Young Marc Robinson loved to travel the world, saving up every dime, as a masters student at the Delhi School of Economics in the late ’80s.
But it was the duty-free shops in New York and Amsterdam that had him mesmerised. The brand stores had riveting models in neon, with red lips, piercing eyes and scruffy beards, selling not just a product but the idea of perfection. Those images never left his mind, they lingered, like the fragrance of the perfume in those travel kits.
“These gorgeous faces were the soul and essence of the products. I remember Cindy Crawford’s iconic Pepsi ad of 1992. It seared the cola culture in our consciousness… I was starstruck by Naomi Campbell too, how she made everything so desirable,” says Marc, 58, one of India’s early supermodels.
He too, loved dressing up. He would be immaculately turned out for Sunday mass, in a suit that compelled his neighbours in Vasant Vihar to call him the Raymond man, then a hallmark brand of menswear. Marc is now a pageant director and talent-grooming expert, curating international fashion weeks. “Supermodels were born out of a brand’s assertion.
They built global loyalists with their beauty, charisma, unattainable perfection and sex appeal. In those early years after-liberalisation, when “made in India” was yet to be a keystone in image building, Marc, with others, were crafting this idea on the modelling scene.
“I remember bumping into designer Rohit Khosla and model Mehr Jessia at the airport, sometime in 1990. Rohit, who was a true creative spirit, referred me to photographer Prabuddha Dasgupta, who was then a copywriter and twiddling with the camera for fun.
The crossover also meant that pageant winners, following the footsteps of 1994’s Miss Universe Sushmita Sen and Miss World Aishwarya, made a beeline for Bollywood.
“Modelling is now just a bridge for getting to Mumbai from a Tier II or Tier III city, even to featuring in a serial or OTT show,” says Marc.
Of course, big designers like Tarun Tahiliani, Rohit Bal and Sabyasachi still rely on supermodels to do their talking on the ramp, but at a time, when social-media following is everything, Nayanika says, “My 33 years of work translate into 7,000 odd followers, while a newcomer with three-lakh followers decides market value. How do you rate experience?”