Nayanika Chatterjee: A Golden Girl’s Silver Jubilee

It's a fine December afternoon. Seated in a dressing room at Mumbai's JW Marriott Hotel, Nayanika Chatterjee is working on her base make-up for a fashion show rehearsal. To say that the leggy 5'11" model is a popular face in the industry would be an understatement. Chatterjee has been walking the ramp for as many as 25 years, a rare feat in the ageist landscape of Indian fashion. Her colleagues from the late '80s have long since moved on to other avenues: Marielou Phillips heads public relations and marketing for Chanel India, Ana Bredemeyer is a brand development consultant for the retail arm of Kohinoor Square, and Mehr Jessia Rampal runs a film production company with husband Arjun Rampal, to name a few. But Chatterjee's love affair with the runway continues, and she remains among the top choices for any big show in the country.

Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee says he is still under the spell of her "jawdropping beauty". "You don't book Nayana for a show; you book a star," he says. The couturier recalls the first time he set eyes on Chatterjee. It was his rite of passage into the fashion industry; he had gatecrashed Rohit Khosla's show at The Saturday Club in Kolkata in 1992. He was bowled over by the outfits, as by the poise of the model. "You can't be immune to the manner in which Nayana carries herself. Seven years after that show, in 1999, I made it a point to have her wear the finale garment at my NIFT (Kolkata) graduation show," he says.

The Bengali beauty was discovered in 1988 by a campus scouting team helmed by Jeannie Naoroji, better known as India's first fashion choreographer. Chatterjee was in the first year of college — St Xavier's College, Mumbai — when she was chosen to walk the ramp for the opening of a grand shopping complex at The Oberoi. The same year saw her model for couturier Tarun Tahiliani. Chatterjee's big moment came in February 1989 when she was picked by Pierre Cardin to walk in Delhi and Mumbai at the brand's first shows in the country. Soon after, she successfully auditoned for another French brand, Yves Saint Laurent. Pierre Cardin had asked her to join them as an in-house model, and YSL offered her the opportunity to move to Paris and train at Les Atelier. "I walked for both brands in India but chose to not go abroad because I wasn't sure about shifting base to France and staying on my own at that point of time. A news magazine, however, played up this bit and I had suddenly 'arrived' on the country's modelling scene," she says.

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