Saira Mohan is one of the top models in the world. Half Indian and Half Irish-French, Saira has been incredibly successful in the world of modeling and fashion. Newsweek magazine recently called her the "new global standard of beauty". Apart from being a model, Saira is an entrepreneur, an aspiring actress and a painter. Remarkably versatile and astute, Saira shares thoughful and passionate opinions on aesthetics in the context of culture, fashion and society in this interview.
CB: Your looks have been described as 'exotic.' What do you consider to be exotic? Does it have to do with the person you are as much as what you look like?
SM: 'Exotic' has a pretty standard definition in the West, meaning being "from another part of the world". This explanation seems to be good regarding everything from women to fruit. So, it is not subjective to say that my looks are exotic from a western perspective. When I am in India, I can also look "exotic" to the locals - only this time, it is my very light skin rather than my very dark complexion that seems to make the label make sense. People see what they want to see. This label can be placed without ever knowing my name, therefore, it wouldn't make any sense for me to think that my looks have anything whatsoever to do with the woman that I am inside. Personally speaking, I consider anything new to be exotic. "New" is incredibly exciting.
CB: Is there a difference between beauty and fashion? What do you think is beautiful? What do you think is good fashion?
SM: 'Beauty' is merely a reflection of someone's own aesthetic values-whereas 'fashion' is the canvas of the designer. If that designer creates a piece that I aesthetically value or appreciate, that canvas or fashion will seem beautiful to me. However, that very same aesthetic value might not be a value for the same person next to me. So, "bad fashion" doesn't really exist anymore than bad art does. The more fashion appeals to people's common aesthetic-at-large, the more popular it will be. Just because I may see something on a runway that I'd never wear in public simply means that such a piece isn't part of my personal, aesthetic value system. But, as soon as that piece finds someone who values it, it will become beautiful.
CB: You left home at 15 and traveled the world as a model. How did exposure to so many different countries and cultures shape your world-view and yourself as an individual?
SM: You've touched on something that has been important to me. I have traveled the world so very many times over -- and during the process have had to question and rethink my very staunchest beliefs on so many things. I am not big on opinions. I trust my eyes and my experiences - and to have the opportunity to "see how things are for myself" is a blessing and a curse simultaneously.
I sometimes feel like Neo, from The Matrix, having the wires ripped out of my head and rearranged to take in "the real world". Like Neo, who found the initiation of that process to be confusing and, at times, downright painful, I can relate. Growing up for me has hinged on this process-always putting life's questions back in my lap. Can I handle the truth that my eyes and experiences are telling me about life? Can I learn to have an open mind, to change deeply held beliefs if need be? At some point, they had to accept that the earth was round, didn't they?
To read the full interview, please look for our forthcoming issue of SWAY magazine.