The Best-Dressed Life of Waris Ahluwalia

Waris_3.jpgHaving just been named as one of the international best-dressed honorees by Vanity Fair, Waris Ahluwalia is getting noticed not only for his dynamic sense of style but for his versatile portfolio. Best known for being a unique jewelry designer, Waris is also an actor (having starred in Wes Anderson and Spike Lee films) and recently co-wrote a book, To India with Love.

I never get tired of talking about Waris Ahluwalia by the way, but apparently i’m not alone. Blogs and articles are abuzz discussing his jewelry company, House of Waris, his sartorial taste and even his interest in Bollywood.

Waris.jpgWait, Bollywood… really?

…Despite his turban and beard look, Waris says that he has never been stereotyped in Hollywood. “Everyone likes to put people in categories, whether its Hollywood, Bollywood or the media in general. Whenever I meet agents their big concern is that I’ll be stereotyped. Well, I haven’t been stereotyped yet. “Some of the roles I’ve played; camera man, a bank hostage, a Republican, a hypo-chondriac, none of these roles called for an Indian.” [link]

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House of Waris
02m.jpgThose of you who know my blogging tendencies, know that I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to post about our favorite New Yorker! Waris Ahluwalia’s recent presence in Vogue (hat tip: Anandica) comes about as a contender for the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award. The award helps emerging American designers pursue their design and business plans through financial support and professional mentoring. Waris Ahluwalia is one of only ten designers nominated for this award for his jewelry business, House of Waris. He states that his inspirations “have always been love and history. But I don’t claim to understand either of those.”
[Waris Ahluwalia] moved with his family from Amritsar, Punjab to Brooklyn, NY at the age of 5. He thought of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, risked one advertising interview, attempted to make a music magazine, got involved with a friend’s NGO for increasing HIV/ AIDS awareness in South Asia and found himself back in New York, immersed in the art life of the city. He then has a guy in New York make some jewellery for him, escapes the cold of the city for LA, helps a friend set-up a restaurant and one day, wanders into ultra-luxe boutique Maxfield’s where the owners spot his rings, immediately place an order, they sell out and House of Waris is born.[link]

Another Reason Why I Like Waris

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, “Metrosexual Murdabad!” Although I gained the ire of some commenters, I think amongst the Langar-ites, the ‘metrosexual’ trend is not the preference.

Waris Ahluwalia, of Inside Man fame and a sort of favorite in The Langar Hall — see here and here — made the following comments:waris.jpg

Waris Ahluwalia has been wearing makeup for about ten years, he told us last night at Chanel’s Tribeca Film Festival Party at the Greenwich Hotel. “I’m only telling you this because it’s New York Magazine, but I’m actually 68,” he quipped (he’s not, he’s in his thirties). We asked if his friends would be into man makeup, like Jean Paul Gaultier‘s new male cosmetics line, Monsieur. “No, no. I stopped hanging out with the theater group a long time ago,” he said. Oh, har! Ahluwalia also shuns the men-in-tight-pants trend. “I love trends,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I have to follow it.” Other trends Ahluwalia dislikes include the overusage of words like “bespoke” and “luxury.” “Everyone just calls things that. Bespoke olive oil?” he said. “I saw an ad in Wired for the new Acura. That ad was four lines, and they said ‘luxury’ fives times.” [link]

While bespeaking for Waris’ and our readers’ patience may be a luxury I can ill-afford as I write this sentence, still I am pleased that our turbaned Sikh Mr. Waris Ahluwalia seconds my thoughts on the ‘metrosexual’ trend. (Ok there really wasn’t a purpose for that last sentence other than I was looking to use ‘bespoke’ (or ‘bespeak’ in the present) and ‘luxury’ in the same line. Happy Monday!

How much weight does the Sikh image carry?

Guest blogged by Manpreet Kaur

Recently the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) announced that they will be honoring Gap, Inc. for taking “pride walmart-gap-bangladesh-3-537x402in featuring the Sikh American identity” at their annual gala on October 11th in Washington, DC. As you may remember, last year, the Gap used Sikh actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia in their “Make Love” campaign. The Sikh community gave a lot of praise to Gap over social media posting and re-posting the advertisement as even encouraging Sikhs to purchase from and support the company. This support increased exponentially when Gap responded positively to racist vandalism on an ad in New York City.

While having a Sikh model on a mainstream advertisement might be a positive step especially a year after the Oak Creek tragedy, as Sikhs, how can we, as a community, support a company that has carried out horrific labor practices? Gap’s terrible labor practices in South Asian countries have been widely documented, putting employees in extremely dangerous working conditions with less than minimum compensation.

Gap, Inc. literally has blood on its hands, as 29 trapped  garment workers died in a fire in a Bangladesh factory that produced clothing for the company in 2010. United Students Against Sweatshops states:

Human rights activists and labor groups have been calling on Gap to fix the factories in the rest of their Bangladesh supply chain since December 2010, but instead Gap is sticking with its own corporate-controlled voluntary initiative that lacks transparency, accountability, and worker voice. Gap initially promised to sign onto a meaningful fire and building safety agreement, but then backed out, announcing their own, go-it-alone initiative. Gap is using the same self-regulatory approach that they and other brands have used for two decades and that has failed to protect the safety of workers in Bangladesh: factory monitoring controlled entirely by Gap, with no transparency, no role for workers or their trade unions, no commitment to pay prices to suppliers that make it feasible for them operate responsibly, and no binding commitments of any kind.

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Making money not love

Guest blogged by Jaspreet Kaur

There has recently been a lot of stir in the Sikh community about the GAP’s new “Make Love” holiday campaign. The Gap used Waris Ahluwalia, a Sikh actor and designer, as a model for one of their promotional pictures. The response from the Sikh and non Sikh community was mixed and social media started buzzing with reactions to the image. A large add of this picture in New York City was recently vandalised and the Gap immediately responded by changing their twitter background to the image. Once again, the Sikh community responded, this time with more positive comments and support for the Gap.

What seems to have been forgotten in all this commotion is that the Gap is a multinational corporation that is only about their bottom line. They are about making money, not love. Their primary interest is to sell a product and by claiming to capture and commodify love, they are selling clothes. While the Gap is being praised for their quick response time and progressive thinking what is dismissed is the understanding that by the time a corporation uses an idea, it is no longer revolutionary. Gap would not have used a Sikh model if it hurt their bottom line. It is already acceptable and that is why the Gap can profit from displaying a turban and beard.

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Turbans on the Runway: What does it mean for Sikhs?

By now, you have surely been inundated with Facebook posts and discussions expressing excitement, amazement, or maybe skepticism about French designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s recent showcase of (non-Sikh) models wearing colorful “Sikh-style” turbans.

Gaultier has a thing for India, it seems. According to a recent news article, “The designer is known to visit the country quite often and owns a vast library of intensely coloured textile swatches here since his first visit to Kolkata in West Bengal and Puri in Orissa, in the 1970s.” In a recent interview, Gaultier said, “In every collection I have done, there is always an Indian inspiration.”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been fascinated by the buzz about the turbaned models in Sikh circles and have been trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it and if I have anything useful to contribute to the conversation. I can’t promise this will be useful, but here are some thoughts and questions that have been swirling around in my head lately.

First, there is obviously a lot of excitement about this in the Sikh community. And perhaps with good reason. So rarely are we Sikhs represented positively (if at all) in popular culture in the United States (or in India) that even non-Sikh models wearing paghs on the runway seems like a milestone. So often are our turbans the target of discrimination, profiling, and violence that seeing turbans portrayed as aesthetic objects of high fashion feels like redemption.

We Sikh men are not used to being seen as attractive or desirable through the lens of mass media. In Bollywood we are buffoons, in Hollywood we are nonexistent, save the English Patient and the occasional shoutout Waris Ahluwalia gets in the press. So yes, there is something amazing about seeing these models rocking turbans like they are the hottest accessories imaginable, when we, for so long, have received little to no positive reinforcement from the mainstream.

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“My Headcovering is Downright Sikh” – Sikhtoons debut book released

As mentioned last month, New York City-based Vishavjit Singh released his first “Sikhtoons” book this Spring. Entitled My Headcovering is Downright Sikh: An Illustrated Intro to Turbans, the book “uses a collection of cartoons from to create a visual narrative to dispel the mysteries of the Sikh turban. Featuring Fauja Singh, Waris Ahluwalia and many other Sikhs from all walks of life this visual journey is a turbanful introduction to Sikhs.”

The book features 30 cartoons and can be ordered online in the US, Canada, and UK for $10.

Though I have not seen the book myself yet, it has the endorsement of Sikh scholar IJ Singh, who states:

Vishavjit Singh’s topic is serious, his touch light, but not comedic. The sense of the absurd is critically important to the cartoonist. That, too, will emerge, I am sure, for I see their seeds in his work. I believe that the lightest matters deserve a serious undertone and the most heavyweight issues need some levity, even comedic treatment sometimes, lest the burden becomes too heavy to carry.

Congratulations to Vishavjit on this accomplishment. As misconceptions and stereotypes about Sikhs continue to persist in the mainstream media and general public, I hope Vishavjit’s creative cartoon interventions reach a much wider audience through this book.

Sikhtoons book to be released

Happy 100th Birthday Fauja Singh!

New York City-based Vishavjit Singh, the creator of Sikhtoons, is releasing his very first Sikhtoons illustrated book next weekend at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival in NYC. We’ve blogged about Vishavjit and Sikhtoons many times before, and are glad to see Sikhtoons going to the next level in book format.

According to Vishavjit, “The book focuses on dispelling the mysteries of the Sikh dastaar…target[ing] young and old, Sikh and Non-Sikh. The book features Fauja Singh, Hip Hop Singhs, Waris Ahluwalia and much more.”

Sikhtoons has long been a creative and light-hearted medium to tackle important issues for our community from 1984 to Hindutva, bullying in schools to contemporary Punjab politics. The details on the release event are below, and you can buy tickets in advance here and RSVP on Facebook here. Hopefully the book will be available to order online in the future. We’ll keep you posted.

Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art Festival
MoCCA Fest 2011!
Saturday April 9th and Sunday April 10th 11am-6pm
At the Lexington Avenue Armory
68 Lexington Ave (Between 25th &26th Streets)
New York, NY 10010


Sikh Style


gq2.jpgRemember that one particularKenneth Cole ad in NYC that caught our eye? Yes, the picture of the sardar who received much admiration from Sikhs and non-Sikhs around the globe. Well, as it turns out – he’s back. Sonny Caberwal is being featured inGQ’s upcoming Spring/Summer 2009 (German?) publication. Unfortuantely, there isn’t much press around it yet – but what wedohave are somepicturesfrom the shoot in Germany.


As with the Kenneth Cole ad – it’s great that the image of the sardar is receiving positive attention.Perhaps itwill encourage those who aren’t familiar with Sikhs tolearn more. I said perhaps.More realistically, the page will be turned (no, not all Sikh men dress that well like that)and Sikhs will still be unknown. It’sin our human nature to see something unfamiliar, and then go back to our dinner and never think of it again (take Darfur for example). And while it’s great that Sonny is getting these wonderful opportunities (Sikh PRright?)- we should definitelysave room for otherSikh male fashionistas… like this one from one of my favsites The Satorialist! After the jump…

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Creating Your Own Path

How many of you have ever heard the following words from your parents, “Become a Doctor, (feel free to interchange with Lawyer or Engineer for the same effect)!”?weirdo.jpg

Our generation is definitely starting to see the freedom to pursue career paths that are unconventional to our parents’ or their parents’ generation. When you realize you will ultimately be doing the same job for the rest of your life, you begin to think about what you’re most “passionate” about. Many parents are coming around to the idea that there are many lucrative fields of work for their children to pursue and which they are “passionate” about.

Last week I heard journalist Lisa Ling say that she is often asked to speak at college graduations, and the one thing she feels a lot of students are doing is studying for a career, rather than studying to become a well-rounded person and allowing the career to find you.

Many of us are told to pursue a “stable” career first, and do your “hobby” on the side. Although patterns have shown that Sikhs are probably one of the most entrepreneurial group of people in the world. Our ancestors before us have shown how perseverance of a dream can become a reality. Many of our parents’ generation came to the West with a few dollars, or pounds, in their pocket to begin their new life- and live the American Dream.

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Will the Revolution be Televised? Sikhs and the Media

So, Im a fan of Waris Singh Ahluwalia. It should be no surprise hes an actor who makes incredible jewelry and Im all about diverse talents. Last year, with the release ofwaris2.jpg The Darjeeling Limited, he did an interview and responded to being honored for his positive portrayal of Sikhs in the media. I thought it was significant,

I don’t want to be honored that much. I really don’t. I’m humbled and utterly confused to be put in this position. All these galas and fundraisers, they’re really important–especially after 9/11, when we’re seen as one of the major religions, and nobody knows who we are. In terms of the Sikh community, we’ll raise our families, go to work, pay our taxes, be American citizens, and that [should be] enough. Guess what? That’s not enough.

Why is it not enough? Regardless of how citizen-like we act, will wecontinue to fight the typecasts and stereotypes the media has imposed on an unfamiliar community?

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