood” —Amar Direnzo

Tuhir’s family and friends couldn’t have been happier for his accomplishments. “My mother is a single parent and she has always supported what I do. She was working as the general manager at a jewellery store and quit her job to become an anchor. She’s happy to see me succeed,” he says in what must be the understatement of the year. “My friends are really proud of me as well. They show my work to their acquaintances and that gets a little embarrassing at times. In fact, some long-lost friends (and girls) have a new-found interest in me and they want to meet me now.”

Amar’s mother is Indian while his dad is an Italian-American . On him: Shirt and shorts, Péro; shoes, Crocs. Tuhir (sitting) knew that signing an LV show was a huge step in the world of fashion. On him: Shirt and shorts, Péro; shoes, H&M
(Dolly Devi)

Unlike Tuhir, Amar’s family moved to the UK − the home of couturiers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen − at the age of three. The nation is divided today due to Brexit, but it is due to people like Direnzo that the British fashion industry seems seriously interested in Indian faces. Where, a decade ago, the fashion mags featured cover models like Kate Moss, Heidi Klum and Gisele Bündchen, now publications like Vogue and i-D showcase people like Neelam Gill, Bhumika Arora, Radhika Nair, Dipti Sharma, Komal Gajjar and Pooja Mor. Perhaps it’s the success of these Indian models that makes Amar almost unafraid of lending his own ideas to any project he undertakes. He knows his point of view counts.

“I told my parents about my modelling only after my first fashion week” —Amar Direnzo

“My dad, an Italian American, received a job offer in London, so we moved there,” says Amar, a West London boy with the ambition of creating a skateboarding community in India. “My mother is Indian. We visit Delhi frequently to see my grandparents and the family on my mother’s side. I was scouted on Instagram by an agency and because of my connections and frequent visits to India, my agency decided to pair me with Anima Creative. I was 16 when I went to my first casting and was chosen to do my first job for Vivienne Westwood – a real pleasure. I was extremely lucky and I learnt so much from it.”

Amar’s family, however, learned about his debut only after Fashion Week ended. “I thought they would erupt in anger, but to my surprise, they were really supportive,” he says. “I now understand that they want the best for me. My parents love it when I show them pictures. And they like the fact that I’m being exposed to what the real world will bring in later in life. My friends, on the other hand, didn’t believe that I was walking for big brands, so I stopped telling people about it. It’s a different story now, though.”

The new normal

Wise beyond their years and free of teenage angst, Tuhir and Amar understand the changes in the fashion industry

Wise beyond their years and free of teenage angst, Tuhir and Amar understand the changes in the fashion industry. “Casting agents are moving towards a unique look that draws people in. Models can now be all types of people from different backgrounds, different ages and different looks,” says Amar.

“My mother is a single parent and is happy to see me succeed” —Tuhir Brahmbhatt

Tuhir agrees. “Big muscles and classic looks were the only standard earlier. Now leaner guys with interesting features are getting opportunities. We’re moving away from clichés. If you’re a model, it doesn’t mean you have to work out every day. If you’re an Indian model, it doesn’t mean you can’t have international success. And if you’re skinny, that doesn’t mean you won’t be signed by the world’s top brands. I have always been myself and never worried about putting on a persona. There’s no point in changing yourself for anything,” he says.

Tuhir’s uncle, Harshad, is a London-based stylist and producer. His stories fascinated him enough to spark an interest in fashion. On him: Shirt and trousers, Rajesh Pratap Singh; shoes, Clarks
(Dolly Devi)

This is a striking statement in an industry that is fickle by definition. Styles must change and there’s no certainty that what’s hot today will continue to be hot tomorrow. But these young men are a testament to the cultural shift that has taken place on global runways: models from all ethnicities, sizes, ages and gender are being included in a larger social narrative that designers are trying to weave with their merchandise. Gone are the days when the ideals of beauty were stringently placed on two prerequisites – white and bulky. The standards for beauty cannot be homogenised anymore – it’s a celebration of all.

(From left) Tuhir walks for Louis Vuitton; Amar on the ramp for Vivienne Westwood; Mustafa in a Maison Valentino outfit

And who better to teach these lessons than our boys next door?

Hyderabad meets high fashion

His father’s failed ambitions of being a Bollywood star… two rejections at a modelling contest… a denied Schengen visa! The stepping stones that led to 21-year-old Mustafa DG becoming a successful int’l fashion model can be an inspiration to all

Mustafa DG was rejected twice from the auditions of Elite Model Look India
(Giuseppe Riserbato)

Hyderabad-based Mustafa DG was rejected twice from the auditions of Elite Model Look India in 2015 and 2016. But he still participated in the competition in 2017 – and won. “Everybody in my family is crazy for Bollywood. My dad always wanted to become an actor. In fact, he was offered a film, but my grandmother never told him about the offer letter and his dream was shattered. That’s why he wanted to live his dreams through me.”

The 21-year-old who has walked for Prada, Alexander McQueen and Maison Valentino, thought that he was too skinny to be a model. “Indian agencies wanted me to bulk up, so I focused on gaining weight. Now I know I don’t need to,” he says.

“I once wanted to be a pilot to travel the world. But when I saw a poster of British model David Gandy, I decided I’d rather model!” —Mustafa DG

While his career is the outcome of his father’s dreams, by now it’s his dream too. “I once wanted to be a pilot because I wanted to travel the world. But when I saw a poster of British model David Gandy, I decided I’d rather model. As a model, you live in the best hotels, travel everywhere and wear the most expensive clothes,” he exclaims.

Mustafa’s mentor, model and beauty pageant director Marc Robinson, had faith in him. “Mustafa comes from a humble background. He didn’t have a passport and getting his Schengen visa was difficult,” says Marc. “But a lot of modelling agencies and publications showed an interest in him. He has a unique face. As Milan’s a good market for menswear, we decided we’d pay his airfare and accommodation to convince Elite to sign him up. He’s done fantastic shows now and the world is truly his oyster.”

Marc Robinson is a former supermodel, choreographer and licencee of the Max Elite Model Look in India, which mentored Mustafa

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From HT Brunch, September 16, 2018

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First Published: Sep 15, 2018 21:01 IST

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