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The crown & after
April 08, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
The crown & after
Meher Castelino
 
India's first Miss India in 1964, Meher Castelino talks about her glamorous journey down the years from a beauty queen to a fashion journalist. Maybe I wanted to prove that models and beauty queens were much more than just clotheshangers. As a model I loved seeing my picture in the papers; as a journalist I wait to see my byline along with an article.
 
My life is divided into two parts – Meher Mistry the beauty queen and model, and Meher Castelino, the fashion journalist. Different people identify me by either one or both of these images.

As far back as I can remember, I loved to dress up and pose. As a cheeky seven-year-old, I wrapped cloth around in a stylish manner and pretended to pose for the camera. At 14, I dreamt of representing India and the dream came true in 1964 when Femina selected its first Miss India through a photographic contest and I was sent to the Miss United Nations Contest in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and the Miss Universe contest in Miami Beach, Florida. As I was a former Bharatnatyam and Kathak dancer, being on stage was not difficult; but being the first beauty contest winner organised by Femina, neither the magazine nor I knew what was to be done (no TV to give tips), so I had to think on my feet.

Ten beauties were shortlisted from 500 photographs from all over India and interviewed by the general manager of Times of India, PK Roy, and the editor of Femina, Dr KD Jhangiani (probably the only male editor of a woman's magazine). A photographic session in an evening gown, sari and swimsuit was mandatory for the selection. Grooming and wardrobe compilation was left to me – creatively and financially.
 
My return after the contest was lowkey, except for two articles in Femina, since mainline dailies including Times of India considered fashion and beauty too frivolous a subject amongst political and financial news.
 
I had a great 14-year stint as a model, catwalking in India and around the world. Our bunch was the pioneer in the profession, with just two choreographers organising all the shows, so it was one big family unlike now when competition is cut-throat. The title was a great door-opener for me but my family and friends kept me grounded, never allowing fame to get heady. As far as suitors were concerned, there were the usual starry-eyed ones who wanted to "know" a beauty queen, but my husband, Bruno, was not aware of my title or modelling background, till someone enlightened him when we were dating.
 
My love for fashion continued after I gave up modelling and shifted to designing for the export and local markets for 10 years. My move to fashion writer and critic happened gradually. As a model, I was interested in the journalists who came to interview me and maybe subconsciously I wanted to prove that models and beauty queens were much more than just clothes-hangers. I started by writing a humorous piece for Eve's Weekly in 1972, followed by a column in The Current Weekly from 1973 to 1980.
 
In 1984, I was offered the fashion editorship of GFQ (Gentlemen's Fashion Quarterly) and from then till today, I am a fulltime journalist having written for nearly 150 Indian and foreign publications and have often been credited with pioneering the concept of fashion journalism in India. Fortunately for me, I was able to make a smooth transition from the ramp to designing and finally journalism, all part of the fashion and the glamour world.
 
As a model, I got a lot of attention but that has not waned since as a fashion journalist, the spotlight is still switched on. The journey in both instances has been great with lots of memories and experiences. As a model I loved seeing my picture in the papers; as a journalist I wait to see my byline along with an article. I get a great feeling when I see models or designers whom I have predicted will do well, reaching the top.
 
With two books behind me – Manstyle published in 1987 and Fashion Kaleidoscope in 1994 – and awards from Kingfisher in 2001, the Young Environmentalists Trust and the BD Somani Institute of Fashion Technology in 2012, I am very happy with the way my career has progressed. To encourage rising fashion stars, I have instituted awards in two fashion schools – NIFT, Mumbai, and the Premlila Vithaldas Polytechnic, Mumbai – since 1995.
 
On the advisory board of several fashion institutes and as a visiting faculty and jury for many fashion schools, I am still interviewed and written about. As a fashion consultant, I have worked with some very interesting Indian and foreign companies, as well as been invited by foreign fashion organisers to report on fashion shows around the world.
 
The title made a difference and offered opportunities as it has done for many other winners, but I also feel it is the effort put in by some successful winners that has kept them in the limelight even after decades, while others have walked quietly into the sunset. How a woman uses the Miss India label depends on her since the crown is for a year, but the title remains forever!

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