I’m a woman, I’m fearless, I’m sexy, I’m divine, I’m unbeatable, I’m creative… these beautiful lyrics written by singer-songwriter Emmy Meli resonate with designer Saisha Shinde’s journey as a trans woman. Saisha Shinde (formerly known as Swapnil Shinde), came out as a trans woman earlier this year and has been an inspiration to many ever since. Looking radiant in a black outfit paired with pearl drop earrings, Saisha spoke to News18 about designing the final dress for the Indian contestant at the 70th edition of Miss Universe, India’s predefined idea of a trans woman, Madhuri Dixit teaching her dance. , and how her transition makes her 10,000 times happier.
Saisha has been a regular designer for all things pageant, and this year she designed the final dress for Harnaaz Sandhu, who will be representing India at the 70th edition of Miss Universe on December 13 in Eilat, Israel. The international election will be streamed live on Voot Select.
She calls herself a pageant ‘fanatic’ and ‘nerd’, says Saisha: ‘Every time Miss Universe takes place I get very excited and this time knowing that the girl we sent has so much potential it’s exciting and extremely nerve-racking. I want to see Harnaaz in the Top 3 and I want to see my gown shine on the podium and see her win the crown.”
Having designed dresses for Miss India contestants in the past, Harnaaz’s dress is an amalgamation of Saisha’s style, Harnaaz’s personality and what a typical Miss India should look like. “There is a certain expectation of Miss India in an international pageant. She has to look elegant and exquisite and the dresses have to look delicate and graceful, but at the same time powerful, strong, which has become my brand, by the way, now that I switched to a woman,” says Saisha.
She adds: “The dress is embellished with embroidery, stones and sequins. Harnaaz believes in sustainability, so we used embroidery material that was in the studio. Being from Punjab, we also incorporated phulkari-inspired motifs into the ensemble. The geometric patterns that are synonymous with the phulkari patterns are given a modern twist.”
Saisha’s design aesthetic before she transitioned has always been bold and strong, but the transition has brought her a delicate side that she is proud of. “I used to make, now I create with a purpose. Delicacy is now visible in my work. Is it still powerful? Yes, is it still modern? Yes. However, it (designing) is now a lot nicer to the eye,” adds Saisha.
The designer smiles when asked about the acceptance she got after taking to social media. She says, “I just came out so I could live a comfortable life without pardah of any kind. And when I did, the response and support I got was so encouraging. I received DMs telling me how inspired they were and the courage it gave them to do things they couldn’t do.”
With much more to discover as a woman, Saisha is all set to embark on this new journey and she really hopes her coming out is an example of what real trans women are like. “We are not those ridiculous caricatures that have been made in the industry so far. There is also a difference between drag and a trans woman. What we have seen are male actors dressed as transvestites, they are not trans women. But Indians in general think that’s what a trans woman is. No, they are men dressed as women for performances. Because we are a Bollywood centric country and what we see we believe. So we really hope that changes over time,” says Saisha.
Saisha believes that in India there is a predefined idea of what a trans woman is and what a trans woman does. “Half (trans woman) are simply expected to be sex workers and half are expected to be these loud caricature-like figures. I really hope that through me and many other trans women who live ‘normal’ lives I can bring forth that we are individuals who are successful, beautiful and achieve the best in our respective fields,” says Saisha.
Saisha has designed for such protagonists as Madhuri Dixit, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kiara Advani in the recent past and is pleased that her move has been accepted with open arms in the industry. “It used to be great, but it’s absolutely stunning now. Aside from the comfort factor of being two women talking about clothes, their respect for me has grown a lot because of what I’ve done. And that’s so gratifying, and I feel so blessed. For example, Madhuri Dixit, whom I have looked up to for so many years, gave me so much more confidence. She said I’ll teach you dance and I’ll take dance lessons [for you]”, adds Saisha.
As a costume designer, Saisha recently designed costumes for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s character in Ponniyin Selvan and also designed a series of outfits for Deepika Padukone’s upcoming film Pathan. When asked what the difference is between designing runway ensembles and making costumes for films, Saisha says: “Movies are more glamorous and unrealistic to a certain extent. Clients would of course want a version of that, but the biggest difference I would is that for movies you have 2-3 days to make 7-10 outfits. I remember very recently that I was working on a movie where we had to finish 14 outfits in two days. Because of the pandemic, everyone is scared. Everyone wants finish his work quickly, because you never know what will happen.”
Saisha lives queen size and loves to dress up, but there is one thing she hopes never to get into and that is heels. “I loved wearing heels, but after wearing them for a year, I realized what hell women go through. I used to have these giant heels in my shows. And now I’m like, what was I thinking? It’s nice, but I don’t like heels as much as I used to’, Saisha jokes.
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