HT Brunch Cover Story: Fashion’s first

Published on Sep 03, 2022 01:34 AM IST

India’s first fashion content creator Diipa Büller-Khosla & model Rahi Chadda on what it takes to be Indian and make it on the international stage

Diipa Büller-Khosla and Rahi Chadda are two Indian content creators who have made waves in the fashion world at large and continue to build on their million-plus following; Styled by Kay Ganesh; Creative director: Jiawa Liu; Hair stylist: Sara Bergantini at Fowler 35; Make-up artist: Sapnam Gurung; Producer: Michelle Ngadino; Photography assistant: Rhys Williams; Styling assistant: Tiolu Entian; Production team: Luana Machnitzki; Set design: Kate Sutton; Management: Kay Ganesh & Michelle Ngadino at Hypesight; Location courtesy: Corinthia Hotel, London; On Diipa: Catsuit by Dolce & Gabbana; Jewellery by Misho Designs; On Rahi: Full look by Gucci (Armand Da Silva)
Diipa Büller-Khosla and Rahi Chadda are two Indian content creators who have made waves in the fashion world at large and continue to build on their million-plus following; Styled by Kay Ganesh; Creative director: Jiawa Liu; Hair stylist: Sara Bergantini at Fowler 35; Make-up artist: Sapnam Gurung; Producer: Michelle Ngadino; Photography assistant: Rhys Williams; Styling assistant: Tiolu Entian; Production team: Luana Machnitzki; Set design: Kate Sutton; Management: Kay Ganesh & Michelle Ngadino at Hypesight; Location courtesy: Corinthia Hotel, London; On Diipa: Catsuit by Dolce & Gabbana; Jewellery by Misho Designs; On Rahi: Full look by Gucci (Armand Da Silva)
ByVidya PrabhuVidya Prabhu

Let me start with a confession. As someone who loves writing about fashion and still gives in to bouts of vanity with self-styled #OutfitOfTheDay posts on Instagram, I was unabashedly elated when my former boss phoned to ask if I wished to interview Diipa Büller-Khosla and Rahi Chadda, two Indian content creators who have made waves in the fashion world at large and continue to build on their million-plus following. After a resounding yes, I got down to work.

Looking up Amsterdam-based Diipa—who has graced the cover of HT Brunch in the past—was easy, since I was already familiar with her work. A lawyer-turned-fashion-creator-turned-beauty-entrepreneur, Diipa’s Instagram (1.8 million followers) is a window to her world; it also helps that she has been vocal about her personal highs and lows. However, Londoner Rahi Chadda’s social media presence (1.3 million followers) didn’t tell me as much about the man I was going to interview. For someone who made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 list earlier this year and is, in fact, the first brown ambassador for Dior Beauty, there’s not a lot of media buzz around him.

(Left to right) Diipa with a product from her own beauty line; with her daughter, Dua; on the Cannes red carpet in 2015; her husband, Oleg, touching her feet the day they got married
(Left to right) Diipa with a product from her own beauty line; with her daughter, Dua; on the Cannes red carpet in 2015; her husband, Oleg, touching her feet the day they got married

 Representation matters

At the interview itself, Diipa and Rahi get along like a house on fire.

Rahi is reserved (“I am a soloist,” he says at one point in the interview), but lapses into easy conversation with Diipa. This shouldn’t be surprising, for the two millennials have a lot in common. Besides being proud Indian content creators, they both studied law, are incredibly passionate about fashion and beauty, and have set-up their own brands.

Rahi clearly remembers meeting Diipa four years ago at an event in Dubai. “We met through a mutual friend. Diipa was already an established content creator. And shortly after I started my journey as a creator, I saw her face on a massive Maybelline hoarding at Piccadilly Circus in London. It was truly amazing to see a fellow South Asian own her heritage and do so without any Bollywood connection,” he recalls.

Diipa’s journey
Diipa’s journey

Diipa is quick to point out that it’s an absolute honour to represent India and South Asia in the larger fashion fraternity.

“There was a time when such an achievement would not have been possible. Sure, Indians today are excelling in all fields—technology, business, fashion. But it’s important to note that it took a while to get here. We have had to constantly fight to be taken seriously.”

Tips from the best
Tips from the best

She recollects instances when she was left out of fashion campaigns due to the colour of her skin. “As an Indian from India in Europe, I look and sound different. I have not been invited to fashion shows. I have not been picked for fashion campaigns. I have seen it all. When the campaigns I auditioned for and failed to get released, I’d look at everyone featured in it and I’d know the reason I wasn’t in it,” she shares.

Diipa’s initial struggles to make room for herself resonate with Rahi, who has modelled for leading international brands such as Dior, Gucci, Louis Vuitton along with Dior Beauty, Estee Lauder, and Maison Margiela Fragrances. In addition to colourism, content creators like him also had to deal with a lack of awareness.

Rahi says,“I think it’s crucial to surround yourself with the right people”; Outfit & sunglasses by Moschino; Shoes by Gucci (Armand Da Silva)
Rahi says,“I think it’s crucial to surround yourself with the right people”; Outfit & sunglasses by Moschino; Shoes by Gucci (Armand Da Silva)

Until a few years ago, modelling agencies would say that we do not have clients who’d appreciate your look. Also, the typical reaction to my profession used to be, ‘What does it mean to be a content creator?’ Today, this space has evolved tremendously and there are so many of us with our own niche,” asserts Rahi. 

Fighting stereotypes

Does this progress translate into a paradigm shift in the way Indians are being perceived in the West?

Rahi feels this is just the beginning and there’s a long way to go, since he still meets people who hold preconceived notions about Indians.

Rahi made the Forbes 30 under 30 list
Rahi made the Forbes 30 under 30 list

“For example, when I tell people in the UK that I am originally from India, they mention how dangerous and poor it is. There is definitely a strong need to educate the West about an India that’s more than these stereotypes,” he says.

In fact, this is one of the reasons that Diipa launched her beauty brand. “Indē Wild is the embodiment of Ayurveda and modern dermatology in a bottle. It is meant for today’s ambitious, educated, science-believing and career-oriented audience. I launched it to show what India can offer to the world and to have modern Indians appreciate and benefit from their own rich culture and history,” she explains.

Rahi has featured on the covers of Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and more, an uncommon feat for a South Asian model and creator
Rahi has featured on the covers of Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and more, an uncommon feat for a South Asian model and creator

As much as Diipa and Rahi must fight through stereotypes in Europe, they also come from places of privilege in India. So what role has privilege played in their journey to celebdom in the content creator world? Diipa acknowledges the education she received thanks to her parents’ sacrifices as the ultimate privilege and expresses her gratitude for it.

“I come from a middle class family that prioritised education above all else. Instead of buying a bigger house or another car, they put their money into our education, and my mother even took out a loan and put her jewels into bank custody so we could study abroad. That is a privilege I do not take lightly,” she replies.

Rahi’s journey
Rahi’s journey

Hailing from a family of business people, Rahi is not quite as forthcoming about finances, but does emphasise the role his team has played in getting him where he is today.

“I credit my modelling agency for bringing me this far; they have guided me and directed me each step of the way and helped me add to my work profile. I think it’s incredibly crucial to surround yourself with the right people,” he muses, adding that his learnings from his early experiences—he launched a beauty clinic in London at just 21—also taught him a lot about naïveté and growing up. 

Rahi has featured on the covers of Elle
Rahi has featured on the covers of Elle

Advice to aspirants

Given his past experiences, the now 29-year-old Rahi has lots of advice for modelling aspirants—especially young men—given the fashion industry’s notoriety for pay discrimination. “I’d say one has to be sensible about one’s decisions because like it or not, you can’t have it all. You have to work hard and be disciplined—there are no shortcuts,” he says.

Diipa says, “Indians today are excelling in all fields—technology, business, fashion. But it’s important to note that it took a while to get here. We have had to constantly fight to be taken seriously”; Full look by Moschino (Armand Da Silva)
Diipa says, “Indians today are excelling in all fields—technology, business, fashion. But it’s important to note that it took a while to get here. We have had to constantly fight to be taken seriously”; Full look by Moschino (Armand Da Silva)

Diipa, meanwhile, warns against reading too much into criticism. “I am all for it if it’s constructive feedback. But if there’s anything motherhood has taught me, it’s to have a thick skin. I am a goal-oriented person fuelled by the pressure my work comes with,” she says matter-of-factly. 

With our interview now drawing to an end, I give in to my urge to quiz them both about that much sought-after goal among today’s fashion and lifestyle content creators: a Bollywood career.

Rahi says, “I saw her [diipa’s] face on a massive hoarding at Piccadilly Circus in London. It was truly amazing to see a fellow South Asian own her heritage and do so without any Bollywood connection”; On Diipa: Outfit by AMI Paris; Glasses by David Beckham; On Rahi: Full look by AMI Paris; Jewellery by Misho Designs (Armand Da Silva)
Rahi says, “I saw her [diipa’s] face on a massive hoarding at Piccadilly Circus in London. It was truly amazing to see a fellow South Asian own her heritage and do so without any Bollywood connection”; On Diipa: Outfit by AMI Paris; Glasses by David Beckham; On Rahi: Full look by AMI Paris; Jewellery by Misho Designs (Armand Da Silva)

But neither of them wants it. Diipa comes right out and says it: she’s not cut out for it. “I would rather pursue something I am good at and passionate about. Fashion and beauty is a language I speak, so when it came to setting up my brand, I was driven by a hunger for knowledge, which in turn made me learn about inventory, marketing, PR, talking to venture capitalists and raising money, and so on. At 32, I don’t see myself becoming the best Bollywood actress. There could be something happening on the big screen for me, but it won’t be Bollywood. But I know Rahi is taking acting lessons!” 

Rahi has a good explanation for his acting lessons and Bollywood does not feature in it. “In my creative journey, I spend a lot of time learning how to master the art of the aesthetic. My acting lessons help me step out of my comfort zone and channel my creativity better; they help me become a different version of me,” he clarifies just before our interview ends. 

Social media musings
Social media musings

My biggest takeaway from the interaction as I started writing this story is: never mind the glamour that comes with it, the job of a fashion content creator is not for the faint-hearted. It is a lot of work, and even more for those who missed being a part of the first wave. So, I am going to stick to this side of the camera—save for a smattering of vanity posts—pen (or phone) in hand for my next story, even as I root for Diipa and Rahi making their mark on the world’s fashion landscape. 

From HT Brunch, September 3, 2022

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