The purest and most thoughtful minds are those who love colour the most.
Holi is one of the most beloved and well known Indian festivals. It represents the triumph of good over evil, always celebrated on a full moon at the beginning of Spring. As an affirmation of life through colour, there are many resonances between Holi and SALONI's exuberant ethos. As Saloni Lodha has stated
“Of all the festivals in India, I hold Holi closest to my heart as it is the most dramatic expression of love.”
In 2021, the world has been upturned and more than ever, we need to celebrate all we hold dear. Saloni and her team thought deeply about creating something nostalgic, fresh and meaningful. They envisioned bold imagery that would act as an affirmation of life, connectedness and love.
The answer was a beautiful series of images brought together at the intersection between fashion, styling and art photography by some of the finest creative minds responding to questions around the global representation of South Asian culture today.
Saloni Lodha’s vision for SALONI has always been about the beauty of India distilled through a fresh and contemporary fashion aesthetic. What Saloni, along with Creative Director Nikhil Mansata and photographer Kalpesh Lathigra envisioned was to rethink how Holi is interpreted in fashion imagery. Over video calls during lockdowns Saloni, Nikhil, and Kalpesh planned their vision for taking back ownership of how Holi is represented in fashion.
The result is a set of images in tune with the SALONI spirit of playful elegance, self-expression and vibrant celebration. This unique interpretation of Holi will stand the test of time, provoking new ways of understanding this most important of Indian festivals through a creative lens.
Nikhil had done extensive research on how Holi has been treated in Western fashion imagery over the past few decades. He found that certain cliches had been cemented over time. As he reflects, "So many shoots seemed to interpret it as people throwing powder around with abandon or simply as a decorative addition for makeup shoots. So much of the profound meaning of Holi is lost in that." Both Nikhil and Kalpesh agreed that perhaps it was time for something new that wouldn't reduce India to cliches of big fat weddings, technicolour saris or indeed Bollywood-fuelled interpretations of Holi.
Kalpesh’s long career in photojournalism and documentary photography as well as his memories of Holi also informed the way the shoot was conceptualised.
He wanted to ask, “What does it mean to have South Asian ‘roots' and how might beautiful imagery inform, inspire and elevate a contemporary reading of those?”
He reflects the colourful shapes around which the models danced were inspired in part by the work of sculptor Anish Kapoor, notably his exuberant “As if to celebrate…” series from the early 1980s. Using sculptural shapes made from red, yellow and blue powder they constituted colourful ground-hugging and rising forms. Kapoor was interested in the Hindu temple as a mountain and metaphor for the body and the idea of the energy of one force being translated into the energy and substance of another.
Kalpesh took this inspiration and added layers of significance through the addition of crescent shapes. He emphasises that Holi is something that is celebrated by everyone in India and internationally “I felt it was important to evoke the architectural shapes of temples, mosques and gurdwaras as well as the symbolic significance of the crescent to Islam.”
The models' movement with and around the shapes evoke the circumambulation of shrines in Jain, Hindu and Sikh temples or the ritual repetition of Namaz. A close up shows a Japamala, a string of prayer beads commonly used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism to meditate on a mantra or a divine name. The images strip Holi back to its essence of spiritual renewal through the harnessing of elemental forces.
He explains “Ultimately this is about spirituality, not religion, almost a kind of paganism, going back to the roots of nature”.
Another important aspect of the shoot was how the models interacted with the concept and set. Aishwarya Gupta, Priya Jain and Karishma Purohit are Indian models based in London and for them, the shoot was also a way to celebrate what they were missing in India, “Doing this shoot will be our Holi!” they laughed.
As Nikhil explains, casting South Asian models also meant they were familiar with the small details. They had their memories of Holi growing up and knew exactly how to use the Japamala or the correct way to hold a coconut for auspicious rituals.
The imagery was also infused with nostalgia and personal memories, small details repletewith significance.
Colourful sturdy rolls of electrical tape lying around on the set inspired Nikhil to use them as ‘bangles’ for the models. In an instant, this reminded Saloni of the thick ivory bangles which Rajasthani tribal women wear on their upper and lower arms. Kalpesh remembers watching his sisters and their friends trying on bangles before a celebration, “The bangle box tucked under the bed filled with an array of magic,” continuing “memory plays into my photographic practice. It feels like home.” In one image Aishwarya in the white Bibba suit flexes her arms along which the colourful tape ‘bangles’ are playfully looped. Nikhil calls this image "Hero" cleverly subverting Bollywood macho tropes.
There was a punk verve to using the tape as bangles to create such memories, an irreverent freshness that underscores the goal of unpacking cliches and seeing India through a modern lens.
A close-up image of Priya wearing the classic Jemma dress reveals where playfully thrown pink coloured power has landed on her hair. It echoes the sindoor married women from Hindu communities wear in their front parting. Kalpesh adds this atmospheric image almost seems to invoke a modern-day Mahadevi (the great goddess). All Indian households have their own version of Mahadevi, who connects to spiritual traditions across the world as Mother Earth.
Holi and Saloni go hand in hand. If Holi is all about the spirit of joy and renewal, SALONI empowers its customers of all ages to experience the unabashed joy of living life in different hues. These beautiful images perfectly express that symbiosis.