Behind the Scenes with Porus and Prayag

Porus Vimadalal and Prayag Menon are the ultimate team. The pair live together, work together, make utterly gorgeous images (styled and shot by Prayag and Porus respectively) together, and manage to navigate all that, and a rock-solid relationship, with the sort of ease we can only ever aspire to. We spent an afternoon with them in their light-filled apartment in Mumbai, and over glasses of iced litchi juice, they spoke with us about shifting careers from the aviation industry to the fashion world, designing their home together, and Mumbai’s fashion industry.

Porus is trained in digital photography at The Vancouver Institute of Media Arts, and has worked with some of the best names in the Indian fashion industry, including designer labels Miuniku, Shift by Nimish Shah and Nishka Lulla, and with editorial publications like Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire. His partner, Prayag, is a self- taught stylist, entering the fashion industry incidentally three years ago. His work includes campaigns for Indelust, Huemn, look books for Shift by Nimish Shah and Lola by Suman B. and has been featured in publications like GQ South Africa, Elle India, and Vogue India.How did you two get into the fashion industry?
Prayag: We met in 2006. Porus had just finished a degree in Design at Fashion school, and I was in my first year of doing a B.Comm. that I absolutely detested. Porus’ father was a pilot at Jet Airways, and he told us about a boom in the aviation industry. At the time, it was a way for us to be together, and so we moved to Texas in 2008 to train as commercial pilots. We returned to India in 2009.
Porus: I’d gone to Fashion school for three years, but I couldn’t see myself designing. I was terrible at production, but could imagine working in another capacity, perhaps as a stylist. In the meantime, flying came up and it seemed like a good time to pursue it. But by 2012, I wanted to return to something more creative. I had always been interested in drawing, and I was already doing photography as a hobby, so I decided to go to Canada to do a degree in digital photography.
Prayag: I got into styling in 2013. I was trying to join the airline, but it was taking a really long time, and I didn’t want to waste my years waiting and doing nothing. I’ve always been interested in fashion, and friends would always consult me on what to wear. On one of Porus’ shoots, the stylist didn’t turn up, so I agreed to do it. I didn’t assist or study fashion, I just started styling. It’s been 3 years since then, and it’s been a very fulfilling process. I really enjoy myself, and it doesn’t feel like work. I don’t have to consciously put in effort, it just comes very naturally.

Tell us about working together. What are the best things about having complementary professions?
Prayag: We never really thought we’d end up working together, but we started doing lots of shoots together, and have become known as a duo - Porus and Prayag; Prayag and Porus. It’s supremely fulfilling for me to do an editorial project with Porus, and now magazines often call us together, which is amazing, because then we have the freedom to do it entirely our way.
Porus: I think we work well together. We are pretty much in sync aesthetically, and never have major disagreements. Our working relationship is very good, which doesn’t always happen. We bicker more at home than we do at work.

Is there a flip side? What are some of the challenges of working together?

Prayag: People started to think that we only work together. Which is not true, because we obviously work with other people as well- and it’s been a conscious effort to inform people that we work separately as well. People hesitate to call me, because they think I’m exclusive to Porus.
Porus: In a way, we also get spoilt working with each other. There’s so much freedom to be involved with each other’s work as well. I give Prayag input when it comes to the styling, and he gives me input when it comes to selecting the pictures. We go through it together. There’s a lot of mutual involvement in what the other is doing, and then it’s done together. When you work with another photographer/ stylist, you cannot have that much of a say in everything.
Also, when you live together, you end up bringing work home. This is a disadvantage, and you need to know where to draw the line, so you’re not always talking about work.

Who are your professional influences?
Porus: William Kline- he was a street photographer whose work I really enjoy; and Jamie Hawkesworth- I love the way he plays with people and mood.
Prayag: Women from the 70s. Real life characters I see in movies, like Victoria Vinciguerra (villainess from The Man from U.N.C.L.E). For me, it’s always more about personality and attitude, and I am inspired by strong women, like Tilda Swinton. The ability to wear whatever you want and still look so good and assertive is so inspiring. Also, Karen Gustaffson, the designer behind Cos- her sensibility and aesthetic is just incredible.
Describe your personal style?
Understated, not affected by trends, high on comfort. On a day to day, we wear basic T-shirts and shorts or jeans. It’s important to feel comfortable in what you wear. We don’t follow trends, we usually just wear what we feel like. Very often, we unconsciously end up twinning!

Three wardrobe favourites:
Porus: A Cos T shirt, a pair of denims from a vintage store that are very loose and comfortable, and a shirt that belonged to my father.
Prayag: A shirt Porus made for me, a vintage Burberry trench coat that was a present from Porus, and a pair of Levi’s that we got on our third date together- I’ve had them 10 years, and they still fit me perfectly. Pieces of clothing that have memories and sentiments attached are my favourite pieces.

How did it feel to design your home together? What is your design aesthetic?
We broke it down and remodeled it from scratch- we opened up the kitchen, changed a bedroom into a wardrobe, and made the bathroom bigger. This was a 3 bedroom apartment that has now been converted into a 1 bedroom, study, and an attached walk-in closet. The study turns into a guest room, when we have friends over. We had 2 bathrooms that we made into one huge bathroom. We basically converted into a much more open and functioning space, with a lot of airiness.
Working on the house together was probably the best 4 months of our lives. This is our first home, and designing it was such a creative process. The whole idea was to keep it minimal and clean. We didn’t want to be in the city. We can get in whenever we want to, and it’s quiet and green here. It was nice to open the space up, and have this airiness. It’s always really windy here, and it’s a nice inspiring space for us to live in.

Fashion industry in Bombay, as compared to other cities?
Porus: In general, fashion in India is still more mainstream, more driven by glamour and Bollywood. The fashion industry is changing, it’s gravitating towards a more simple, subdued aesthetic, but the masses still think that fashion is all about red carpet gowns, and what your favourite Bollywood stars are wearing. But that too is slowly evolving.
For us, fashion has always been about characters that we like to portray or personalities that we like to bring out in a picture. It’s not just about the clothes, it’s also about the people we shoot. That’s why the models are so important. I need to be able to know that she can deliver the mood I want, and I can be very particular. That understanding is still not as advanced here- people still think it’s OK to tell a photographer, this is the team we have, let’s shoot. That’s why my shoots with Prayag are so different. But we’re finding a lot of people in the industry now who like our work and understand it.
Prayag: And it is changing, the younger group of designers, Bodice and Shift, are changing things up. It’s still very niche, but it will take time. Bollywood is also evolving, and film stars are becoming more conscious of what they wear. The fashion industry in India is catching up.

If not Bombay, where would you like to work?
Prayag: New York City- there’s such a mix of people, there’s so much happening, there’s different kinds of sensibilities that thrive, and there’s a market for everyone. It’s not constricted- you have to persevere and work hard, but the market does let you in.
Porus: London- I think NY is a little more commercial, whereas London is more organic, there’s more creative freedom. I think the industry is aligned with my aesthetic, and I think I could vibe with the models.

Bombay in 3 words:
Prayag: Non-stop energetic.
Porus: Busy. Free. Diverse.