India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Cover Story
April 16, 2018

More Than A Muse: Lisa Haydon

Text by Shubham Ladha. Photographed by Taras Taraporvala. Styling by Nikhil D. Assisted by Yvonne Monteiro and Mridu Gupta. Make-up by Vardan Nayak. Hair by Clover Wootton

As one of the first Indian supermodels on the global stage, Lisa Haydon has conquered catwalks, covers, campaigns and celluloid. In the digital age, however, she finds that the business of fashion is rather changed…

It’s a pleasantly sunny day as she drives herself into the studio compound. Stepping out of the car, she has everyone’s attention instantaneously. Her platinum hair shines like a beacon in the sunlight, dazzling me.

Lisa Haydon is cool, calm and composed; she walks into the studio and greets everyone amicably, even asking my name a second time in the midst of all the commotion. Although here only for a day, she is in no rush and remains effortlessly charming. The way she’s dressed is an extension of her easy-going persona; a loose, plain black T-shirt is tucked into black, lightweight leather shorts paired with grey sneakers.

I ask her if she feels any pressure to dress fashionably. She says, “Not at all. I like very basic things. I prefer to wear a lot of black. I get criticised for it, but I don’t care. It’s who I am. I’m not super fashion-obsessed, even though I work in this industry. I have an appreciation for designers and clothes but it’s not something I wake up in the morning and think about. When I come to work, that’s the time to experiment.”

From campaigns and covers to the silver screen, and back on our TVs every week with the second season of Top Model India, Lisa has come a long way since she started out in 2007. “My main struggle was nervousness and lack of experience; and confidence is something one cultivates over time. One tries to become better by understanding and reading fashion magazines, seeing what designers are making….”

As she is being taken through the shoot’s brief, mood board and clothes, I notice her palpable sense of curiosity. She has a keen eye and is trying to understand the theme cohesively. I can see that apart from being a pivotal part of the visuals, she wants to be intrinsically involved in the process; perhaps a sign of how much she has grown in the business.

It has been a little over a decade since she began, and one of the biggest changes that’s taken place in her life is motherhood. In a way, she is perhaps not very different from Vijayalakshmi, the free-spirited working mother portrayed by her in Queen (2014), sans being single, of course. On how it’s changed her, she says, “Being a mom has enriched my life in every imaginable way. I think there’s an element of being a mother where I do want a life that’s calm, away from any pressure or spotlight. But it’s also a time and an age when we’re not restricted. We don’t have to just go home and settle down because we’ve become parents. We can still go to work and have equal opportunities to express ourselves freely.”

The trajectory of her professional life has transformed too, especially with the advent of social media. It’s evident by the route Lisa had opted for to share the news of her pregnancy — via a picture on Instagram which quickly went viral. Due to the internet, geographical boundaries have been blurred to form a hyper-connected audience. Thanks to its lightning speed, ever-changing trends are now available at the tap of a finger. Clothes that took six months to appear on store racks can nowadays be bought immediately and in an instant. When Lisa put up a snippet of her Top Model India ad campaign — a reality TV show she’s hosting and judging — it garnered almost 200 times the views on her own page than on the show’s Instagram account. That’s the power of being relevant on such interactive digital platforms. For the supermodel, her supersized following can be attributed to her personality, fashion expertise and down-to-earth attitude.

At lunch, I am pleasantly surprised. Lisa is happy to eat the same meal as the rest of the crew while one would expect most models to stick to strict diets. It’s rare to find models comfortable with just any food, especially because they are in a business that runs largely on imagery.

Once she’s changed and ready, she’s uninhibited in front of the camera. Owing to her cultivated set of skills, everyone in the studio is captivated by every flip of her luminous, platinum hair. One can imagine her walking out of the theatre screen as a femme fatale from a neo-noir Hitchcock film.

Lisa says, “Models now have a voice and we express ourselves. It’s been interesting to watch how the ‘celebrity’ status has shifted even from actors and sportspersons to social media stars. People are using their voices and creativity and are expressing themselves individually on these platforms. In today’s day and age, it’s all about authenticity, one’s own voice and what one can bring to the table.”

The world truly is a stage online, and how one puts oneself out on it matters. There’s a new pool of talent waiting to be heard and discovered every split second. Lisa says, “I don’t think there’s any pressure on models to be influential on social media, but being influential comes from stepping away from a casting panel to a much larger audience. As opposed to fashion editors, what the audience actually likes is the person.”

One important aspect of the online space is how it grants the users the avenue through which to express themselves. Models are easy targets of cyberbullying. Lisa has had to deal with body shaming. “I think a lot of people are speaking up against bullying and a plethora of issues to do with women. Social media also gives us the opportunity to speak out about issues that are taboo to talk about. I think it also gives the audience a direct opportunity to speak their truth.” As for all the negativity that floats around on it, Lisa lets it ricochet off her. “A huge number of people go on someone’s profile and write negative comments. I know this from my own Instagram account; most are nice, but some are nasty, and so I just delete them.”

The interweb has also opened up a completely new highway of conducting business, especially at an individual level. The industry is so heavily visual that applications like Instagram can almost act as public portfolios for models. “I think models have definitely learned to use social media to display their work and the fact that they are busy working…that’s a big thing in this business. There are people who want to be models and actors, but they don’t get the opportunity. It’s fortunate that I get to sit here, give this interview and be on the cover of this magazine. It’s important to constantly put one’s work out there. That acts as one’s PR, one’s mood board to show potential clients, editors and designers what one does.”

She is just as planned as she’s spontaneous. Between every outfit change and shoot, she has a peep at how the photos have turned out. What perhaps concerns her more is about being able to express the theme rather than just look good. This leads to discussions about what she likes, what she doesn’t and what she could do better. Alongside, she’s happily improvising and brainstorming ideas, and even dancing to the music on set. “We may not always get to do the things we believe in. Sometimes you do a job, because a job is a job and sometimes you get to do something you’re really passionate about. It’s all part of the game. It’s been a little bit of both for me,” she says.

The pace of social networking portals has made it even more important to keep oneself from being banal. Digital celebrities today are gathering a cult following of their own, and no action goes unnoticed. Even the tiniest ripple can cause a wave of opinions. In many ways, this becomes a chance for that celebrity to reinvent oneself and one’s brand. I asked Lisa about whether her decision to change her hair colour was along similar lines. She says, “I just felt like doing something new and radical. It was actually suggested to me and I thought that this is the right time to do it. As for rebranding myself, I don’t think that deeply into things. A lot of people plan their careers quite carefully but this was just a very instinctive desire to do something different. If it came across as rebranding, I think that’s good. Why not?” Tina Tahiliani Parikh of Ensemble says, “If Lisa felt like changing her hair colour, more power to her! That’s great! But is it necessary to rebrand oneself in the race to stay relevant? I don’t think so….”

Lisa has experimented with business ventures too. In 2012, she collaborated with designers for Sher Singh Chauhan and in 2013, she started her own organic skincare brand called Naked. “I think if one wants to have longevity of future business, it becomes necessary to venture out. Most of the models who have gone on to become legends have always had a different perspective. There is a certain number of years after which one moves on to other things in life and if they aren’t things that necessarily grab a PR spotlight, then I guess one stops being a public figure.”

Continuing in the same vein, she says, “A person’s identity evolves over time; one may start out as crazy wild, but become sophisticated. An identity shift definitely happens.” In the time she’s spent in the fashion business, Lisa’s been a bohemian, travelling all over the world where work might take her. She’s amassed so many accolades, we can’t help asking her if she regards her work as art. She says, “My work and my art can sometimes be two different things. I try and put all of my heart into my work. There’s a time when it all becomes a symphony and it fits together and that doesn’t happen on every job. There are very rare instances where my art just comes through, and on days when it does, it feels really good.

In 2011, a comprehensive study conducted about the weight of the internet claimed that it was only as heavy as a plump strawberry. Today, Lisa, more so with her talent than riding the digital wave, has acquired a juicy bite of it, with champagne on the side, I’m sure.

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