In Conversation With: Fashion Stylist, Mohit Rai

In 2012, photographer Murad Osmann was in Barcelona with his girlfriend Nataly when he took a photo that would change their lives forever. As he aimed his camera at her, she turned around, grabbed his arm and pulled him forward resulting in the now iconic shot and the #FollowMeTo series that have catapulted them to Instafame. With Nataly leading the way, the couple (who have since gotten married) have traveled the world but their most poignant photos – and I may be biased here – were shot in India. Besides the stunning locations, ranging from the Lake Palace in Udaipur, the Ghats of Varanasi and the Taj Mahal in Agra, it was the incredible fashion and jewelry that brought the images to life.

The man responsible for bringing the couple to India and styling the shoot is the brilliant Mohit Rai, who started his career at Harpers’s Bazaar India before becoming the Fashion Director at Harper’s Bazaar Bride and now runs his own style consultancy. When I reached out to Mohit, he had just wrapped up a second #FollowMeTo series with Nataly and Murad in India, which was published in this month’s Bazaar Bride, and shared how the collaboration with Murad and Nataly first came together and why they re-teamed for a second shoot in India.

How did the idea of working with Murad and Nataly Osmann to create a special “Follow Me To” series for Harper’s Bazaar Bride come about? 

It was quite accidental actually. I was sitting with a very close friend and while looking at some of the images he pointed out how beautiful it would look if this was shot in India. The idea seemed amazing but almost unachievable at the time, but a couple of emails and calls later with Murad, the idea was set in motion. The editor at Harper’s Bazaar Bride, Nupur Mehta Puri, has always been supportive of out-of-the-box concepts and gave me full freedom to style and produce this shoot.

The scale of the shoot, given all of the different locations, seemed pretty massive. What goes into prepping for a shoot like that? 

Yes, the scale of the shoot was a bit challenging, given that in India the best locations are quite spaced out. The most difficult part was the amount of travel that we had to fit into the small amount of time we had on our hands. Add to that fact that all of the spots are extremely public and a fully made-up personality, in couture and fine jewelry, would attract a multitude of people around us. The most important thing we wanted to control was the quality of the fashion and the facet of India that we wanted to project. We were all on the same page that the shoot had to be about our marvels in architecture and the astounding quality of our fashion. It was about luxury and how in India, it’s a part of our day-to-day culture and costume.

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The clothing set the mood and matched the tone of each city perfectly. How did the different locations inform your styling choices?

This was a conscious choice. We put together a spectacular lineup to begin with and sourced from the best of the best – Abu Sandeep, Sabyasachi, Tarun Tahiliani, Ekaya, JJ Valaya, Anita Dongre and many more. And then Murad, Nataly and I had to decide on the final outfits based on the colors and more importantly, the heritage of the city. For example, using an Ekaya brocade in Varanasi was an obvious choice and a pearly white holographic Manish Arora at the Taj also seemed to make perfect sense.

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Since only the back of the outfit is revealed in each shot, what challenges or opportunities did that present for you?

Harper’s Bazaar Bride has stood for the timelessness of Indian bridal couture since its inception and that has always given the team an infinite pool of heritage to constantly inspire. The fact that only the back was visible in all the shots did present me with an unique challenge. Apart from back detailed outfits, I could go as authentic or as dramatic with bridal hairstyles and hair jewlery. We had a fabulous hair and makeup artist, Mehak Oberoi, on board and she brought with her some incredibly unique ideas.

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How involved was Nataly in choosing the clothing and accessories for the shoot?

Nataly has a great sense of style and aesthetic and was definitely involved with the whole process and was always a great sport to try the most difficult outfits in some very uncomfortable locations and situations. She was a dream to work with.

Where was your favorite location to shoot?

I would say Varanasi was the most exciting place to shoot. It’s the one place I would recommend everyone visit at some point for the sheer experience of it. Working there was definitely a completely crazy experience. The city is a perfectly oiled, organised and chaotic city full of energy. You can feel the energy in the air. The religion, the color, the people, the food, everything is absolute madness but beautiful.

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Murad gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of what goes into capturing those iconic images in a video he posted online. Do you have any memorable stories to share of what that experience was like?

There were so many, in each city. It was all in all the most memorable and the most challenging shoot to ever be a part of. From cop trouble, to maneuvering around tricycles, to the evening aarti at Varanasi, to the infinite number of people chasing us across cities, the shoot had its ups and downs but is not something I will forget about soon.

Why did you re-team with Murad and Nataly for a second “Follow Me” series?

The first time we collaborated, the results were exceptionally stunning and went viral almost instantly. It was a brilliant shoot process and the desire to generate the same or an even better shoot, if I may say so, was the catalyst driving me towards the second collaboration. Besides, there are still innumerable gorgeous sites in India that we hadn’t shot. Even after the second series, there are still many left.

How was shooting this different from what you did with them previously?

This time around, we already had a bond and an understanding and a harmony which helped smoothen the whole process and made it far more effortless. While I am no longer working at Bazaar Bride, it made sense to do it with the same magazine as a sequel, and it is my first love amongst magazines. The desire to create something unique was a lot more forward – the fashion, the locations, everything was more elaborate to execute this time.

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Did you take more creative risks this time around or have more freedom to experiment?

We definitely did take many more risks this time. We aspired to achieve an even more stunning outcome than we did the last time. We worked with a whole bunch of different designers, some of whom we worked with during the first collaboration as well. Overall, the goal was to create something absolutely incredible while keeping with the same aesthetic.

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How has working on this series impacted you/your work as a stylist?

I don’t think while working on it any of us knew the unbelievable exposure it would have. As a stylist, it’s great to get the acknowledgement and appreciation from Indian and global audiences alike and I will forever be thankful to Murad, Nataly and that special someone who pushed me to persevere on this project.

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