Lakshmi Menon was born in Kerala, India in 1981, and almost immediately the odds were against her ever becoming a model. Her naturally dark complexion made her look different from the Bollywood models she saw in magazines. Much to her surprise, she was approached in 1998 by model agent Anila Anand and invited to Paris. It was a tempting offer, but Menon didn’t want to disappoint her parents — they were from a military lifestyle, after all — and she wanted a social life while she was still young. She opted for Bangalore University instead, where she majored in development sociology.
After graduating, Lakshmi Menon felt the lure of modeling or, more specifically, the money. After resuming contact with Anila Anand, Menon entered the professional circuit and modeled a series of 2007 Swatch ads that accentuated her inviting eyes, glowing skin and (what else?) their fine jewelry. In the fall, she joined Gemma Ward and four Bollywood actresses on the cover of the first-ever Indian edition of Vogue. A runway appearance for Hermes led to her becoming its face in 2008. The correct terminology would be “human face” as she was surrounded by elephants in a number of colorful ads.
With her career on the upswing, Lakshmi Menon was ready to hit career highs and break color barriers in the process. A contract with Ford Models in 2008 opened new doors and brought her new magazine covers — for L’Officiel (India) in March and a bikini-clad cover for Vogue (India) in April. The latter wasn’t just a great shot — a sexy stare from a bikini clad girl taken on a Thai island — it also made her the first Indian model to earn a solo cover for the magazine.
From there, it was off to the runway where she did shows for Stella McCartney, Issey Miyake and Jean Paul Gaultier. While these were positive developments, Menon had been invisible to much of the industry until this point, except to Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci who hand-picked her to open his fall couture show in Paris That’s when her dark look became “in.” Givenchy photos followed with Lara Stone and Kirsten Owen, and she would later close the Ohne Titel spring show during New York Fashion Week (her debut appearance!) and walk the runway for Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang and Michael Kors.
Following a Milan show for La Perla, which had her walk for D&G and Givenchy, Menon showed up on the French Vogue editorial radar for the first time in October of 2008. Coupled with a cover for Elle (India) in November and a pair of V editorials, Menon was an easy selection as one of Style.com’s Top 10 Newcomers. She finished the year strong thanks to the Vogue crown of “This Year’s Model.”
Now famous and smart enough to be candid without harming her career (write that down, Naomi Campbell), Lakshmi Menon makes no secret of the industry obstacles that other exotic beauties can face. As a result, each new step that she takes to further her career serves the dual streak of bettering herself and opening doors for other darker models along the way. She continued the trend in 2009 with a new Givenchy contract, a cover for Dazed and Confused (UK) and spot in the Vogue French calendar. Journey on, Lakshmi. We won’t stop staring as long as you keep staring at us back.