Exclusive: Model Naomi Janumala talks about brown representation and shooting with pop icon Rihanna for Fenty Clothing Campaign
With inclusivity being the big buzz word in the beauty industry, Indulge has been keenly tracking the trajectory of the movement — personalities like activist Jameela Jamil’s stand on body positivity, our columnist Ayush Kejriwal’s constant challenging of biases and domestic brands like Nykaa that have revolutionised the shade card for make-up, among other trailblazers. So when we heard that the face of Rihanna’s Fenty Clothing Campaign is Indian-born model Naomi Janumala, we could not contain our excitement.
Rihanna has been a poster child for inclusivity — remember her using body diverse models for her inaugural Savage x Fenty line a few months ago? Now, she has pushed the envelope again with her Fenty Clothing Campaign — a body-positive lingerie line that celebrates a diverse range of sizes and body types.
A little over a week ago, Naomi Janumala, represented by Anima Creative Management, took to Instagram to announce that she has been signed as the face of Rihanna’s luxury label. In no time, Naomi became a sensation across the country with fashion aficionados and Indian media celebrating her achievement. Although she has been working with international brands including H&M, Nike x Nordstrom, Levi’s, American Eagle, Opening Ceremony x Disney and Matthew Adams Dolan, to name a few, she admits that being a part of Fenty Clothing Campaign was quite the surreal experience because the 19-year-old was photographed by Rihanna herself. With the Fenty stint, Naomi has clearly charted out a path with several upcoming campaigns in her kitty — paving her way to possible runway stardom, while also making a case for brown girls globally. In a candid chat, interrupted by occasional laughs from the model, we speak to her about the spate of superstardom and breaking stereotypes, one shoot at a time. Excerpts:
Congratulations on being a part of the Fenty Clothing Campaign. How did the campaign happen? How did you react when you received the news?
Thank you so much! I was at Starbucks in London when I got my manager’s call from Paris (New Madison Models) and she says, ‘Hey Naomi, you’re confirmed for Fenty’s clothing brand shoot’ — well that was exciting in itself! Then she adds, ‘Oh, also Rihanna is shooting.’ That’s when I absolutely lost my mind. I wanted to scream but I didn’t want to get kicked out of Starbucks (laughs). I was so happy that I almost ended up crying. After that, I called my best friends and almost every family member.
How has your life changed after Fenty?
Honestly, there hasn’t been too many drastic changes as of now, but I’m just stunned at the response I have received from everyone in such a short span of time. In three days, I felt like I got messages from the whole of India. This campaign actually made me realise that I can fully use my platform to make a change in the industry and break prevalent Indian stereotypes about dark-skinned women and just empower them. I am trying my best. Also, I got verified on Instagram in those three days! That was super exciting too.
Tell us all about working with Rihanna? Did you grow up listening to her music?
Of course! I used to dance to her songs at parties, but had never imagined that I would get to spend a whole day with her. She’s an actual queen and she knows what she wants. On the set, it was like working with a friend or an elder sister. She was so sweet and funny, everyone on set thought that we’ve been friends for a long time because we clicked immediately. It was so natural, she brought out the best in me without me even realising. I actually fell in love with her after the shoot day, no kidding. I look up to her.
Who are the fashion icons you look up to?
Rihanna, definitely. Also, Naomi Campbell and designer Virgil Abloh. I would love to meet them someday.
What made you take up modelling? Tell us the backstory.
I started modelling three years ago when I got scouted via Instagram by my agency. I never thought about taking up modelling as a profession, even though I knew about the agency and I was interested in talking to them but after my college. They approached me in the second year in junior college. When I started it, it took off so well that I figured out I was made to do this, especially considering my family’s support and being in the safest hands professionally.
You have worked with big brands like Alexander Wang, American Eagle, Adidas, and Levi’s. Give us a lowdown on how exciting it is to be a part of such fashion week cycles?
Fashion week is really exciting but I’m not going to lie, it is also quite hectic. We have to meet 10-15 clients every single day for a whole week, which can be overwhelming sometimes too. I know so many models who are completely sick of it but I like the rush. It is different than a
normal workday of shooting or having two-three meetings in a day, but it is fun. Definitely, when I got to open my first New York Fashion Week show for Matthew Adams Dolan and it was my first season ever.
Since you’ve given all of us brown girls a poster girl to look up to, tell us how the colour brown is perceived on the international runway?
This question has won my heart! Thanks for that! So, internationally, the industries will be shocked if you tell them you’re from India. They love brown representation. For them, it’s unique and beautiful. It is so different in India. I’d say it’s slowly starting to change but we got a long way to go. We have grown to learn, not from teachers or families, but just your surroundings and even watching television commercials for skin lightening creams that having dark skin will not get you a job or you won’t get a man and how they conveniently put “dull” next to dark skin. Overseas we’re exotic, but in India, we’re dull. It’s time to get out of that as soon as possible.
While scanning through your Instagram posts, we came across a post where you spoke about being bullied in school. How did you fight that and grow to be this confident? Tell us about how you clap back at trolls.
I was bullied throughout my school years, literally till the last day of 10th grade. I also looked quite different back then. People didn’t talk to me because I was ‘ugly’, dark and skinny. I was called all sorts of names. We had a fashion show in school and it was so easy for them to put me out because I was too dark. Honestly, I slowly started gaining confidence in my first year of college. It was so easy for me to make friends, who appreciated my skin colour and made me realise that it was unique. The creative teams took me in for fashion shows and as I started modelling, I became a very confident person — someone who was 100 per cent comfortable in her own skin. I don’t need to clap back or say anything to anyone who bullied me. They see it. They see all my work. They know what I’m doing. No explanation required! I’ll just say thanks to them.
What are your ties with the Telugu states?
My whole family hails from Andhra Pradesh. How I wish I could speak fluent Telugu! My younger brother and I are the only ones in the family who don’t. But I can try: Meeru Eela Unnaru (How are you)? (laughs).