Naoroji, who was considered by many as the first lady of contemporary Indian fashion, passed away in Mumbai on Sunday night. Sujata Assomull speaks to industry stalwarts about her lasting legacy.
This past Sunday, the Indian fashion industry lost one of its makers. Jeannie Naoroji, was choreographer, model whisperer and mentor to many in the business of fashion . Speak to any model in the 1960’s, 1970s and 1980’s and they will tell you the woman running the show was the indefatigable Naoroji. Naoroji, who suffered a stroke three years ago, bowed out of the industry in the 90s, due to ill health, but her influence in fashion has been indelible.
Article by By Sujata Assomull | Vogue
Jeannie Naroji, shot for Vogue India, August 2009, by Farrokh Chothia
Shobhaa De, author, writer and former model, worked closely with Naoroji. Says De, “Jeannie understood fashion, lighting, music, choreography and pure theatre! Her shows were dramatic super productions that made stars out of “Jeannie’s Girls”, as we were called.”
“She really is someone whose work needs to be chronicled,” says former model Anna Bredmeyer.
Naoroji came into her own, during the time, when fashion shows were hosted by textile mills to showcase their latest fabrics. She worked closely with Bombay Dyeing, Calico Mills, and the country’s first fashion boutique Burlingtons, to put together these events that travelled across India and even abroad. The petite and curvy Naoroji, a trained ballet dancer, was known for her penchant for drama, managing to turn even the most basic fabric into a fantastical object of desire and creating India’s first crop of supermodels. When international names came to India, such as designer Pierre Cardin (in the mid 1980s), they turned to Naoroji to orchestrate their fashion shows.
Entrepreneur Sharmilla Khanna, was a leading model back in the 1990s, and reminisces fondly about working with Naoroji. “She was more than a choreographer, she was a mentor. I remember her house in Malabar Hill so well. Rehearsals would be held at her home, and she would cook these amazing lunches and give us advice to help us navigate our way in the industry.”
Choreographer Rasna Behl, winner of Femina Teen Princess India in 1968, joined Naroji as a young mother in the 1970’s to learn the production side. “While I was never in her shows as a model, I used to watch them and they were captivating. They were the reason I wanted to be in the industry.” Behl became the go to model coordinator for ramp, commercial and editorials in the 90’s when contemporary fashion was beginning to be taken seriously in India,
“I learnt everything I know from her,” adds fashion designer and film costumer, Neeta Lulla who started her career as an assistant to Naoroji. She remembers how the lively and stylish Naoroji picked her straight out of college. Naoroji would go on to attend many of Lulla’s shows as a guest and was happy to give her honest feedback. “She was the one who brought flair to Indian fashion. The shows she would put on at the Taj Mumbai or on luxury cruise ships that docked in the city were something India had never seen before.”
As independent fashion labels came into being in the late 1980s and early 1990s, her body of work became a reference point for fashion shows. In 1987, Satya Paul, launched his label and for the next few years, Naoroji, became a close adviser. Recalls Paul’s son, Puneet Nanda, “ She showed us the ropes. We were creating thematic collections with weaving and printing arts from around India. No other designer had done that yet, and we know, it would have never happened without her as a partner.”
Anaita Shroff Adajania who was the launch fashion director of Vogue India shot Naoroji for the August 2009 issue, which was dedicated to the Indian supers. “As the pioneer of runway shows she discovered and made the careers of so many of India’s top models, and the issue would have been incomplete without her. She brought love, professionalism and her own distinct style to fashion presentations in India and set the bar high for all that followed in her illustrious stylish footsteps.”
Naoroji’s funeral was a private affair held on Monday. She is survived by her son and daughter, Nadina and Nadish.