Once Upon A Time In The East: Freida Pinto

BY Emily Baxter / Jun 1 2014 / 19:37 PM

Dressed to frill in Dubai, Freida Pinto talks to Bazaar’s Emily Baxter about high fashion, Middle Eastern sensibilities, and keeping up with King Karl

Once Upon A Time In The East: Freida Pinto

On September 7, 2008, as the red carpet was being rolled out for the Toronto International Film Festival, an unknown Indian first-time actress was backstage prepping for her first premiere, completely unaware of the impact the next few hours – and the dress she was wearing – would have on her life. Up until this point, Freida Pinto was a model in Mumbai, a bit-part actress (think Wrigley’s, Visa and DeBeers adverts), and an aspiring auteur fantasising about the day her countless audition rejections would metamorphose into a creditable career. Plucked from obscurity to take the lead female role in 2008’s runaway success story Slumdog Millionaire, and choosing the perfect dress to ring in the film’s – and Freida’s – first red carpet premiere six years ago, dreams became reality. But what dress do you wear to your most pivotal, professional and sartorial appearance thus far? If you’re Freida Pinto, Chanel, of course. “The Chanel PR for India was on a shoot in Brooklyn with me about a month before the premiere,” Freida explains. “She asked what I was up to and when I said just a little indie film called Slumdog Millionaire directed by Danny Boyle, her eyes went really wide!” she laughs. “I didn’t know what I was going to wear for the premiere, and thought I’d just look for a dress, but then she said, ‘Why don’t you wear Chanel?’ I thought it was going to be one of those things that fashion people just say, but then a week before Toronto, she rang me and was like, ‘Why didn’t you call me back, I said I want to dress you up in Chanel!’ It was my first premiere and nobody knew who I was, so apart from some Indian designers, nobody wanted to dress me. Why would they, I was a newcomer. But guess what? Chanel dressed me! It was amazing that the brand believed in me, and I felt very, very lucky. If you wear Chanel to a premiere, you feel like you’ve kinda made it.”

Freida Pinto in Chanel

Top; necklace, Dhs6,644, both Chanel Paris-Dallas Métiers d'Art collection

With a film that went on to win over 120 awards (including a BAFTA nomination for Freida as Best Supporting Actress), the fi lm industry’s love affair with Freida began. And with an asymmetric, dark blue, bow-detail dress from one of the world’s most eminent fashion houses, Freida’s love affair with Chanel also began. Fast forward to last month, when King Karl presented his 2014/15 cruise show against Dubai’s megalopolis skyline, it stood to reason that Freida would be in tow. Dressed in a white ruffled crop top and tiered printed skirt from Chanel’s Paris-Dallas Métiers d’Art pre-fall collection, which arrives in stores this month, hair braided with a golden headpiece, she looked every inch one of Lagerfeld’s darlings. Of the show, in its mashrabiya-inspired setting, she describes it as “extravagant and cinematic. But Karl would never do something that is simple. He believes in grandeur and every show he’s done so far has been grand. I loved how he created the clothes for the culture of the UAE; that for me is truly being able to connect with the land that hosts you, and in that sense he did an amazing job.

The clothes, the jewellery… The sequins and intricate embroidery are always my favourite, but I do also love the very casual pieces, like the harem pants and cropped tops. It’s hard to pick a favourite – I want that one, that one and that one,” she laughs, mentally cherry picking her new season wardrobe. “I also thought what he did with the abaya was phenomenal, and very creative.” Freida is no stranger to the UAE shores or to the stylistic rules of this region. Having attended numerous film festivals in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, filmed Black Gold in Qatar back in 2011, and invested in a “very cool, black, sequinned abaya from an up-and-coming designer” last time she was in the capital, the actress is well versed in Middle Eastern savoirfaire. “Every time I’ve been to Dubai, it’s been such a multi-cultural experience, and when you go to the film festivals you are literally immersed in the culture. So DIFF is always something I’ve looked forward to. It’s about being able to experience cross-cultural exchange. People might not think that it’s very open to different cultures here, but actually it is.” Sartorially speaking, she admires the region’s East-meets-West predilection. “Women here are very immersed in their fashion, and what’s the latest bag or shoe. They are incredibly stylish and I love the blending of the traditional and the modern, mixing and matching the two. I met Princess Deena [Abdulaziz] at the Chanel show, and she has such a cool haircut! It’s keeping up with tradition, culturally how they’ve been brought up, but also injecting a bit of modernisation into it as well. A haircut like hers would be just as cool in London or America, and she’s bringing it to the UAE.”

Freida Pinto in Chanel

Hat, Dhs6,241; bolero, Dhs114,016; bow, all Chanel Paris-Dallas Métiers d'Art collection

Freida’s own first foray into fashion, post Toronto Film Festival, was in 2009, when she sat alongside Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer and Lily Allen at Chanel’s A/W09 show in Paris and, most pivotally, met fashion’s kingpin, Karl. “It was definitely one of the more charmed meetings,” she smiles. “Chanel has that natural thing of being a fashion godmother to the newbies, and in 2009, I was the chosen one. It was a great experience. And to meet Karl… he actually photographed me with his little camera that he carries everywhere, it’s so cute. To watch him backstage before the show, he’s surprisingly calm, and never panics. He’s always checking out what’s going on and he knows what he wants. Then he took me out for dinner the next day. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work, so it was so nice to know that he appreciated my work, too.” Shooting Freida at Dubai’s One&Only The Palm on the morning of the cruise show, it’s clear to see why she’s one of Karl’s ‘chosen’ few. She has a dream body, easy-going attitude, and an inherent self-assuredness that knows what being a modern woman is all about. Clambering over rocks to get the cover shot, in cowboy boots and pussy-bowed ruffled shirt and skirt from the Paris-Dallas collection, and poised against the Dubai skyline laughing, as we patiently wait for a tanker to sail past out of shot, she is professional, enigmatic and radiant. Though the latter, I joke, might have had a helping hand from the heat. It’s mid-May, very, very hot outside and Freida, as she later confesses, is “extremely intolerant to heat”. But you wouldn’t have guessed it. Five outfit changes, three locations, a few suncream applications, and several bottles of water later, and the shoot is in the bag.

Freida Pinto in Chanel

Dress, Dhs116,363, Chanel Paris-Dallas Métiers d'Art collection

Considering she’s only been at this game just shy of six years, she’s incredibly au fait with it. “I’ve been in front of the camera for long enough that I don’t get shy,” she explains. “As long as there’s a story [behind the shoot], then I enjoy it. If it’s just about ‘being pretty’, I don’t. The shoot with you guys, I actually had fun, because it was very much the Midwest meets the Middle East. The Dubai skyline in the background, the architecture, the style, the Mid-western clothes… That was a very cool combination. No one expected to see an Indian girl playing a Mid-western girl, which made it kind of sexy.” Clad in Chanel for most of her Middle Eastern sojourn, Freida’s own style leans to a more laid-back artfulness. “I don’t indulge in too much frou frou. I like simple, clean cut, comfortable… something that I can breathe in.” That means flats over the vertiginous Burj Khalifa-esque heels favoured by Arabia’s shoe aficionados. “I love the idea of very comfortable fl at shoes. But when you’re on a shoot or the red carpet, you can’t get away with flats. I was at an event with Karlie Kloss last year and it was horrible standing next to her. She’s a beautiful lady and I felt like a little ant!” I suggest investing in Chanel’s new season fl at shoe offerings. “I’m actually eyeing up a couple of pairs already!” she smiles, conspiratorially. While it may be her only grand indulgence, Freida is a self-diagnosed shoe addict. How many does she have? “I’d rather not tell you,” she says, laughing.

“They’re my biggest obsession but I don’t even know how many I have. It’s a bit obscene for me, but I’m sure there are people that have way more. It’s really weird though, because my love for shoes isn’t because I want to wear them all. I mean, there are only so many days in the year, so it’s impossible to wear all of them, but I have them because they’re so beautiful, like works of art, and I love looking at them.” Dressing from the feet up, she then looks to pieces by Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld’s own label, Mary Katrantzou, Massimiliano Giornetti for Salvatore Ferragamo and Michael Kors to do her shoes justice. “Michael Kors is one of the few people who’s managed to merge street style with high fashion. To be able to penetrate both markets equally and to do well in each one is a real art. He’s a lovely man as well.” Working with several stylists – Elizabeth Stewart in LA, Tanya Ghavri in India and Michael Angel for all her L’Oréal projects (for which she has been the face since 2009) – she enjoys having people around to help and show her things, but “the final say is always with me.” She knows, after all, what fits her body best. The body in question is, as witnessed on our shoot and with those killer abs flashed at the Cruise show, petite and toned. But, ladies, she works at it. “I always have to watch what I eat, as I do have the tendency to put on weight around my stomach and on my legs. I think every girl has something in their head about exercising and eating right. There are some people who can eat what they want and don’t put on weight, and we go, ‘I want to be as skinny as you’, but then you think, are you really skinny or are you sick? I don’t want to be someone like that, so it’s about eating in moderation. One day I might binge, but then I make sure that I’m as good as possible for the week that follows.” Her vices will resonate with any carb-loving calorie-watcher: “Bread. I love it. Not just bread, but bread as pizza or rolls – I want, want, want,” she laughs.

Freida Pinto in Chanel

Top, Dhs89,434; tie; skirt, Dhs94,015 all Chanel Paris-Dallas Métiers d'Art collection

Anything else slipping through that slimming net? “I haven’t had sugar for a really long time and I don’t really crave it, but then, out of nowhere, sometimes I crave a crème brûlée. It’s very random!” The fact that Freida doesn’t cook (she considers it a “waste of time”, eats out in LA and is cooked for in Mumbai) but is as svelte as she is, is something of an oxymoron. Those abs didn’t materialise out of thin air, though, and as it turns out, Freida is quite the yogi. “No matter where I am, once a day I bring myself to the mat. But I don’t practice a very calm style of yoga. If I’m working on something big, then my mind is absolutely mental, running wild, with a million different things going on, so the cardio really helps to calm me down.” It goes without saying that keeping calm and sane in an industry that all too quickly sticks its stars under a microscope isn’t easy. Freida’s five year relationship with her Slumdog Millionaire co-star Dev Patel has, thus far, stayed out of the tabloids, and the couple out of trouble. The actress has, she says, mastered the art of protecting and preserving herself in the public eye, which she attributes to her family, friends and team. “I think it’s all about self-control. I’ve never been brought up with a silver spoon in my mouth, and have been taught to work hard for things I want and not expect anything,” she explains. “Everyone around me would tell me if I did something arrogant or I got too big for my boots. They’re also open with me – both their appreciation and their constructive criticism of me. That’s much more important than being surrounded by ‘yes’ people.” With three films on the horizon this year, including Knight of Cups with Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman, and several producing projects in the pipeline for 2015, it seems that the only ‘yes’ that counts now is her own. Well, and that of King Karl, to whom she will forever, willingly, be in his Chanel-induced debt. 

Make-up (worn throughout): Les Beiges Fluide Belle Mine Multi-Action in No30, Dhs220; Poudre Universelle Compacte in 30 Naturel, Dhs215; Les Beiges Harmonie Poudres Belle Mine in No02, Dhs285; Illusion D’Ombre in 817 Apparence, Dhs160; Illusion D’Ombre in 95 Mirage, Dhs160; Ecriture de Chanel Automatic Liquid Eyeliner in 10 Noir, Dhs171; Stylo Yeux Waterproof in 88 Noir Intense, Dhs124; Inimitable Mascara Waterproof in10 Noir, Dhs270; Le Sourcil de Chanel in 20 Brun, Dhs295; Rouge Coco Shine in 73 Chic, Dhs162; Le Vernis in 615 Sweet Lilac, Dhs121, all Chanel. Art director: Claire Lambert. Lifestyle editor: Julia Maile. Fashion assistant: Charlotte Blair. Photographer’s assistant: Jean Patrick Simonetti. Make-up: Antonia Malt. Hair: Frédéric Barat. Shot on location at One&Only The Palm, Thepalm.oneandonlyresorts.com