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I Came Out as Transwoman to Live a Comfortable Life Without Any Pardah: Fashion Designer Saisha Shinde

I am woman, I am fearless, I am 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 transwoman. Saisha Shinde (formerly known as Swapnil Shinde), came out as a transwoman earlier this year and since then has been an inspiration to many. Looking radiant in a black outfit paired with pearl-drop earrings, Saisha spoke to News18 about designing the finale gown for the Indian contestant at the 70th edition of Miss Universe, India’s pre-defined notion of a transwoman, Madhuri Dixit giving her dance lessons, and how her transition makes her 10,000 times happier.

Physically Saisha Shinde is a different person but she is way happier, focussed and centered than what she was before.

Saisha has been a go-to designer for all things pageant, and this year she has designed the finale gown for Harnaaz Sandhu who is representing India at the 70th edition of Miss Universe on December 13th at Eilat, Israel. The international pageant will be live streamed on Voot Select.

Calling herself a pageant ‘fanatic’ and ‘nerd’, Saisha says, “Everytime Miss Universe happens I get very excited and this time knowing that the girl we have sent has so much potential it’s exciting and extremely nerve wracking. I want to see Harnaaz in the Top 3 and I want to see my gown shine on stage and on her winning the crown.”

Having designed gowns for Miss India contestants in the past, Harnaaz’s gown is an amalgamation of Saisha’s style, Harnaaz’s personality and what a quintessential Miss India should look like. “There is a certain expectation from Miss India at an International pageant. She has to look elegant, exquisite and the gowns needs to look delicate and dainty but at the same time powerful, strong, which incidentally my brand has become now after I have transitioned into a woman,” expresses Saisha.

She adds, “The gown is embellished with embroidery, stones, and sequins. Harnaaz believes in sustainability, so we used embroidery material which was lying around at the studio. Also, since she is from Punjab, we incorporated phulkari-inspired motifs in the ensemble. The geometric patterns which are synonymous with the phulkari patterns are given a modern twist.”

Saisha’s design aesthetics before she transitioned has always been powerful and strong, but the transition has brought a delicate side to her which she is proud of. “Before I used to create, now I create with a purpose. Delicateness is visible in my work now. Is it still powerful? Yes, Is it still modern? Yes. However, it (designs) is a lot more beautiful to the eye now,” adds Saisha.

The designer is all smiles when asked about the acceptance she received after coming out on social media. She says, “I merely came out so that I could lead a comfortable life without any sort of pardah. And when I did, the reaction and support that I got was so encouraging. I received DMs where people shared how they were inspired and the courage that it gave them to do things that they were unable to do.”

With a lot more to explore as a woman, Saisha is all set to embark on this new journey and really hopes her coming out publicly sets an example of what actual transwomen are like. “We are not those ridiculous caricatures that have been created so far in the industry. Also, there is a difference between drag and a transwoman. What we have seen are male actors dressed up as drag, they are not transwomen. But Indians in general think that’s what a transwoman 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 in time that changes,” shares Saisha.

As a costume designer Saisha Shinde has designed for various leading stars including Deepika Padukone, Madhuri Dixit, and Kiara Advani among others.

Saisha feels that in India there is a pre-defined idea of what a transwoman is and what a transwoman does. “Half of them (trans woman) are just expected to be sex workers and half are expected to be this loud caricature like figures. I really hope through me and a lot of other trans women who are leading a “normal” life are able to put forward that we are individuals who are successful, beautiful, and are achieving the best in our respective fields,” expresses Saisha.

Having designed for leading actors including Madhuri Dixit, Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Kiara Advani among others in the recent past, Saisha is happy that her transition has been accepted with open arms in the industry. “It has been great before but it is absolutely mind-blowing now. Apart from the comfort factor because it is two women discussing clothes, their level of respect for me has gone much higher because of what I have done. And that is so gratifying, and I feel so blessed. For instance, Madhuri Dixit who I have looked up to for so many years, gave me so much more confidence. She said I will teach you dance, and I shall take dance classes [for you],” adds Saisha.

As a costume designer Saisha recently designed costumes for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s character in Ponniyin Selvan and has also designed a series of outfits for Deepika Padukone’s upcoming film Pathan. When asked the difference between designing runway ensembles and making costumes for movies, Saisha says, “Movies are more glamorous and unrealistic to some extent. Clients would obviously want a version of that but the biggest difference I would say is that for movies you have 2-3 days to make 7-10 outfits. I remember very recently I worked on a movie where we had to finish 14 outfits in two days. Because of the pandemic everyone is scared. Everyone wants to finish their work fast because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Living life queen size, Saisha loves dressing up but there’s one thing which she hopes to never slip into again and that are heels. “I used to love wearing heels but after wearing them for a year I realised what hell women go through. In the past, I used to have these ginormous heels in my shows. And now I am like, what was I thinking? It’s beautiful, but I don’t love heels anymore as much as I did,” quips Saisha.

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