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Legendary Female Icons Who Made Fashion Statements In The 20th Century

by Prarthana Rohatgi

February 18, 2023

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"Fashion is an art and you are the canvas" ~ Savio Fonseca

Fashion is the art of styling oneself, and a form of self-expression. Fashion is often used by people to build up their unique identity in the outside world, an exclusive part of them that represents who they're as a person and their creative identity. Women have always played a significant role in evolving distinctive fashion styles and often became major trendsetters. Like any other part of the world India also carries its unique fashion statements and many Lady Icons who were acknowledged for their exceptional styles and fits, not only by their mother nation but also by many other global magazines. Here are listed 4 women who became prominent characters of the fashion industry and influenced it massively and limitlessly even in the 20th century, the era when there were many limits to the rights of women. 

1. Maharani Indira Devi of Cooch, Behar (1892-1968)


Born on 19 February 1892 and initially known as Princess Indira Raje, Maharani Indira Devi was the only daughter of Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda and his second wife Maharani Chimnabai. She grew up at the opulent Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Baroda and was one of the first Indian princesses to be given a western education after the abolishment of the purdah system. She fell in love with Prince Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar, a junior Princely State, and scandalously got married to him. The couple later became the Maharaja and Maharani of Cooch, Behar. Indira Devi was the mother of 5 children and became a widow almost a decade after her marriage and ended up becoming the Regent of Cooch, Behar due to the minority of her eldest son, prince Jagaddipendra Narayan. Growing up in the palatial halls of Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda, Maharani Indira Devi was an avid enthusiast of chiffon sarees embellished with delicate zardozi, gota, pearl, and gold embroidery. She made the trend of wearing silk chiffon saris, a royal statement. Which till today is followed in full glory. Maharani Indira Devi’s unparalleled elegance and unique fashion flair are a source of inspiration for numerous fashion brands, even today. She was known very well known for her keen eyes for fashion, beauty, and glamour all over the globe. She even became a leading figure in Anglo-Indian society. Salvatore Ferragamo is known to be her favorite designer. 

2. Rani Sita Devi Of Kapurthala (1915-2002) 


Known as Princess Karam and the Pearl of India, Rani Sita Devi was the daughter of Raja Uday Raj Singh of Kashipur, Uttarakhand, and wife of Karamjit Singh, a younger son of Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of the princely state of Kapurthala in Punjab, British India. She was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Medal In 1944, for her work in raising funds for Indian soldiers in the Second World War. She was widely regarded as one of the most beautiful princesses of her country, and a glamorous woman of her day. When she was just 19 years of age, Vogue magazine called her a “secular goddess” and at the age of 22, Look magazine named her one of the five best ladies on the planet. She soon became the inspiration and muse of many top photographers and fashion designers of the world. 

Sita Devi's preferred couture was Mainbocher who was more famously known for designing the wedding dress of Wallis Simpson when she married the Duke of Windsor. Mainbocher was commissioned by the Queen to design chiffon saris and fur coats. In early 1939, at Lady Mendl's tea in honor of the Hollywood dietitian, Gayelord Hauser, Sita Devi was listed among the twelve most glamorous women in the world. Elsa Schiaparelli created her 1935 collection of evening gowns based on Maharani’s saris. 

She still firmly is known as a legendary fashion icon in India and she'll always be. 

3. Maharani Gayatri Devi (1919-2009) 


Born in 1919 to Indira Devi of Cooch, Behar, and Maharaja Jitendra Narayana, Gayatri Devi was a global icon celebrated for her fashion statements and beauty. She became a successful politician in the Swatantra Party, after India's independence and the abolition of the princely states. Gayatri Devi was a particularly avid equestrienne. She was an excellent rider and an able Polo player. She was a good shooter and enjoyed many days out on 'Shikars'. Gayatri was fond of cars and is credited with importing the first Mercedes-Benz W126, a 500 SEL to India which was later shipped to Malaysia. She also owned several Rolls-Royces and an aircraft. Being the daughter of Indira Devi of Cooch, she inherited her mother's grace, style, and avid enthusiasm for chiffon. 

Her jewelry was heavily influenced by western contemporary designs and a string of pearls was her favorite which eventually became her trademark. She made her way into Vogue Magazine's "Top 10 most beautiful women in the world" collection as well. 

Besides being greatly prosperous, she was also a source of inspiration to many fashionistas across the country and also globally. 

4. Madhubala (1933-1969) 

Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi or known by the name Madhubala was an Indian actress and producer who worked in Hindi- Cinema. She's said to appear in over 60 films in her active career of a decade. Editor Baburao Patel called her the "queen of charity" as she performed actively in charity. Madhubala has been said to be a philanthropist and she kept her charity work guarded and donated anonymously. She was a timeless Indian beauty who not only ruled Hindi cinema but also the hearts of people. In Bollywood, Madhubala was known for her appealing sense of fashion, beauty, and charm. She was also titled 'Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood'. The credit for the Anarkali suit becoming a trend and fashion statement goes to Madhubala, which she flaunted gracefully in the song 'jab pyaar kiya to darna kya' from the movie Mughl-e-azam. She also brought in many fashion trends such as off-shoulder, midi dresses, and plain chiffon sarees as well.

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