The Shy Girl Who Became a Swan

It was a very cold month of December in 2003. An odd time to organise a modelling contest but in Chandigarh the 'Ayur Face of the Year' was already rolling out sub-contests with 19 contestants from Punjab and Himachal Pradesh. Among them was a girl with a cherubic face and long, unusually curly mane. Kangna Ranaut was the small-town girl from Manali, Himachal Pradesh, who had just finished her high school from DAV School in Chandigarh's Sector 15. Shy but not an introvert, Ranaut grabbed eyeballs when she stepped out for the "swimsuit round" in a two-piece with a printed sarong stylishly wrapped around, her own addition to the look. "She was very confident and determined to make her mark," recalls the show's organiser Sunil Bansal, who also runs Studio Model Creators, a Chandigarh-based modelling and event management company. Ranaut went on to bag the first runner-up title. She would have been the winner but for her diction.

Back home in Manali, the victory made her an overnight star, though not many were surprised. Known for her zany style, Ranaut has always loved dressing up. "People often considered my dress sense unique, sometimes outrageous. I think true style is all about knowing yourself. One should never get carried away by a brand name. Instead, they should focus on understanding what works for them, what mood they are in, what the occasion is, what suits them physically and so on," says she.

Today, those words are Ranaut's style bible. She has a quirky, almost non-Bollywood take on personal style: she likes to shock and awe with her choices. Remember her recent Audrey Hepburn-inspired look at the Diane Von Furstenberg party in Mumbai, where she wore an LBD paired with a vintage pearl choker and those famous fringes? Designer and stylist Rajat Tangri, who was with her that evening, says, "The look was her idea. She loves the classic look of the '60s and '70s but has her own take." She also turned heads when she arrived for actors Genelia and Riteish Deshmukh's wedding reception wearing a midriff-baring Sabyasachi lehenga with a Grecian headband. "Kangna is one of the few Bollywood actresses who choose to experiment with clothes and make-up all the time," says Tangri, who is currently working with Kangna on her upcoming films Queens and Shootout at Wadala.

Now, Ranaut has even embraced luxury brands. Her presence at the unveiling of Tod's signature collection for Autumn-Winter 2012/13 at the Italian Embassy in Paris last month speaks for her fashionable arrival. Dressed in a knee-length warm chocolate coloured suede coat with black tights and pumps, she carried the brand's envelope clutch in yellow, which added a dash of colour.

Associated with Kangna for some time, designer and stylist Gavin Miguel feels she is the only person he knows who can truly carry off anything and make it look good. "In the last few months, she has evolved even further and she would be the right choice to be showcased internationally," says Miguel.

Her early start with the Elite School of Modelling in Delhi, say fashion insiders, helped Ranaut "fine tune" her sartorial choices, both on-screen and off it. The actor admits she's closest in terms of personal style to her character in Tanu Weds Manu. "Even though it's a different look I sport, Tanu is like me ó her skirt is from Delhi, her kurti from Lucknow and aviators are a gift from an uncle in London. It's what I would call contemporary," says Ranaut.

For someone who loves "Chanel, D&G and Moschino" and is known to shop both at high-end and streetside stores in the US and Bangkok, she will continue to shine on the fashion radar in her own fashion.

(With inputs from Dipti Nagpaul-D'souza)

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