Diva Dhawan: I don’t think I am ‘the diva’ that people think
'I am really grateful that I got to help the fashion industry transition and be a part of the transformation'
- Published 24.03.20, 12:40 AM
- Updated 24.03.20, 12:40 AM
- 6 mins read
She comes across as sure-footed with a certain spark. In fact, sparkling describes her best. From her happy grin to her celebration of all things natural. Supermodel Diva Dhawan. Yes, like you and me, she too loves her morning coffee and me time. A chat.
How are you so stunning?
(Laughs) Oh my god! I don’t know... Adriana Lima once said when someone once asked her ‘What is it that you do to get these looks?’... she just said: ‘I have to thank my mom and dad’. So, I have to thank my mom and dad. My parents are Indians; I was born and brought up in New York and I studied fashion merchandising from FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology, New York). So, I started working in the fashion industry when I was super young. I came to India, entering the modelling world at 16-17, when modelling wasn’t even considered a proper career in India. It was quite a groundbreaking moment for someone who knew that they wanted to be in this industry and wanted to have their roots in India, but also wanted to do something in New York. It was a great way to start because India was just in the midst of a transition, around 2006-2007.
I have kind of slowed down on the modelling front now. I don’t do shows any more. I try and focus more on hosting, emcee work, working with brands that I can be a brand ambassador of. On a personal level, with a lot of designers or brands, the companies that are growing and I have got a chance to work with... it gives me a one-on-one experience and relationship with them. And, for anyone following me on social media, any brand that I endorse or talk about, I think it’s more real, knowing that I am using these products.
I just finished my first south film called Vaazhl. I never wanted to be an actor or be in Bollywood. I respect it, but I feel it’s not for me. This film called out to me because the language barrier wasn’t such an issue... I think in south India, they are a little more flexible with their dubbing. From the storyline, I think in south India they are really speaking up, giving women the centre stage.
Vaazhl translates into life and it is life journey of real things that happen to real people and the questions and doubts that you have. And, I came in as a super strong character. I had no make-up in the film. I didn’t even have a make-up artist. I enjoyed it because someone looked at me and said, ‘We are going to grunge you up... you do your thing’. I played the guitar, had dreadlocks and I smoked cigarettes. It really put me out of my comfort zone.
Who named you ‘Diva?’
My mom. Seriously, she named me after a French perfume because she loved the name and I was gifted that perfume when I was born. I don’t think she realised the definition of what it was going to turn into in the ’90s, when I was born, when Mariah Carey and Beyonce all came around as the VH1 divas. I think that’s how it started. Unfortunately, I cannot sing for the life of me and I think with this name, I should have a little more attitude. It’s funny! I resonate with my name when I want to throw a tantrum but otherwise I don’t think I am ‘the diva’ that people think.
(When I wake up), I feel like a stretch-y, snoozy person, who needs to tie her hair up in a bun and needs three cups of coffee to function. I definitely have my moments. I think I feel like a queen when I accomplish something. My name is just a name for me. I don’t think it defines who I am as much as it is such a defining name. It’ll lead me to things that are meant to be.
The journey so far has been...
Super exciting. I am really grateful that I got to help the fashion industry transition and be a part of the transformation. We’ve become more outspoken, daring with the things we want to do. We trust in ourselves more. We don’t look to the West. We don’t look for international things and try and copy that. We have our own designs and ideas and we are giving more and more people... young people... a chance. There is room for everyone now and that was really important.
I started out at a time when girls who were born and brought up in India had to lie to their parents to become a model or enter the industry because it wasn’t accepted as a career. Luckily, my parents fully supported me. Side by side, I studied. What this has taught me is there is nothing you can’t do once you have set your mind to it. I remember how stubborn I was... I will do this... I will study... I will work. I am a workaholic. It wasn’t normal for a 16-year-old to want to work so much. I was travelling all the time and I put everything on line... my friends, my family. I feel I have missed out on a lot of my teenage years wanting to work, but I wouldn’t change that for a second. You have to sacrifice to get where you want to.
Why do you think we don’t have big names any more in modelling?
I don’t know. I have been trying to ask myself this. I think it’s the pros and cons of expansion in any industry... the influx of the good and bad. I am not saying those people are bad, but it’s easier to get lost in a crowd because we have option of talent. I think that’s why it’s important to find what works for you... Also, it’s our generation. We look at something and we forget it.
You need to first look out for yourself and not crave the spotlight. When I started, I was told that modelling was a temporary industry. We all know that. It is about your face but that doesn’t mean you can’t transition. There are people who still shoot covers and endorse brands at 50 and 60... you have the examples of Naomi Campbell who still walks the ramp.
I am so happy for the girls who take over... it’s only natural... I don’t want to look tired when I am doing something. If I had to mentally make a checklist of designers I want to work with, brands I want to endorse, TV commercials that I would like to do... I am done. Everything else that comes my way, I’ll be grateful for it, but I am not hungry for more... in a desperate way. I don’t need to chase the thing that’s not mine any more.
I started my own business last year with two of my friends and it’s an eco-conscious fashion, luxury life cycle... so we sell previously owned luxury goods. It’s an e-commerce platform... VRTT vintage. For me, I am very used to shopping vintage items... pre-loved goods, because in America it is not something to look down on. In India there is still a concept that you need to own something brand new in order for it to be luxurious.
You were saying you like people who keep it real...
You can see it even if you don’t know them personally.... Cindy Crawford, Naomi I would say... Adriana Lima... Alessandra Ambrosio... basically the original Victoria’s Secret girls. Candice Swanepoel... oh my god, I love her! She started out when she was so young. She is a mother now of two kids. She is beautiful, so real.
What are your top tips for girls who want to take up modelling?
Firstly, find out your strengths because modelling obviously has different sectors. Are you better with shoots or shows... Indianwear, westerwear... what’s your body type like.... that doesn’t mean if you are better at shooting westernwear, you will not shoot Indianwear... it will be a weakness that you will have to pay attention to and work on.
Take natural photos. You don’t have to invest in paying a photographer so much money. May be just get your friend... white walls, natural light, tank top, jeans... take the most raw, natural photos of you in your most comfortable state... submit that to an agency.
Also, don’t give up. I got denied so many times. It was either height issue or they didn’t understand Indian skin tone back then... I would have to go to castings and lie about being Indian. I think now people are more accepting. You can’t get discouraged quickly. Rejection is good. You have to get used to it. This industry is like ‘reject nation’. They reject you before they accept you.
What would you tell all the girls reading this chat, about body positivity?
Obviously eating healthy and exercising... find something that you enjoy doing. Being in the fashion industry, you have to keep your skin clear and grooming is important. I wouldn’t say get too obsessed with it but I would say, understand your body type. Try and find a few days of the week when you give up some of your favourite foods. You can’t be greedy. It tastes so much better when you balance it.
Does social media affect you?
Not at all. No matter what you do, it is going to be wrong to someone. Just have fun with it. Of course it is important for work.